Company fortunes rise and fall quickly in the solar industry, like the open-air cars on a roller coaster. That’s why the people in the industry—especially people working in finance, manufacturing, and project development—call it ‘the solar coaster.’ No single company can grow all the time. But the market has grown pretty much all the time for a decade now. Market growth has created thousands of solar jobs.
And many industry analysts believe the brightest days are ahead. By 2018, the US had reached 60 gigawatts of solar generating capacity. That’s enough to power the entire State of Florida on a sunny, summer day. By 2023, total installed capacity across the US is expected to double again.
Expect the labor market to continue in a state of flux. Business models will evolve. New companies will disrupt the status quo. Innovation is all around us. Manufacturers will continue to drive down system costs and technicians will streamline the installation process. Meanwhile, finance providers will work to reduce risk and costs. All these developments affect competition in the industry. In addition, they create new solar job opportunities.
Based on the work we have done recruiting across the country for solar companies and our understanding about where the market is heading, here are the positions we expect to be in demand for the foreseeable future. We know that growing companies can never have enough talent in the following job categories. So we prioritize these positions when networking with jobseekers.
Manufacturers, project developers, system integrators, distributors, and software developers all need trained salespeople to find customers. Salespeople also help ensure that products and services meet customers’ needs. You could write a book about whether there is a difference between sales and business development. However, I will lump them together as “sales.”
Sales/Applications engineers bring technical sales and design expertise to support the sale of technical products. For example, battery storage systems, inverters, PV modules and racking/tracker solutions. We also sometimes see sales engineers involved in the commercial solar project design and development. These are solar jobs that apply solar project design, cost estimating, and scheduling management skills to the development of sales proposals. Moreover, they draw on strong engineering, procurement and construction backgrounds. Employers typically look for at least four years of experience and ideally a bachelor’s degree in engineering. However, an engineering degree isn’t always required.
Residential salespeople find and close residential solar deals. They may get leads from various sources. Or they may have to generate their own leads and deals. We work with some residential integrators/installers. But placing residential salespeople is not a core focus for our team.
Outside sales/Regional sales managers generally work for companies that produce batteries, PV modules, inverters, racking, software solutions, and other products. They sell these products and solutions in a business-to-business environment. Relationships and experience selling to EPCs, developers and installers from smaller regional residential installers to the biggest utility-scale developers in the country will continue to be in demand. Above all, sales is the backbone of every company. So there will almost always be solar jobs for individuals with experience driving revenue within this space.
Project development and origination can mean different things in different organizations. Generally, this includes anyone responsible for originating (selling) and developing (managing the overall development/sales process) for commercial or utility-scale renewable energy projects. For distributed generation, this looks a lot like traditional outside sales. You work a territory, calling on commercial, industrial, retail or government customers to sell and install on-site or off-site renewable energy projects. In addition to effective communication skills, experienced project developers have a technical understanding of solar systems and design. They also have the ability to manage multiple projects at once. Those working with commercial clients may need an understanding of complex financial models and concepts. Enterprise sales experience is highly valued in the commercial market. It’s likely to be an advantage even for solar jobs candidates without much technical expertise.
For community solar or utility-scale development, the process is a little more complicated. There are more moving parts in land acquisition, off-take/PPA negotiations, permitting and interconnection. This market will continue to grow, especially as energy storage prices continue to drive down and we begin to see more utility-scale storage paired with existing solar, wind and traditional power plants.
Responsibility to deliver projects on time, within budget and to quality specifications typically rests with project managers. These solar jobs may assist with project development and design. And they must be able to translate financial, engineering and construction concepts across disciplines to keep project teams on track.
Site managers or superintendents lead, build, and manage construction. They handle day-to-day operations, hiring and managing crews. In addition, they manage and verify site plans and information. And they resolve on-site issues. At a senior level, this set of solar jobs may involve management of multiple installations and projects in various stages of development.
Project managers handle procurement, planning, budgeting, logistics, scheduling, communication, and project delivery. They work with clients, field management, construction management, subcontractors, finance, legal and sales staff. For example, they assess risk, negotiate contracts and scopes of work, and manage multi-disciplinary teams. Construction, electrical or other engineering experience may be required.
Engineers design and implement complex systems and projects. They can take charge of electrical or mechanical systems. For instance, energy distribution systems, operational design and management or civil and structural duties for ground-mounted projects. They may also work as project engineers, overseeing and coordinating the design and installation of all elements of a project.
Electrical engineers may work on solar system installations or product design, development and manufacturing. They work with clients, project managers, architects and contractors to develop project electrical designs or with manufacturers to develop or improve products. They may also perform building analyses, oversee construction, and advise junior staff. Especially on utility-scale projects, a strong electrical engineering background is critical to the overall success of the project. AC design, SCADA interfaces and interconnection all require strong electrical engineering expertise.
System design engineers combine knowledge of building, electrical, energy, and fire code standards to design and oversee system installation. Typically handling the DC side of the project design, they use modeling and estimation software. In addition, they may have knowledge of structural design, forensic analysis, and energy auditing.
Manufacturers need managers and designers who can develop new products and improve existing products.
Product development engineers develop new designs, materials and processes informed by their evaluations of product performance and market needs. They typically have education and training in mechanical, materials, and electrical engineering.
Product management directors oversee the planning and development of new product lines using market and competitive analysis. They set vision for product development and formulate and implement strategic responses to market opportunities.
Discover new talent
To sum up, our jobseeker network has delivered job fit candidates to solar companies of all sizes and various stages of growth. Get to know some of the individuals in our network by calling (916) 565-2700 or emailing us at [email protected].