Best Renewable Energy Careers, 2020: High Growth & Pay

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In 2008, solar power generated 2.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. A decade later, it generated nearly 46 times that amount. That growth isn’t slowing down. The US Energy Information Association expects renewables will be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in at least the short-term future, as new generating capacity comes online in not just solar power, but also wind and hydroelectric power.

The renewable energy sector doesn’t grow by itself; it needs skilled professionals to install, repair, and manage its infrastructure. The boom in renewable energy has created a reciprocal boom in several renewable energy careers and energy efficiency. Below, we’ve collected the best: careers that are high-growth, high-pay, and relatively easy-to-enter.

Methodology

In assembling our list of the best careers in renewable energy, we chose a few limiting parameters.

  • Firstly, the careers on this list are mainly high-paying, with most salaries that beat the national median wage per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019).
  • Secondly, they’re high-growth, outperforming the BLS’s average national growth rate for all professions (5 percent, 2018-2028)—sometimes by a gargantuan margin.
  • Finally, these careers are all easily attainable, with none requiring a bachelor’s degree, although it couldn’t hurt.

There’s never been a better time to go green, and your new career in renewable energy is closer than ever. Read on to get started.

Become a Solar Photovoltaic Installer

The future is bright for solar photovoltaic installers, who assemble, installl, and maintain solar PV systems.

Solar energy promises to be one of the key renewable sources of the mid 21st century, and solar PV installers have a crucial role to play in building and maintaining its infrastructure. According to the BLS, it’s the fastest growing career in the nation, projected to grow by 63 percent between 2018 and 2028.

Some solar PV installers may take classes at a trade school of community college to gain a fundamental understanding of solar PV technology, but it’s not required. On-the-job training, which can last between a month and a year, will teach solar PV installers about the safety, tools, and techniques of the trade. The median annual wage for solar PV installers is $46,850 per year, with the top 10 percent earning $63,880 per year or more.

Become a Wind Turbine Technician

As the use of wind energy grows, more professionals will be needed to maintain, install, and repair the hardware that makes it possible. That’s where wind turbine technicians, also known as windtechs, come in. They’re experts at the advanced mechanical technology that turns wind energy into electricity. And, according to the BLS, wind turbine technician is the second fastest growing career in the nation, projected to grow by 57 percent by 2028.

Most windtechs attend either trade schools or community colleges to gain a basic understanding of wind energy technology, but a formal degree is not required. Typically, one year of on-the-job training is enough to enter the profession. The median annual wage for wind turbine technicians is $56,700 per year, with the top 10 percent earning $80,150 or more per year.

Become a Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanic or Installer

Heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers help link renewable energy to energy-efficient buildings. They install and test heating and air conditioning systems that minimize energy usage, and install or repair self-contained ground-source/air-source heat pumps to minimize carbon-based energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions. According to the BLS, this profession is set to grow 13 percent between 2018 and 2028.

The technology underlying heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems is complex and changing with the times. As such, people entering this profession may need a dedicated HVAC education, often one that lasts between six months and two years. But a bachelor’s degree is not required; apprenticeships and on-the-job training can supply more technical understanding. The median annual salary for heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers is $51,420 per year.

Become a Service Unit Operator (Coal, Gas, Mining)

While renewable energy has spiked in the US over the last two decades, it’s still nowhere near the dominant levels of fossil-fuels. So, while it may seem counterintuitive, service unit operators in the coal, gas, and mining industry still have a role to play in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Generally responsible for operating extraction equipment in coal, gas, and mining facilities, service unit operators are increasingly applying energy-saving techniques such as coiled tubing, slim-hole drilling, and/or gas-lift systems.

Service unit operators do not need a formal degree in order to work, only on-the-job training that lasts from a few months to a year. According to O*NET (2020), which lists this as a green career, the need for service unit operators will grow more than 11 percent in the decade preceding 2028, adding some 8,700 jobs. The median annual salary for service unit operators is $52,320 per year.

Become an Electric Power Line Installer or Repairer

Most renewable energy is stored and transferred with electricity. That’s one of the reasons why the need for electric power line installers and repairers is projected to grow up to 10 percent in the short term (2018-2028), adding some 11,400 jobs, according to O*NET.

Electric power line installers and repairers control power supply connections, test electrical components for proper functioning, and ensure an efficient connection to the smart grid.

No formal degree is required in order to work as an electric power line installer and/or repairer. Some vocational school or on-the-job training is often enough, and recognized apprenticeship programs may be a lucrative avenue into this profession. The median annual salary for electric power line installers and repairers is $71,960 per year, with the top 10 percent making $103,500 per year.

Become a Weatherization Installer or Technician

With increased access to renewable energy, more homes and buildings will need to be outfitted in a manner that allows them to take advantage of that energy and make themselves more energy efficient. Weatherization installers and technicians do precisely that. By performing energy audits, increasing energy conservation, and making physical upgrades, they bring a house into the 21st century. According to O*NET, the need for weatherization installers and technicians is on pace to grow by over 10 percent in the near term (2018-2028), adding some 4,900 jobs.

Generally speaking, it’s possible to start working as a weatherization installer/technician with just a high school diploma, though some do obtain HVAC certifications before starting work. On-the-job training takes care of the rest. The median salary for weatherization installers and technicians (“miscellaneous construction and related workers”) is $44,030 per year.

Become a Construction and Building Inspector

Construction and building inspectors have been a part of the green economy for a long time. They’re responsible for monitoring construction activities to make sure environmental regulations are upheld, inspecting facilities for their economic impact, and conducting environmental audits that check for any environmental hazards in a building or on a construction site.

As renewable energy proliferates, they are called upon to make sure clean energy sources are being used responsibly, safely, and efficiently in buildings and on construction sites. According to the BLS, the profession is set to grow 7 percent nationally, adding 7,700 jobs by 2028.

Construction and building inspectors rarely need more than a high school diploma, and they can expect to receive much of their training on the job. In an apprenticeship or through self-teaching they can master building codes, environmental regulations, and reporting duties. Some states do, however, require licensure.

The median salary for construction and building inspectors is $64,390 per year, with the top 10 percent earning $98,820 per year.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He's been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt's writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.

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