The Future of Solar Energy Jobs: Bright or Mostly Overcast?

Key Findings:

  • Solar energy jobs are expected to grow rapidly over the next decade. However, there is little evidence of a solar hiring boom today — a sign the industry is in transition.
  • An analysis of online job postings on Glassdoor shows stalled hiring for solar energy-related jobs since 2016. Overall, we find 3,492 unique open solar energy jobs on Glassdoor as of July 2018.
  • A bright spot: Solar energy jobs tend to pay well above the U.S. average, with a median base pay of $58,523 per year. That’s roughly $6,470 or 12.4 percent above the overall U.S. median base pay of $52,052 per year (according to the June 2018 Glassdoor Local Pay Reports).
  • Although rising demand for solar power has been good for hiring, recent political and industry turbulence over the last few years has likely slowed down job growth. This includes 30 percent tariffs on imported solar components and the falling price of solar panels, which has led to an industry shake up and high-profile company bankruptcies since 2016.  

For years, economists have predicted a bright future for solar energy jobs. Solar photovoltaic installers – those who install solar panels on homes and buildings – are projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in America from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This role is expected to more than double over the next decade, dramatically outpacing the growth rate of other in-demand jobs such as software developer, nurse practitioner and data scientist.

Behind those rosy projections is the rapidly falling cost of solar energy. The cost of solar power is expected to plummet by 60 percent over the next decade, according to a 2017 analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency. That would make renewable energy resources more accessible for consumers and usher in a boom in money and jobs to deliver clean solar energy to households.

However, the falling cost of solar panels isn’t all sunny. Falling prices have led to a tumultuous few years for the solar manufacturing industry with several high-profile bankruptcies and layoffs. Solar energy companies have also faced regulatory uncertainty in 2018, with federal tax changes, proposed tariffs and state policy changes impacting solar power — all of which impair hiring.

What’s the state of hiring for solar energy jobs today? Are they booming or stagnating? Which employers are hiring, for what jobs and in what U.S. cities? In this analysis, we provide a comprehensive review of U.S. hiring in the solar energy sector in 2018.

What We Did

This analysis is based on a large sample of online U.S. job postings from Glassdoor. To identify solar-related jobs, we performed a text search of Glassdoor’s real-time job openings database for any job posting containing “solar” in either the job title or the text of the job description. We tallied active solar job postings as of July 9, 2018. We then used the technology behind Glassdoor’s “Know Your Worth” tool to estimate the median base pay for each job, providing a comprehensive picture of pay and open jobs related to solar energy.

Is There a Surge in Solar Jobs?

According to a 2017 survey from the Solar Foundation, an estimated 250,000 Americans work in solar energy. That’s a small slice of the nation’s 162-million-person labor force — only about one-fifth of one percent. As a result, it’s not surprising that there are relatively few open solar energy jobs as well.

On Glassdoor, we identified 3,492 unique open solar energy jobs as of July 2018. That amounts to what economists call a “job openings rate” — open jobs as a percentage of total employment — of about 1.4 percent for solar. That’s well below both the nation’s overall job openings rate of 4.3 percent as of June 2018 and the job openings rate of 4.1 percent in the broader utilities energy sector.(1) This suggests the hiring boom in solar energy many economists expect to materialize may be delayed.

In the figure below, we show the pace of hiring for solar energy jobs on Glassdoor over the past two and half years. The figure shows snapshots of the number of open solar energy jobs on Glassdoor each Monday morning since January 2016. The total number of open jobs is “indexed” or expressed relative to the number of open jobs today; so for example, a level of 1.5 in the figure means there were 1.5 times as many open solar jobs on that date compared to today.  

Overall, the number of open solar jobs today is roughly the same as in early 2016. Following a surge in open solar jobs in mid-2017, the number of job postings has fallen sharply in early 2018, roughly returning to the same level as in 2016.

Although BLS projections anticipate booming solar energy employment over the next decade, hiring within the industry has yet to take off in 2018 based on our analysis of Glassdoor online job postings data.

Most Common Solar Energy Jobs

What are the most common solar energy job opportunities today? The table below shows the 20 most common solar energy jobs on Glassdoor, along with the estimated base pay for each.

Overall, the average (mean) base pay for the 3,492 solar energy jobs we identified was $63,049 per year, with a median base pay of $58,523 per year, which is roughly $6,470 or 12.4 percent more per year than the overall U.S. average of $52,052 per year, according to the Glassdoor Local Pay Reports.(2) However, pay varies widely for jobs in solar energy, ranging from the low $30,000s per year to well over $100,000 per year.  

The most common role is the hands-on position of solar installer with 156 open roles, which has an average estimated base pay of $47,990 per year. They’re followed by solar sales consultant (137 open jobs, at $49,996 per year), sales representative (136 open jobs, at $53,804 per year), energy consultant (116 open job, at $58,334 per year), and solar electrician (105 open jobs, at $66,908 per year).

Overall, the most common solar energy jobs open today fall into three broad categories. First are hands-on installation and maintenance roles, people who build solar arrays and keep them running efficiently. Next are sales roles, those that connect residential and commercial solar customers with energy solutions. Finally, there are a small number of highly skilled — and high-paying — “tech” roles, including software engineer and electrical engineer, reflecting the solar industry’s transition toward more sophisticated power storage and growing software needs.

Table 1. Most Common Solar Energy Jobs Open on Glassdoor

Job Category Open Solar Jobs   Estimated Base Pay  Percentage of Open Solar Energy Jobs
Solar Installer 156 $47,990 4.5%
Sales Consultant 137 $49,996 3.9%
Sales Representative 136 $53,804 3.9%
Energy Consultant 116 $58,334 3.3%
Electrician 105 $66,908 3.0%
Sales Advisor 81 $40,846 2.3%
Project Manager 80 $79,694 2.3%
Service Associate 65 $31,859 1.9%
Electrical Engineer 51 $87,818 1.5%
Field Service Technician 45 $57,688 1.3%
Maintenance Technician 38 $50,179 1.1%
Retail Sales Consultant 37 $40,795 1.1%
Outside Sales 35 $54,787 1.0%
Construction Manager 34 $72,021 1.0%
Project Engineer 33 $82,970 0.9%
Superintendent 30 $80,070 0.9%
Field Technician 27 $52,967 0.8%
Foreman 27 $65,319 0.8%
Slot Technician 26 $44,003 0.7%
Software Engineer 26 $102,191 0.7%
Total 3,492 $63,049 100%

Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (glassdoor.com/research)

Diverse Roles in Solar Energy

Although well-known jobs like solar panel installers have gotten much attention recently, our sample reveals a diverse landscape of job opportunities in solar today. Here are a sampling of some of the more interesting job titles we found:

Open jobs in solar go beyond the person installing the sun-soaked panels you see on rooftops – they span roles in finance, regulatory compliance, warehousing and logistics, software engineering, architectural drafting, sales and manufacturing roles.

What Industries Are Hiring Solar Jobs?

It’s not surprising to see that most open solar energy jobs today are in the energy and utility industry, but there are solar energy-related opportunities in other sectors too. Table 2 shows the top 20 industries hiring for solar energy jobs on Glassdoor. Five industries dominate solar energy hiring: Energy and utilities, manufacturing, construction, architecture and civil engineering, and aerospace and defense. These five industries account for nearly 77 percent of all online solar job openings.

However, there are also a growing number of solar energy jobs hiring in non-traditional sectors. These include nonprofits promoting solar energy use, consulting firms helping companies deploy solar solutions, banking and financial services making investments in solar energy, educational institutions engaged in academic research on solar technology, government employers hiring for regulatory staff and more.

Overall, the highest paying solar energy positions open today are those in banking and finance ($79,820 per year), aerospace and defense ($77,060 per year), and computer software and hardware ($75,567 per year). By contrast, the lowest paying solar job openings are found in the nonprofit sector ($52,448 per year), facilities ($53,166 per year) and wholesale ($54,329 per year).

Table 2. Industries Hiring the Most Solar Energy Jobs on Glassdoor

Industry Open Solar Jobs Estimated Base Pay (All Open Solar Jobs)
Energy & Utilities 1,768 $62,508
Manufacturing 469 $62,834
Construction 244 $59,703
Architecture & Civil Engineering 108 $63,716
Aerospace & Defense 93 $77,060
Nonprofit 60 $52,448
Telecommunications 53 $61,261
Consulting 49 $70,077
Banking & Financial Services 46 $79,820
Computer Software & Hardware 46 $75,567
Education & Schools 45 $61,832
Biotech & Pharmaceuticals 43 $59,094
Government 40 $74,457
Facilities 26 $53,166
Wholesale 20 $54,329
Total 3,492 $63,049

Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (glassdoor.com/research)

Companies Hiring Solar Energy Workers

What employers today are hiring the most solar energy jobs? Table 3 below shows the top 25 employers hiring for any type of solar energy job today, along with the average estimated base pay for their open jobs.

The company hiring the most solar energy jobs on Glassdoor is Sunrun, Inc., with 447 open solar jobs paying an estimated average base pay of $58,707 per year. That company alone comprises 13 percent of all online solar hiring today. They’re followed by ION Solar (192 jobs, $56,210 per year), Sunpower (156 jobs, $72,346 per year), Tesla (109 jobs, $43,923 per year), and LGCY Power (106 jobs, $50,594 per year.)

Among top solar companies hiring today, the highest estimated base pay in our sample was for open jobs at NRG Energy ($75,011 per year), followed by solar energy engineering firm Westwood Professional Services ($74,795 per year) and Pattern Energy Group ($74,299 per year).

Table 3. Top 25 Employers Hiring Solar Energy Jobs

Employer Open Solar Jobs Estimated Base Pay (Open Solar Jobs) Percentage of Open Solar Energy Jobs
Sunrun, Inc 447 $58,707 13%
ION Solar 192 $56,210 5%
Sunpower 156 $72,346 4%
Tesla 109 $43,923 3%
LGCY Power 106 $50,594 3%
Momentum Solar 106 $58,001 3%
Vivint Solar 70 $63,124 2%
PosiGen, LLC 66 $55,529 2%
GE Renewable Energy 73 $65,777 2%
Lockheed Martin 47 $71,796 1%
LG Mobile Phones 46 $58,497 1%
GRID Alternatives 40 $53,175 1%
McCarthy Building Co 37 $57,500 1%
First Solar 34 $62,195 1%
Strata Solar, LLC 33 $67,549 1%
1st Light Energy 30 $60,032 1%
NRG Energy 61 $75,011 2%
Cypress Creek Renewables 29 $72,485 1%
Westwood Professional Services 29 $74,795 1%
Enviva 28 $61,497 1%
Materion 28 $58,901 1%
Petersen Dean 28 $57,408 1%
Eaton 24 $56,381 1%
Institute for Building Technology and Safety 23 $47,577 1%
Pattern Energy Group 22 $74,299 1%
Total 3,492 $63,049 100%

Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (glassdoor.com/research)

What Cities Are Hiring Solar Jobs?

Because solar depends on the sun, one might think most solar jobs today are exclusively located in sunny California, Arizona or Texas. However, we found a broad range of U.S. cities hiring for solar energy jobs — not just those with sunny skies. In Table 4 below, we show the top 10 states with the most solar job postings and the largest metros for job postings within each state.

The state of California has the most solar energy job opportunities today, with 852 solar jobs on Glassdoor or roughly 24 percent of the U.S. total. Other states topping the list for solar jobs include New York (461 jobs), Texas (256 jobs), Colorado (190 jobs) and Massachusetts (177 jobs).

Table 4. Top States Hiring Solar Jobs (and the Cities Within Each State)

State / Metro Open Solar Jobs Estimated Base Pay (All Open Solar Jobs)
California (Total) 852
    San Francisco 259 $77,470
    Los Angeles 213 $65,738
    San Jose 126 $81,024
    San Diego 58 $66,060
    Sacramento 42 $58,294
New York (Total) 461
    New York City 373 $64,615
    Syracuse 33 $65,349
    Buffalo 22 $56,357
    Albany 18 $75,798
Texas (Total) 256
    Austin 89 $61,795
    Houston 63 $72,887
    Dallas 53 $61,703
    San Antonio 38 $55,127
Colorado  (Total) 190
    Denver 136 $63,236
    Boulder 20 $67,516
Massachusetts (Total) 177
    Boston 156 $64,865
    Worcester 14 $57,717
Arizona (Total) 104
    Phoenix 94 $61,898
North Carolina (Total) 96
    Raleigh 52 $66,505
    Charlotte 14 $64,189
Florida (Total) 93
    Orlando 25 $50,109
    Miami 21 $61,135
    Tampa 19 $49,826
Connecticut (Total) 90
    Hartford 48 $54,145
    Bridgeport 20 $55,073
    New Haven 18 $54,757
Illinois (Total) 82
    Chicago 70 $64,743
Total 3,492 $63,049

Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (glassdoor.com/research) Note: Only metros with at least 10 solar job postings are displayed.

What Do Solar Jobs Pay?

On average, solar energy jobs pay premium salaries. In our analysis, the median base pay for solar energy jobs was $58,523 per year. That’s roughly $6,470 or 12.4 percent higher pay than the overall U.S. median base pay of $52,052 per year according to the Glassdoor Local Pay Reports (as of June 2018). However, pay ranges widely for solar jobs today, depending on the skill level and city location.

The figure below shows the distribution of estimated base pay for the roughly 3,500 solar jobs on Glassdoor. The horizontal axis shows the estimated base pay for the job, while the vertical axis shows the number of job postings that fall into each pay range. Each green bar represents a pay range of $8,000 per year. As is clear from the figure, average (mean) pay for solar jobs hovers around $63,000 per year, with a small number of lower-paying roles earning just over $25,000 per year, as well as a small number of highly paid roles paying over $150,000 per year.

Highest Paying Solar Jobs

What are the highest paying solar jobs today? In Table 5, we show the top 15 solar energy jobs with the highest estimated base pay on Glassdoor. Among solar jobs, the highest paying role in our sample was chief operating officer at $153,797 per year. Next was data engineer ($112,641 per year), strategy manager ($112,591 per year), engineering manager ($112,172 per year) and finance manager ($110,319 per year).

Table 5. Solar Jobs with the Highest Estimated Base Pay on Glassdoor

Job Category Estimated Base Pay
Chief Operating Officer $153,797
Data Engineer $112,641
Strategy Manager $112,591
Engineering Manager $112,172
Finance Manager $110,319
Scientific Advisor $109,993
Systems Engineer Staff $104,608
Product Manager $103,729
Software Engineer $102,191
Inside Sales Manager $98,794
Firmware Engineer $96,878
Electronics Engineer $95,045
Manufacturing Engineer $92,667
Systems Engineer $91,907
Energy Engineer $91,445
Average (All Solar Jobs) $63,049

Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (glassdoor.com/research)

Conclusion

Is a jobs boom in the solar energy sector on the way? Although official projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics expect these to be the fastest growing roles over the next decade, our analysis of Glassdoor job postings shows hiring has remained stunted over the past year and a half — signs of a solar industry undergoing significant change and facing uncertainty from changing regulations and tariffs.

Our analysis shows that working in solar today does not necessarily mean working in the energy industry. We found a significant number of solar job opportunities in government, educational institutions, finance and other sectors. The need to finance solar energy projects, staff solar construction sites, offer guidance through solar consulting, conduct nonprofit research on solar energy markets and more has led to solar hiring in a surprising number of industries.

Although we don’t find evidence of a solar hiring boom today, jobs in this field are diverse and not only tend to pay well above the U.S. average, but are available in many large U.S. metros. Whether the solar energy rebounds in 2018 or beyond, we’ll be watching the landscape of solar energy hiring closely.

 

1. Based on the June 2018 JOLTS job openings rate for the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t01.htm#jolts_table1.f.3.

2.Glassdoor Local Pay Reports, U.S. average base pay for full-time workers as of June 2018.