Green Jobs in Solar Energy - dummies

Green Jobs in Solar Energy

By Carol L. McClelland

Making a green career transition will be successful only if you use both your skills and your passion. Solar energy is a great place to start if you are looking for a growing eco-conscious industry that provides the foundation for an environmentally sustainable future. Sunlight is already the source of most renewable energy power. As such, it’s a big part of the green economy and a good opportunity for the green job-seeker.

By incorporating solar into our energy mix, we have access to a very reliable, abundant, accessible source of energy that can be produced domestically with little or no impact on the environment. The solar industry is generally divided into residential, commercial, and large utility-scale projects. Although the basic solar principles are the same in each of these applications, the equipment that is deemed most efficient and cost-effective varies by application.

  • Solar electricity: Sunlight is converted directly into electricity with the use of photovoltaic (PV) technology. Rooftop solar arrays are built according to the size of the project. Thin-film solar, a competing technology, is often referred to as CIGS, for the chemicals — copper, indium, gallium and (di)selenide — used to absorb light. Some companies are already offering roof tiles that have embedded PV qualities. Solar electricity is a viable energy source for a wide range of situations, from small consumer items, to remote buildings and equipment, to solar farms that cover thousands of acres. Electricity from solar projects can charge batteries and contribute to the grid.

  • Solar heating: Solar thermal systems harness the power of the sun to heat liquids that then transfer the heat to a building, swimming pool, or household water needs. These systems are either passive, where the system is designed to move the liquid through a loop, or active, where a pump is installed to force the water somewhere else. Some systems are direct, in that the water itself is moved through the solar thermal equipment, whereas other systems are indirect and have another substance run through the loop.

  • Concentrating solar power (CSP): Typically used in utility-scale projects, CSP uses a large array of mirrors to focus sunlight onto receivers. As the receivers collect the solar energy, they convert it to heat. Several designs are in use, including a mirrored dish, a power tower with mirrors encircling the tower, and linear trough systems.

To break through to the next level of production, the solar industry must find ways to deliver solar electricity into the electric grid through high-voltage transmission lines. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is dedicating part of its research agenda to defining and resolving the regulatory, technical, and economic barriers to this integration.

The NREL is also searching for ways to improve the efficiency of thin-film solar and concentrator technology and integrate solar technology into building materials from shingles to paint. Nanosolar’s thin-film technology is also garnering interest as new developments allow the company to print solar cells on very thin foil. As the thin-film industry takes off, expect to see new solar energy collection systems.

As the solar industry looks to build more utility-scale solar farms and CSP installations, land access and land use issues must be resolved. Public lands in the Southwest, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), continue to be prime territory for large-scale solar projects. In 2008, the BLM launched a two-year study that’s likely to speed up application processing in the future.

If you want a career in solar energy, here are a few of the job functions and responsibilities you could consider:

  • Solar research and system design depend on scientists and engineers.

  • Manufacturing of solar systems and the components that go into making solar products, such as glass and steel manufacturing, require technicians, operators, machinists, electricians, production manager, scheduler, materials manager, supervisors, and plant managers.

  • Solar systems must be marketed and sold.

  • Installation of residential applications, commercial systems, and utility-scale rely on contractors, electricians, plumbers, and carpenters.

  • Operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting solar systems requires maintenance supervisors and maintenance personnel.