Job opportunities in renewable energy

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Over the past decade, a frequently-asked question is that of job opportunities in renewable energy. Almost all of the inquiries have come from men.

A surprising number are older men bored with their existing jobs who perceive the renewable energy industry as making a more positive social contribution than their current work. Others who have been terminated from their existing jobs feel their previous work as engineers or skilled workers provides them with excellent backgrounds to make an easy transition to renewable energy.

Some are approaching retirement and see themselves as creating small firms to install renewable energy systems. Another category is young men seeking a career in renewable energy.

Although we have met women engineers and entrepreneurs active in renewable energy, the few women who have asked job-related questions were seeking work in marketing solar systems.

With the recent growth in private, college and university renewable energy education programs, questions about jobs are increasing.

Our responses to the job question are based on what systems installers have to say regarding the number of installations they have made over the past few years and their judgments regarding the future growth of the industry.

A recently-released survey sponsored by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit solar research and education organization, The National Solar Jobs Census for 2010, provides data that describe the solar industry’s market conditions and potential for growth. According to the report, as of August 2010, the U.S. solar industry employed an estimated 93,502 workers, defined as those spending at least 50 percent of their time in solar-related activities. By August 2011, more than half the solar firms expect to have added jobs, providing a net gain of 24,000 new jobs.

During the next year, the expected rate of growth in jobs is 26 percent, in contrast to the 2 percent rate of growth for the economy as a whole. The report does caution that the job growth projections represent participating employers’ best estimates of how many jobs they expect to add.

The five occupations expected to grow most rapidly include photovoltaic installers, electricians with experience in solar installations, sales work at wholesale trade firms, sales representatives or estimators at installation firms, and roofers experienced in solar installations.

While California, by a wide margin, is the leader in providing solar jobs, three Midwestern states—Michigan,Wisconsin and Indiana—rank in the top 10. Illinois had an estimated 533 solar jobs in August  2010, and anticipates adding another 159 by August 2011. While solar jobs include the categories of solar water heating, concentrating solar power, solar pool heating and space heating and cooling, installing photovoltaic systems provides the dominant opportunities.

Of course, solar energy is just one sector of the renewable energy industry. Jobs are available in other sectors such as wind, renewable fuels, hybrid and electric cars, green remodeling and local foods.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Dec. 8-14, 2010 issue

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