Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Green Jobs Series: Careers in Solar Power

The solar power industry employs a wide range of occupations in a number of major industry segments: research and development, manufacturing of solar power materials, construction of solar power plants, operation of solar power plants, and solar power installation and maintenance. Sales occupations are also integral to the solar power products industry. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes some of the most common jobs in scientific research.

Occupations in Scientific Research

Solar power is still gaining popularity and acceptance, so research and development are key aspects of the industry. Continued research and increased returns to scale as production has increased have led to many developments that have decreased costs while increasing efficiency, reliability, and aesthetics.

Occupations in scientific research and development have become increasingly interdisciplinary, and as a result, it is common for physicists, chemists, materials scientists, and engineers to work together as part of a team. Most scientists in the solar industry work in an office or laboratory and also spend some time in manufacturing facilities with engineers and processing specialists.

Job Duties

Physicists work with chemists, materials scientists, and engineers to improve the efficiency of solar panels. Physicists also find new materials to use for solar panel generation, such as the thin-film photovoltaic solar panels.

Chemists improve on solar cell design, develop new materials for making solar cells, or improve existing materials. They typically focus on semiconducting materials, which are usually silicon-based materials or organic compounds, because most solar panels are made of semiconducting materials and some newer thin-film panels are made out of organic materials.

Materials scientists focus on developing new materials, especially thin-film cells, and decreasing the cost of photovoltaic panels. Materials scientists are also seeking to increase solar panel efficiency. Finally, material scientists are seeking to create building-integrated solar energy technologies that address common complaints about solar panels taking away the aesthetic appeal of a building because of their large and bulky nature.

Education and Training

A doctoral degree is a necessity for scientists that conduct original research and develop new products; however, some workers may enter the scientific fields with a bachelor's or master's degree. Computer skills are essential for scientists to perform data analysis, integration, modeling, and testing. Certification or licensure is not necessary for most of these scientists.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have wage data specific to the solar power industry. The table shows wages for selected scientist occupations for May 2010. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Physicists $106,370
Chemists $68,320
Materials scientists $84,720

For more detailed information on scientific research occupations in the solar power industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Thursday's solar power industry series installment: Occupations in Solar Power Manufacturing

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