Solar Energy Systems Engineer
A solar energy systems engineer could...
|Help a dairy farmer become energy independent by designing a solar photovoltaic system that will fit on a barn roof.||Design a solar hot-water heater for a home so that a family can enjoy long, hot showers without increasing their energy bill.|
|Oversee the installation of a home solar energy system to make sure it is all done properly.||Draw up blueprints of a solar photovoltaic system to be installed on the sides of a new skyscraper.|
Key Facts & Information
Does the idea of harvesting the enormous power of the sun interest you? If you find this exciting, then you should think about installing solar photovoltaic panels on your house to collect free electricity from the sun. But how energy efficient is your home already? Can it get better? How many panels would your house need? What would the system look like? You can get the answers to these questions and more from your local solar energy systems engineer. These engineers help their residential and commercial clients save on their electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint by performing energy audits and picking and designing the right solar energy system for them.
|Key Requirements||Mechanical and electrical ability, detail-oriented work habits, good communication and teamwork skills, self-motivated personality|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, computer science, applied technology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!|
The following two interviews are with solar and energy consultant Steven Strong. The first one dates from 1999 and the second from seven years later (2006).
Training, Other Qualifications
Solar energy systems engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is an important aspect of their career.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline such as electrical or mechanical engineering is required for almost all entry-level jobs in this field, although some solar energy systems engineers don't have a professional engineering background. For example, their background may be in electrical or mechanical drafting, engineering technology, or HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics occasionally may qualify for these engineering jobs, especially in high-demand professions such as solar energy systems engineering. Some positions require a graduate degree in engineering. In addition, most employers in this area seek to hire engineers who have earned a PE (professional engineer) license.
Solar energy systems engineering positions require a high level of computer skills and computer-aided design (CAD) capabilities. Applicants should have coursework in both computer science and CAD.
Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers interact more frequently with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Nature of the Work
Solar energy systems engineers work to improve the energy efficiency of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings using solar energy systems. These engineers perform site-specific engineering analysis or evaluation of energy efficiency for their customers. After evaluating the energy efficiency of the new or existing structure, they design solar hot-water and space-heating systems, applying their knowledge of structural energy requirements, local climates, solar technology, and thermodynamics to the designs. During the design phase, solar energy systems engineers create diagrams and plans using computer-aided design (or CAD) software. They also create the supporting documentation required for their projects, such as building permits, selection and specification of components, and design of systems and mechanical and electrical points of connection.
As part of their responsibilities, solar energy system engineers must lead and contribute to the writing of reports, studies, and analyses of projects and solar technologies. When working on a design for a client, they analyze the site, perform calculations, research the best technology for the client's needs, and experiment with system layouts. They work collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams to develop and communicate creative solutions to the client.
Solar energy systems engineers work in varied environments. They can interact directly with clients to collect data on their needs, monitor progress at a client's building site outdoors, and work with computers in office buildings. Some engineers travel extensively to buildings or work sites in the U.S. and abroad.
On the Job
- Conduct engineering site audits to collect structural, electrical, and related site information for use in the design of residential or commercial solar power systems.
- Design or coordinate design of photovoltaic or solar thermal systems, including system components, for residential and commercial buildings.
- Create checklists for review or inspection of completed solar installation projects.
- Create electrical single-line diagrams, panel schedules, or connection diagrams for solar electric systems using computer-aided design (CAD) software.
- Create plans for solar energy system development, monitoring, and evaluation activities.
- Develop design specifications and functional requirements for residential, commercial, or industrial solar energy systems or components.
- Perform computer simulation of solar photovoltaic generation system performance or energy production to optimize efficiency.
- Provide technical direction or support to installation teams during installation, start-up, testing, system commissioning, or performance monitoring.
- Design or develop vacuum tube collector systems for solar applications.
- Develop standard operation procedures and quality or safety standards for solar installation work.
- Perform thermal, stress, or cost reduction analyses for solar systems.
- Review specifications and recommend engineering or manufacturing changes to achieve solar design objectives.
- Test or evaluate photovoltaic cells or modules.
Companies That Hire Solar Energy Systems Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Cool Way to Make Electricity: Solar Cell Power Output vs. Temperature
- Are You in Hot Water? Use the Sun's Energy to Heat Your Own Water
- Build a Solar-Powered Bristlebot
- Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun
- Cold Room? Heat It Up with A Homemade Solar Air Heater
- Get Something for Nothing: Free Power from the Sun!
- How Does Solar Cell Output Vary with Incident Light Intensity?
- Now You're Cooking! Building a Simple Solar Oven
- Renewable Energy Resources
- Solar Speedway
- Solar-Powered Water Desalination
- The Frightened Grasshopper: Explore Electronics & Solar Energy with a Solar-Powered Robot Bug
- The Speed of Light: Explore Solar Energy with a Supercapacitor Car Motor!
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Solar Energy Systems Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Hallowell, C. (1999, March 15). Why create energy when you can save it? Retrieved February 19, 2011, from www.solardesign.com/library/pdf/Time-Design-Heroes.pdf
- Wilson, A., & Kolleeny, J. (2006, August). Interview with Steven Strong. GreenSource. Retrieved February 19, 2011, from greensource.construction.com/people/060710Noryl.asp
- Sierra College Energy Technology Sustainable Careers. (2010, November 18). Sierra College energy technology. Retrieved February 18, 2011, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK9Ja2mhCX0
- Cassio, J. (2008, December). Clean energy and green building careers in Silicon Valley: Solar energy systems designers/engineers. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from www.youthatwork.org/GreenForum_Handbook.pdf
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