The emerging field of solar engineering

The emerging field of solar engineering

Solar energy has become one of the most prosperous industries over the past decade, thanks to the technological innovations and the constant requirement for alternative solutions that are sustainable and greener. As a result, this field is seeing a surge of employment. Since there is a scarcity of qualified people in this emerging sector, pursuing a degree in solar energy engineering is definitely an ideal choice.  

So, who is a solar engineer? Also called as solar array engineers or alternative energy engineers, they are experts who use the sunlight to generate electricity. In technical terms, solar engineers create solar cells which are capable of collecting and storing the sun's rays. Understanding exactly what a career in solar engineering entails is far from simple.

In essence, their job needs them to plan, design and implement solar energy projects. Doing so is a complex process. After a client consultation, solar engineers will have to do a site assessment and financial assessment. Then, they will have to design an appropriate plan and implement it after taking all the relevant factors into account. In addition to these, solar engineers are also called on to report on a project's efficiency and safety. They may also be asked to deal with outages, crises and system maintenance.

One can consider choosing a career in the field of solar energy as the field is seeing advancements technologically and has been witnessing extensive financial investment. Other factors that may drive a student to enter the field are the emergence of the concept of alternative energy and increased government initiatives in this regard. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers reveals that around 20% of the world's electricity is already coming from renewable energy sources and notes that wind and solar energy top the list. As environmental concerns grow, the use of such natural resources will only increase in the future.

To enter the solar engineering field, candidates will need a bachelor's degree in Mechanical or Electrical engineering. However, pursuing Master's degree could open up one's career and lead to higher-paying roles. Other degrees which could be helpful are Industrial engineering, Computer Science engineering and Chemical engineering. One could also consider doing a course which focuses on sustainability or an MBA with a specialisation in Sustainability and Compliance. For engineers who offer professional services to the public, an Engineer in Training (EIT) or Professional Engineer license is a must.

In addition to these, some of the key skills one will need are:

* Systems design and engineering

* Solar systems installation

* Device fabrication and characterisation

* Quality assurance and reliability testing

* Project management and consultancy

* Strong communication skills

In addition to these essential skills, it is important that solar engineers have a knowledge in software that will help them create designs and test photovoltaic systems. One such software that solar engineers should be proficient in is the AutoCAD, a computer-aided design program that is widely used in engineering. In Solar engineering, this software is typically used for photovoltaic system layout. To keep up with the technological developments, solar engineers should participate in professional development courses.

Irrespective of being a very specific field, solar energy is already creating a huge impact in various industries. Solar engineer, photovoltaic engineer and installer, energy management technician and solar thermal installer are some careers that one can consider. Additionally, one can consider taking up engineering and consultancy roles in specialised solar engineering companies, renewable energy companies, oil and gas companies who want to provide renewable sources of fuel, and non-profit organisations.

A degree in solar energy is challenging and exciting, and is in demand. By becoming a part of the developing renewable energy sector, one can secure a sure-fire career.

(The author is with edX.org, Delhi)

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