If you want to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, find new solutions to today’s most pressing problems and play an active role in building a safe, sustainable future, a career as a solar engineer could be your calling. 

Exploring a career in solar and renewable energy

With every new technological advancement or invention comes a need to power it. From smartphones to smart cities, our reliance on energy is growing exponentially – and with scientific consensus that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels without catastrophic consequences, we must find innovative, sustainable ways to power our world.

For this reason, there has never been a greater need for a new crop of renewable energy engineers to join this growing industry. The demand for qualified engineers remains high across all specialisations – in particular, solar photovoltaic (solar PV) and renewable energy engineering. Pursuing a career in solar and renewable energy offers engaging work, competitive salaries and the opportunity to make a positive impact in a field you’re passionate about.  

What is solar photovoltaic engineering?

Photovoltaic engineering, commonly called solar PV, is a field of engineering that enables the conversion of sunlight into electricity using solar cells. It includes the process of designing, developing and producing these solar PV systems for a range of uses across any industry where energy is needed. This can include power systems for new cities, designing more energy efficient buildings and revolutionising transport.

When it comes to solar photovoltaic engineering, solar panels might be the first thing you think of. The PERC solar cell is the basis of more than 90% of all new solar panel modules manufactured globally and was invented right here at UNSW in 1983. 

Today, the profession extends across all areas of solar PV technology, from research into new organic materials and their suitability for use in solar PV production to the construction, operation, modelling and optimisation of large-scale power generation facilities.

What does a solar engineer do?

The primary role of a solar engineer is to develop and consult on solar power systems that provide electricity for homes, businesses and communities. They can play a specialised role in various elements of the supply chain, from design and manufacturing to installation and maintenance.

Solar engineers tend to have expertise in many forms of engineering, including electrical, mechanical, chemical and software engineering. There are also opportunities to contribute to policy development, industry research and the implementation of renewable energy adoption plans for cities and communities.

Here are some examples of the day-to-day responsibilities of a solar engineer:

  • Designing solar power systems, including the layout of photovoltaic panels and supporting structures and electrical connections
  • Analysing the feasibility of a solar project through a cost-benefit and environmental impact analysis
  • Using big data to more efficiently model, optimise, operate and manage renewable energy systems
  • Managing projects for clients, including planning, scheduling and budgeting
  • Researching new technologies and contributing to industry or academic literature

How to become a solar engineer

A successful career in solar engineering begins with a hands-on, career-focused education. And since UNSW offers the #1 rated Solar and Renewable Energy Engineering School in Australia*, there’s no better place to launch your career. 

To become a qualified solar engineer, you might begin as an undergraduate student studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Photovoltaics and Solar Energy). You’ll be equipped with the practical skills and in-depth industry knowledge to confidently enter the renewable energy sector upon graduation. This specialised 4-year full-time degree provides a broad understanding of renewable technologies with a strong focus on solar and its role in powering a sustainable future. 

Alternatively, you might take a wider approach with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Renewable Energy), which extends beyond solar to include the study of wind, bioenergy, solar thermal, end-use energy efficiency, energy efficient buildings and energy storage systems. 

Both degrees include a 60-day industry training element where you’ll actively participate in a renewable energy project to prepare you for your first job after graduation. 

For postgraduate students, completing a Master of Engineering in Renewable Engineering or a Master of Engineering Science in Photovoltaics and Solar Energy or Renewable Energy, is a great way to gain accreditation and accelerate your career in renewable energy. 

* EduRank

Job opportunities in solar and renewable energy engineering

UNSW is globally recognised as one of the top-performing universities for engineering and produces the graduates with the highest graduate median salaries of all Go8 Universities*. The School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering is renowned for its research groups, strong industry partnerships and distinguished teaching staff from a variety of backgrounds. You’ll graduate with a huge variety of career paths to choose from. 

Whether you join a start-up, large engineering firm or government body, some potential job titles may include:

  • Project engineer
  • Technical lead
  • Field engineer
  • Operations and maintenance manager
  • Renewable energy policymaker

* QILT Graduate Outcomes Survey, 2022

Study with us

The School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering is internationally recognised for our record-breaking research in solar power (photovoltaics) and renewable energy.

Still have questions about a career in solar engineering? 

  • It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete an undergraduate degree and become a qualified engineer.

    After that, you might choose to upskill or specialise in a particular area through a postgraduate degree. This can take 1–2 years depending on your prior knowledge and industry experience.

  • As in many industries, your salary will depend on your experience and the type of role you choose. Graduate solar engineers earn an average salary of $89,000, while senior solar engineers with eight or more years of experience earn an average salary of $140,000*.

    * Salary Expert

  • As a high-growth sector, countless roles and specialisations are available for skilled graduates, including many that haven’t even been invented yet.

    In Australia, the industry is growing rapidly, with jobs in the sector growing at about 30% per year*. This trend is seen globally as countries seek to address climate change. Those who pursue a career in renewable energy engineering can command competitive salaries due to the growing demand for their skills. In addition, the scope of opportunities in Australia and abroad, combined with the ability to actively contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future provide the ingredients for a rewarding, purpose-driven career.

    * Australian Bureau of Statistics

  • The renewable energy sector is experiencing immense growth in response to the urgent need to curb fossil fuel consumption. As a result, skilled engineers across all fields of renewable energy are in high demand. Beyond solar and photovoltaics, expertise in wind, geothermal, pumped hydro, batteries and biomass energy will be increasingly needed as we look for ways to power a more sustainable future.

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