In May 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters sweeping across the U.S. and widespread domestic civil unrest, I found myself graduating from Virginia Tech. Four months later, I was embarking on a new career as an engineer at New Energy Equity (NEE), a rapidly growing solar developer. If someone told me a year ago that this is where the next 12 months would take me, I would hardly have believed them.
When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March, it completely disrupted the futures of countless individuals, including many prospective graduates like myself who found themselves looking for a job in an unforeseen recession. Internships were cancelled, hiring put on hold, and students were left trying to navigate an uncertain job market. It was a difficult time for me, as I was searching for my first full time job. Though I had previous internship and research experience in the defense and manufacturing industries, I did not foresee a long and personally fulfilling career in those fields. As an avid outdoor enthusiast, I have always been passionate about the environment and sustainability, and renewable energy intrigued me. But, with my background in Materials Science Engineering and no direct experience in the renewable energy industry, I was unsure how to begin my career search.
I learned about the position at New Energy Equity through a professor I was working with as a grading assistant at Virginia Tech. I vividly remember the moment when I read their email about New Energy Equity seeking to hire young graduates and decided to apply 30 seconds later. Those seconds led to my entrance into the solar industry and employment with NEE.
For others who find themselves in the same position I was in upon graduation, I encourage you to look to the solar industry. While not immune to the economic recession caused by COVID-19, solar and other renewable energy industries are continuing to grow and hold great opportunities for individuals passionate about saving the planet and looking for careers in a rapidly growing industry.
The ever-improving efficiency and falling prices of renewable energy technologies is driving the transition to renewable energy from traditional fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. Renewable energy sources have now become the cheapest way to produce electricity in many parts of the world, such as California and Texas, largely due to the decreased cost of solar technology as well as government efforts to address climate change through tax breaks and other financial incentives for solar 1, 2, 3. The rise of the solar industry is clear and undisputed: the United States has seen 52% average annual solar growth since the solar ITC (Investment Tax Credit) was enacted in 2006, resulting in the U.S. solar industry having grown by more than 10,000% in roughly 14 years 3.
Now in 2020, industry professionals expect the growth of solar and other renewable energy industries to continue, whereas fossil fuel industries are suffering due to reduced demand and slashed prices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic 1. However, the renewable energy industry has not been immune to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, with total new solar capacity installation in the U.S. expected to be 37% lower than the pre-COVID forecasts 4. Nevertheless, the industry is still increasing capacity overall in 2020, and maintains a broad trajectory of growth for the future as the economy continues to recover 1.
In addition to the solar industry’s proven economic resilience, the industry has a crucial role to play in our fight against climate change. Throughout the past few months, humanity has had a unique chance to observe the impact of fossil fuel use on quality of life in the world's urban areas. Reduced transportation due to temporary lockdowns in response to COVID-19 has led to a historic decrease in demand for fossil fuels. With less fossil fuels being burned, carbon emissions are set to decline by nearly 8% this year, and many countries across the globe have experienced better air quality than they have seen in years 5, 6, 7, 8. This is in stark contrast to the destructive wildfires that have swept across the western United States and serves as an example of the harmful and very real effects of climate change. We’ve been given a clear picture of what our future could look like if we accelerate the transition to renewable energy (i.e. reduced air pollution and better living conditions), vs continuing to burn fossil fuels without considering the long-term ramifications.
If reading this has piqued your interest about renewable energy, I suggest you act on those feelings. Whether you are a recent college graduate like me or someone without a degree, there are lots of options when it comes to jobs in the renewable energy industry. In fact, the U.S. bureau of labor statistics has forecasted clean energy jobs as some of the fastest growing in the U.S. economy, with solar PV installers and wind turbine service technicians having growth rates of 51% and 61% respectively for 2019-2029 9. In short, "clean energy jobs offer higher wages than the average economy, can't be outsourced, and are widely available to workers without college degrees, opening up economic opportunity for all Americans" 10.
Since being with New Energy Equity, I learned that one’s background does not have to limit one’s opportunities, and with persistence, one can find a career that drives them. The clean energy sector is a fruitful industry with ample opportunity to build a fulfilling career and make a positive impact on the world.
DISCLAIMER: The content referenced in this article was published between April and June 2020 and referenced values do not account for any changes occurring between those months and the current day and may not be consistent with the latest data.
Stay up-to-date with New Energy Equity by joining our mailing list.