What is a Solar Engineer?

Solar engineers create solar cells that collect and store the sun's rays. They work with clients to design, plan and implement solar energy projects for cities, businesses, and homeowners.

What Do Solar Engineers Do?

Solar engineers plan, design, and implement solar energy projects. They may manage anything from large-scale municipal projects to home rooftop installations. The engineer typically begins with a client consultation, site assessment, and financial assessment, which help him or her understand the project's context. The engineer then designs an appropriate plan that takes all relevant factors into account. He or she may also oversee or manage implementation of the plan. Solar engineers may also need to report on the efficiency, cost, and safety of the project. The engineer may also be on call to deal with outages, emergencies, and system maintenance.

Solar engineers may also conduct financial reviews, ensure regulatory compliance, inspect installation sites, and write technical reports. Computer skills are essential for creating designs and testing photovoltaic systems.

Where Does a Solar Engineer Work?

Most solar engineers work in offices, but may also travel frequently to different work sites, including overseas locations. They often must climb ladders onto rooftops to inspect installations, and may need to carry heavy loads for short distances.

According to the Solar Foundation, California is by far the leading state for solar jobs in general, with over 10,000 solar jobs as of 2013. New Mexico offers the second highest number of solar jobs. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are also home to relatively high numbers of jobs in the solar industry.

What Is a Typical Solar Engineer's Salary?

The average salary listed in nationwide job postings for solar engineers was $82,000 in December 2014. This is 42% higher than average salaries for all job postings nationwide.

StateTotal EmploymentBottom 25%Median SalaryTop 75%
Alabama3,870$85,160$108,110$135,360
Alaska650$98,860$117,970$142,250
Arizona1,430$69,090$88,150$107,230
Arkansas240$47,620$70,510$103,640
California16,580$79,700$102,530$127,600
Colorado1,560$77,300$97,930$121,050
Connecticut1,290$61,530$78,930$100,910
Delaware-$91,730$103,810$113,010
District of Columbia2,950$106,040$129,760$148,510
Florida4,630$67,220$90,520$113,160
Georgia1,860$65,190$85,520$106,370
Hawaii770$78,960$95,470$110,690
Idaho440$61,570$79,950$106,350
Illinois7,640$67,190$87,890$111,680
Indiana2,280$63,570$78,080$97,030
Iowa1,390$53,400$70,250$89,530
Kansas540$55,990$76,440$101,150
Kentucky1,180$57,600$74,540$93,140
Louisiana3,010$54,950$71,760$92,840
Maine400$66,940$89,460$101,370
Maryland4,500$77,460$115,740$140,050
Massachusetts1,610$67,540$95,090$116,280
Michigan8,060$66,470$86,170$107,440
Minnesota2,220$70,390$87,870$107,800
Mississippi320$68,830$98,030$116,030
Missouri1,420$55,690$85,990$112,800
Montana240$65,630$70,840$81,920
Nebraska550$52,870$69,960$88,080
Nevada800$62,280$90,390$117,430
New Hampshire1,190$66,070$80,690$97,300
New Jersey4,460$74,340$98,410$122,010
New Mexico3,200$81,410$105,230$127,820
New York2,450$70,100$90,020$113,930
North Carolina1,750$65,970$91,500$115,920
North Dakota160$49,470$58,260$71,370
Ohio7,350$63,020$84,060$108,320
Oklahoma710$61,060$90,020$111,530
Oregon2,230$70,870$93,820$113,700
Pennsylvania2,540$69,250$85,940$105,990
Puerto Rico460$42,360$56,280$77,840
Rhode Island440$75,220$97,040$120,980
South Carolina570$65,390$96,270$116,240
Tennessee1,720$41,840$72,010$102,840
Texas8,020$75,750$102,700$130,180
Utah460$59,310$90,020$106,360
Vermont60$71,740$80,580$89,450
Virginia4,170$77,990$108,180$136,480
Washington3,490$63,300$96,760$119,600
West Virginia440$61,230$86,730$106,370
Wisconsin2,730$51,350$68,410$88,350
Wyoming140$58,680$79,190$94,390

Table data taken from BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172199.htm)

What Is the Job Demand for Solar Engineers?

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have projections for solar engineers, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reports that worldwide solar energy generation capacity averaged 40% annual growth from 2000 to 2011. The continued rapid expansion and adoption of solar panel installation is expected to continue creating new jobs in the United States and elsewhere. BLS predicts that job growth for solar installers will grow 24% between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than average.

Getting a Solar Engineering Degree

A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or electrical engineering is typically required for solar engineering positions. In some areas, more advanced certification could be required. Degrees in industrial engineering, chemical engineering, and computer software engineering may also be helpful.

Many jobs require Professional Engineer (PE) or Engineer in Training (EIT) licensure. Licensure generally requires:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

College graduates may take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam immediately. Engineers who pass this exam are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After gaining four years of work experience, EITs and EIs can go on to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam to qualify for licensure.

Several states require engineers to participate in professional development activities in order to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as that state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.

More complex jobs may require a master's or doctoral degree. Engineers are expected to participate in professional development to keep up with technological developments. They should also be familiar with AutoCAD, a computer-aided design program widely used in engineering. Within solar engineering, AutoCAD is used for photovoltaic system layout. Some firms may also use Google SketchUp.

Because solar engineers must consult with clients, create technical reports, and write emails, they should also have good communication skills.

Solar Engineering Related Degrees

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Solar Engineers Have?

  • The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) (http://www.ases.org/) is the foremost association of solar professionals and advocates. The society aims to speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy. ASES publishes Solar Today magazine, holds a national conference, and offers other networking opportunities through regional chapters, student chapters, and technical divisions.
  • The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (http://www.nabcep.org/) is primarily a professional certification organization. It also runs company accreditation programs and offers continuing education.