Spurred by both a boom in market demand and increased public interest in renewable energy, solar energy jobs have skyrocketed in recent years.
According to the Solar Foundation’s 2014 National Solar Jobs Census, in November there were 173,807 solar jobs in the country. Employment in the solar industry has risen by 86 percent in the past five years. It continues to exceed growth expectations, adding workers at a rate of nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy.
Companies are looking to a new generation of talented professionals to take the baton and usher the industry into its next phase. Today’s students need specialized training in areas ranging from project engineering to regulatory policies and financial analysis.
OneEnergy Scholars is a mentorship and networking program of OneEnergy Renewables and Net Impact for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the renewable energy sector. The highly-coveted program offers career guidance to its scholars and direct access to top companies and industry executives within the OneEnergy Renewables network. Scholars have successfully gone on to work for leading solar companies and renewable energy organizations.
Young biotech professional develops a career in resource planning for Southern California Edison
Who: Maurice Ahyow
Year: Class of 2013
University of California, Berkeley, BS
University of Southern California, MBA
How did you hear about the
When I was registering to attend the 2013 Net Impact Conference, I perused the list of vendors and the OneEnergy Scholars program caught my eye. It was exactly what I was looking for, so I applied and I can say it was the best decision I made in grad school.
Were you always interested in renewable energy?
I worked at a biotech company before getting my MBA at USC. The company began shifting its focus toward biofuels and with that, my interest in renewable energy grew.
If you could choose one primary benefit of the program, what would it be?
Not only did the program bring together my peers from leading institutions around the country, but it also provided me with the opportunity to work with solar experts in the field on a research project. I was interested in forecasting the cost of solar over the next couple of years. My mentor provided me with the resources and insights into solar financing that I would not have learned in a classroom setting.
What do you do now?
I currently work at Southern California Edison on the resource planning team. One of our major responsibilities is to provide the analytical analysis for the long-term procurement plan of the California Public Utilities Commission. It assesses a 10-year forecast of system, local and flexible needs. This process also incorporates state-wide goals such as renewable targets. We evaluate reliability issues and choose the best portfolio mixes based on our assumptions to ensure we have enough resources on the grid to meet future demand.
What advice would you offer current students looking to break into the solar energy industry?
It’s key to find opportunities like the OneEnergy Scholars program or a mentor that works in your area of interest. That way, you aren’t only learning about the industry from a classroom, but you’re exposing yourself to the industry in a way that provides tangible examples that will deepen your knowledge base and demonstrate your interest to a potential employer.
Where do you see the solar industry in the next 5 to 10 years?
I see distributed resources becoming much bigger than they currently are. I think we’ll see more rooftop solar installations on residential and commercial buildings. Battery storage will likely become more cost-effective and paired with distributed solar, which is a combination that serves as a huge opportunity for utilities in terms of integrating secured resources and managing on the grid.
Research analyst for Environmental Defense Fund turns solar project manager
Who: Rob Collier
Year: Class of 2012
Middlebury College, BA
Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management
How did you get involved in the renewable energy sector?
After graduating from Middlebury College, I became a program associate and research analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund. My work included the development of resource planning processes for integrating utilities and delivering public comments before the U.S. EPA. I found my passion in the clean energy sector, and I learned that market-based policy can be the most potent and durable solution to environmental challenges. Unfortunately, I had no clue as to how those policies would impact a company’s income statement and balance sheet. So I thought: business school.
In my first year at Cornell, I was accepted into the inaugural class of the OneEnergy Scholars Program. I watched the renewable energy sector take off, and I thought entering the for-profit sector would be the best area for me to gain experience into what was driving clean energy businesses. After graduate school, I nabbed a position with OneEnergy Renewables.
What does your average day in the solar industry entail?
I’m a solar project manager which means I manage all aspects of the solar development timeline. I could be talking to a farmer in New York one minute, e-mailing a large independent power company that’s interested in purchasing one of our assets and the next minute, talking with local governments and permitting authorities.
How did the program help accelerate your career in solar?
When you become a OneEnergy Scholar, you join a network of individuals from across the country with different backgrounds. We have monthly video conference calls which provide a platform for the scholars to make new connections to schools, companies and individuals. We share information and opportunities for full-time jobs and internships.
What advice would you offer current students?
My advice would be to think about where your functional interests lie and try to be specific about the area of the industry you go into. Don’t just say something like, “I like solar energy because it’s environmentally friendly.” Be specific about what roles excite you and what skills and value you bring. Give it thought. We should think holistically about how solar needs to be a part of our daily energy mix. Stay positive and don’t be distracted by daily ups and downs! It’s all part of the solar coaster.
Bryce Smith is CEO of OneEnergy Renewables.
— Solar Builder magazine