Power Up

Two solar-energy experts shine a light on this growing area.
By Rachel Kempster Barry
A duo of engineers installing solar panels on the roof of a residence in Spain.
A team of engineers installs solar panels on the roof of a residence in Spain, on May 24, 2022.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) is a nonprofit organization that supports clean energy and energy efficiency. In 2021, it published the National Solar Jobs Census 2020. This report says that in the past 10 years, solar jobs have nearly tripled in the United States—meaning that right now, more than 200,000 people across the country are working in solar energy. 

The report also says that in order to meet the clean-energy and climate-change goals set by President Joe Biden, the number of solar jobs will need to almost quadruple by 2035. That’s a lot of new jobs! 

So what does it take to make it in the solar industry? 

Meet the Experts

Sean Hayes, who has worked as the chief operating officer for a solar-energy company in South Carolina, says his interest in conservation started at a young age. “Growing up in Vermont, environmental sustainability was front and center,” he says. “When I was in high school, my dad installed solar panels in our backyard that powered 100% of our house. I saw firsthand how clean energy could make a difference.” 

Hayes started in solar right out of college, and he’s never looked back. “One of the most exciting things about solar is that less than 5% of houses in the United States are using it right now,” he says. “There’s so much opportunity.” 

His advice to students interested in a career in solar? Stay curious! “Pay attention in science class and ask questions about electricity,” Hayes says. “Pay attention in history class and learn about the industrial revolution. Pay attention to current events and the major environmental events and disasters that are impacting our world today.” 

In Des Plaines, Illinois, workers at the company Sunrun install rooftop solar panels as part of a demonstration in 2022.

Frank Curran, owner of Green House Solar in New Jersey, encourages students to be aware not just in the classroom, but also at home. “Start paying attention to your family’s energy consumption,” he says. “Ask to see the electric bill if you can, and come up with ways that you can cut down the amount of energy you’re using. It’s a great way to start really understanding how much energy we all use every single day.”

For Curran, his path to the solar industry started with electricity. “As an electrician by trade, I saw solar as a way to use my electrical talents to do something positive for the environment and the future of the planet,” he says. “I thought it was really cool that you could produce electricity simply by harnessing the sun.” 

Fast-Changing Industry

In addition to helping the planet, Hayes and Curran both like that their work allows them to learn something new every day. “I enjoy the design aspect,” Curran says, “because every single project brings its own interesting challenges.” 

Hayes agrees: “Solar is like a snowflake. No two projects are ever the same.” He also notes that it’s a never-ending challenge to stay ahead of changes to a fast-moving industry. “From technology improvements to government policy changes,” he says, “we have to keep learning every single day.”

Students thinking about a career in the solar industry have many options, from installation to marketing to customer service to sales. No matter which path they choose, they’ll be a part of an industry that’s helping people and businesses harness clean energy for a brighter, more sustainable future.