How to Get a High-Paying Renewable Energy Job

Who doesn’t want to earn a six-figure income, or more? While some
people reach that compensation level through the expensive schooling and
training needed for a position in law or medicine, another route is renewable
energy jobs. As the market for solar, wind, and other renewable technologies
grows, businesses in this sector have expanded again and again and they have
added thousands of jobs. With such a strong demand for labor, it’s inevitable
that employers would be willing to spend more to attract the right talent.

While workers in the industry come from a variety of backgrounds,
employers are often hunting for those with technical skills, sales experience,
or product design or management expertise. Unlike in other professions with
more defined career paths, workers in the renewable energy industry have to
forge their own way. Career tracks tend to be more fluid than for doctors and
lawyers. A renewable energy worker might jump from one startup to another,
spend a stint as an entrepreneur, and then land a role at a more established

Some key principles are important to keep in mind for those who aspire
to higher-level and higher-paying renewable energy jobs. Here are steps that
can help you reach your career goals in the industry!

Build a base of industry
For folks just starting out, it’s important to understand that
the industry doesn’t have a lot of job training opportunities for roles that
could lead to senior positions. That means you’ll need to use whatever
translatable skills you have to get your foot in the door.

Once you’ve got a foothold in engineering, sales, or some other
discipline within the sector, start seeking growth and leadership opportunities
both within and outside your company. Shoulder additional responsibility when
it’s offered and grab any opportunities to take on an expanded role. Attend
industry events and pay attention to what influential people in the renewables
sector are saying on social media so you’re up-to-date on any controversies or
new developments in the sector.

Network with professional
Professional relationships are just as important in the
renewables sector as they are anywhere else, so take advantage of industry
groups and professional associations that provide both continuing education and
networking opportunities. These are also great places to demonstrate leadership
skills, especially if on-the-job options to do that are lacking. A few groups
to consider joining:

  • WRISE. Women of
    Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy connects women working in
    renewables through local and national events, webinars, a conference, a job
    board, and two different mentoring programs. The group also works on advocacy
    for corporate diversity and inclusion.
  • CalSSA. With full-time
    lobbying staff, the California Solar and Storage Association represents the
    interests of companies in the solar and storage industries in Sacramento. It
    also hosts the largest solar conference in the U.S. and offers webinars,
    networking opportunities, and customer referrals through its website.
  • SEIA. The national
    trade association for the solar sector, the Solar Energy Industries
    Association, works with members companies to push for increased usage of solar
    power and provides education and networking options for members. It also
    compiles and disseminates research on industry trends.

Try something entrepreneurial.
One way to forge your own path is to form a team to help build out your
business idea. Founding or joining a startup could help kickstart your career –
even if the company doesn’t become the next big thing. Many startup founders
whose businesses don’t pan out find themselves pursued by big companies
interested in their expertise or innovations.

And the path to entrepreneurship is well-paved. Venture capitalists
have been funding so-called clean tech companies for at least a couple of
decades, so investors and other industry players have built out a fairly robust
infrastructure for startups in the renewables sector. That includes the
development of incubators and accelerators designed to support startups. A few
prominent incubators:

  • Powerhouse. This
    Oakland, Calif.-based incubator houses, and through its venture fund, invests
    in “intelligent energy” software startups. It also hosts events like
    hackathons, a monthly meetup for renewable energy entrepreneurs, and speed
    dating-style pitch meetups for startups and investors.
  • Greentown Labs.
    Founded in 2011, the largest green tech incubator in the U.S. claims more than
    170 companies as alumni and more than $320 million in funding raised for its
    entrepreneurs. It casts a wide net, including not just energy generation,
    distribution and storage companies but also agriculture, robotics and chemicals

Learn from the best. To stay
ahead of the curve and improve your chances of upward mobility in the industry,
make sure you’re regularly expanding your knowledge base. This might mean
taking classes, attending professional development seminars, keeping up with
the latest books and articles about your area of specialty, or subscribing to
industry podcasts.

For Jenya Meydbray, co-founder of PV Evolution Labs, getting ahead
meant following the top thinkers in the field. As an undergraduate, he spent
his free time delving into books by Australian solar expert Martin Green to
feed his interest in solar photovoltaics. For grad school, Meydbray relocated
to Boston so he could audit classes from an MIT professor who was working on
organic solar technology. Now, after five years running his startup, he’s the
vice president of solar technology at Cypress Creek Renewables, a provider of
local solar farms.

Meydbray talked about his career path in September 2017 on Suncast, one
of several clean energy podcasts that now make it easier for those in the
renewable sector to identify industry leaders and learn from their stories. A
few other relevant podcasts: Watt It Takes, The Energy Gang, The Interchange.

Next steps

Careers in renewable energy don’t follow the traditional path of
getting an advanced degree, joining a large organization, and building
seniority, as in law, medicine, and business. They’re a bit more fluid and
dynamic, with room for innovation and entrepreneurship. Still, some key
precepts hold. Leverage your skills to get in the door. Gain experience and
knowledge. Grow your network. Then take advantage of the opportunities that
come your way.