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 company.
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 experience. 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 organizations. 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 startups.
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.
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.