How to Land a Job in the Solar Industry: Upstream vs. Downstream

A recently released report predicts that solar photovoltaic companies will see a continued steep increase in revenues from $15.6 billion last year to $69.3 billion nine years from now. Estimates from other analysts and associations suggest that this is a conservative number and claim the increase in revenues generated will be even greater than anticipated. This dynamic growth and bright forecast make the solar industry one of the most attractive new sectors to employees. As a result, more and more people are looking for a job in the solar industry.

With booming consumer interest, strong public support in terms of legislation and incentives, and growing market demand worldwide, enormous opportunity exists for those who want to transition into the solar industry. Jobs at all levels are becoming available for a number of positions including installers, sales people, mechanical engineers, manufacturing personnel, R&D scientists and engineers, marketing and finance, and others.

The solar value chain consists of upstream players, including large companies who engage in research and development, product manufacturing, and distribution; as well as downstream players including companies who install solar systems, distribute product directly to consumers, etc. The upstream players include silicon refiners (e.g. Wacker Chemie), wafer and cell manufacturers (e.g. LDK, MEMC, Q-Cells) and panel manufacturers (e.g. Evergreen, Sunpower, Sharp, Mitsubishi). The downstream players include integrators (e.g. REC Solar, Borrego Solar), solar monitoring companies (e.g. Fat Spaniel, Energy Recommerce) and solar financing companies (e.g. New Resource bank, Sun Run, Clean Power Finance).

In the upstream companies, the majority of jobs available are technical in nature. There are also a handful of jobs in channel sales. Most upstream players look for candidates with a background in solar or in the semi-conductor industry. In the downstream companies, most of the jobs available are in installation, engineering and sales. There are also a handful of marketing and general administration jobs. Due to the fact that the U.S. solar industry is still in its infancy stage, most downstream players are open to hiring candidates from the high-tech industry and other ancillary fields.

Informational interviews are a great way to gain valuable insight about a particular job or the industry in general. To do a successful informational interview, seek out someone in the industry at or above the level of the position you are targeting. Explain that you would like 30 minutes for an informational interview. Be concise with your questions, respect his or her time and don’t look to this person to hire you. Informational interviews are a valuable tool for helping you determine if this line of work is right for you.

Have fun with this evaluation process; enjoy it, and make sure you are passionate about the industry and job you are getting serious about. If you take no pleasure in it, you probably will not be good at it, and eventually you may become frustrated and move on. Save yourself and everyone around you that agony – if you do not love a job, leave it so that someone else can enjoy it and succeed.

Training and education are straightforward ways to develop skills and explore a career with low risk. Educational training is also a great way to start building your network of professional colleagues, beginning with the class leader and the other students. These connections can evolve into lifelong relationships that enrich both your career and personal life. Both the training itself and your connections to the others in the class will lead to other opportunities if you keep your eyes and ears open.

One of the best places for getting training is Solar Energy International. SEI offers a number of intense, in-depth, sometimes multi week hands-on and classroom courses at several U.S. locations. Most of their instructors are industry leaders who offer a terrific, practical education.

Those seeking introductory-level classes can choose from quite a few short courses offered at various locations nationwide and at most renewable energy festivals and events. Some of the bigger venues include the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) annual conference, Solar Living Institute, Midwest Renewable Energy Association and its annual fair, and the North Carolina Solar Center.

Another source of substantial education can be found in industry-related books, periodicals and online sources. Two of the most important periodicals are SOLAR TODAY and Home Power. Both provide good links to educational and volunteer opportunities.

Similarly, ASES chapters (located in 35 states plus the District of Columbia) gather local solar professionals and advocates. They sponsor various events such as the annual ASES National Solar Tour, which takes place in locations nationwide each fall. Getting to know your chapter leaders and tour organizers is a good way to become involved in the local solar community. Not only are these volunteer opportunities a great way to meet potential employers, but you can also learn great deal in attempting to answer questions from the general public during outreach and similar events.

Look for opportunities in the solar industry through online job sites, solar training organizations and publications and professional organizations like your local ASES chapter. Let those in your network know what opportunity you are seeking. Above all, be patient and persistent. It just might lead you to your dream job!

Some of the popular solar websites for jobs include, and Google jobs.

Attending conferences such as Solar Power 2008, American Solar Energy Society’s Solar 2008, and those from Cleantech may also provide you with valuable leads.

Dr. Christensen is an expert in cleantech acquisition and investment and a consultant for REC Solar. She has over 15 years of experience in high-tech marketing and business development management. Most recently, she was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Akeena Solar Inc and prior to that, she founded and sold two companies. Dr. Christensen holds a Ph.D. in Marketing and Consumer Psychology from the University of London and Universite de Toulouse. She is also an active board member for and

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Isabelle Christensen is the founder of Green Ocean Ventures - a nonprofit specializing in micro loan for female entrepreneurs in developing countries.Isabelle is also responsible for development at a European Cell and Module Manufacturing company. She can be reached via linkedin for questions/inquiries on solar, eco-homes and energy access.

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