A woman inspects the photovoltaic cells of an installed solar panel

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. Solar panels cover the roof of a farm house in the middle of a field Design a solar hot-water heater for a home so that a family can enjoy long, hot showers without increasing their energy bill. Two series of white pipes running along the side of a house
Oversee the installation of a home solar energy system to make sure it is all done properly. Two technicians prepare to install solar panels on a home Draw up blueprints of a solar photovoltaic system to be installed on the sides of a new skyscraper. Floors plans of a large building
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview 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
Median Salary
Solar Energy Systems Engineer
  $97,300
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
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Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Interview
  • In 1999, solar and energy consultant Steven Strong was voted one of TIME.com's Heroes of the Planet. In this piece, he shares one of his residential design successes and how he embarked upon this career.
  • In this video at the 2012 Building Technologies Symposium, Steven Strong discusses solar energy for buildings.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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.

Watch this video and meet solar design engineer Stefania as she highlights the importance of renewable energy in today's world, and takes us through the phases of designing an aesthetically pleasing solar-powered system.

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.

Work Environment

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...

Science Fair Project Idea
Do you want to build a solar-powered car? How about enter it in a competition and race it against other people's designs? If so, this is the project for you! These instructions will show you how to get started building a solar-powered car that you can enter in a science or engineering fair. No experience needed. If you want, you can even compete in the Junior Solar Sprint, a regional competition for solar-powered cars. Get more information about your regional competition. Are you a teacher?… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
How can seawater from the oceans be turned into fresh water that is suitable for people to drink? Through a process called solar desalination! In this science project, you will make a solar desalination apparatus using readily available materials, and a power source that is free. How much water can the device produce, and is it still salty at all? What factors affect how effectively saltwater is turned into fresh water? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Here is a project that uses direct solar power, gathering the sun's rays for heating/sterilizing water or cooking. It is a low-cost technology that seems to have everything going for it. Does it work? Can you find ways to improve it? Find out with this project. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Light sensors are part of many devices that we use every day. For example, they help your phone know when to automatically brighten or dim the screen based on ambient light levels. They can also be used to help solar panels track the sun, which helps the panels generate more power. Many spacecraft and planetary rovers (like the Mars rovers Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity) are solar-powered. In this project you will build and program your own solar-tracking robot. Optionally, you can add… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You have probably heard about using renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to provide electricity to homes and buildings, as well as hybrid or fully electric cars that use less (or zero) gasoline. But what about solar-powered robots? As robots become more common, it is increasingly important to use "green" energy sources to power them. In this project, you will build and test a popular robot called a bristlebot — a tiny robot made using toothbrushes—that can operate on… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Isn't it nice to take a nice, hot shower or bath after a long day of playing outside? But have you really thought about how the hot water in your shower or bath gets hot? Sure, the water heater in your house gets it hot, but what makes the water heater work? Water heaters are powered by natural gas or electricity. But are there any other ways to heat water? What about using the Sun? In this science fair project, you'll give it a try by capturing energy from the Sun to heat water. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
What do humans need to survive? We need food, water, and warm shelter. We all need a warm place to live, particularly when it's chilly outside. How do many of us warm our houses or apartments? We depend on fossil fuels to supply gas and electricity to our heaters. But burning fossil fuels to create energy is harmful to the environment. What if there was a way to warm our homes without burning fossil fuels and it was free? In this science fair project, you will build a solar air heater and see… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Solar cells provide a clean way of making electricity directly from sunlight. In this project you will build a simple circuit and experimental setup to investigate whether the power output of a solar cell changes with ambient temperature. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The amount of energy produced by most photovoltaic (solar) panels is limited, due to their immobility. However, when photovoltaic panels track the movement of the Sun, their efficiency increases significantly. This can be done with computers and sophisticated electronics, but for rural or wilderness settings, a "low-tech" sun tracker would be beneficial. A solution exists in nature: the sunflower. The challenge in this science fair project is to design and build a device that imitates the… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever thought about being stranded on a desert island? How would you find water to drink? What would you need to survive? In this science fair project you'll discover how to turn the ocean into a source of freshwater by using the power of the Sun. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Solar cells are an alternative method for generating electricity directly from sunlight. With this project, you can get down to the atomic level and learn about the world of solid-state electronics as you investigate how solar cells work. Your experiment will measure the effect of changing light intensity on power output from the solar cell. A possible variation would be to investigate the effect of changing the color of the light. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
"How do you frighten a grasshopper? And what does that have to do with light?" These are a couple of questions you're probably asking yourself after reading the title. Well, The Frightened Grasshopper Solar-Powered Bug is actually a toy grasshopper that vibrates when it is placed in sunlight or near a lightbulb. It stores up the energy from light, and converts it into motion. You will use this fun toy to explore how the brightness of the light affects the motion of the solar-powered insect. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you like getting something for nothing? Everybody likes getting things for free. How about getting energy and power for free? The Sun sends us free energy every second and all we have to do is collect it. Taking advantage of free energy can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which are harmful to our environment. In this science fair project, you will work with a solar panel, which is a collector of free energy, and investigate how varying the angle of the solar panel, and thus the amount… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Solar cells are devices that can be used as a source of power when there is light shining on them, but they stop producing energy when they are not in the light. One way to store the solar energy for later use is to use a solar cell to charge something called a capacitor. The capacitor stores the energy as an electric field, which can be tapped into at any time, in or out of light. In this electronics science project, you will use parts of a solar car to experiment with the energy storage… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Solar power is hot these days. Gleaming, black solar panels soak up rays on more and more rooftops of homes and businesses providing a clean, alternative source of heat and electricity. You might guess that different times of the day yield different levels of solar power. But just how much does the sun's position in the sky affect the power that solar cells and panels can generate? That's the question this project is all about. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Coal, gas, and oil are energy resources that are not renewable, meaning that once we use up the world's supply of these natural resources there will not be any left. There is a lot of debate about how long these resources will last. One way to ensure that we will not find ourselves in an energy crisis is to develop energy resources that are renewable. Renewable energy is a resource that cannot be used up. Investigate the many uses of renewable energy: solar energy, wind energy,… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
If you are interested in exploring how renewable energy can improve the environment, this project could be for you. You'll take on a real-life engineering challenge: deciding whether the benefits of a renewable energy technology are worth the cost to implement it. Some sample questions are suggested, but you can also come up with your own question that matches your specific renewable energy interest. Is there such thing as a free lunch? Read more

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Free science fair projects.