All posts by Abbey Vinson

The Clean Job Hunt

“What will you be doing after graduation?”

It’s inevitable question dreaded by college seniors all over the world.

With a job in clean-technology and renewable energy, you could be:

  • traveling internationally to manage the finances of energy companies
  • meeting with stakeholders to manage policy agendas
  • researching new technologies
  • helping to finance a solar project
  • creating innovative ways to use social media to bolster support for wind power

These are just a few of the things that Carolina students have had the opportunity to do in the clean-tech sector.

Sound cool?  Here’s what these students and recent grads had to say about landing their clean-tech jobs:



Jenna Koester

“Upward mobility. Make sure you understand what the trajectory is for you at a company before you sign on.”





Bianca Gartner


Bianca Gartner

“A willingness to work and try anything – that’s really what will get you places.”







Charlie Egan

“You want to have a skill–something you’re good at–that makes you attractive to companies. “



Megan Neligan_Jobs article


Megan Neligan

“What you do today really does translate into your career and helps grow your network in the future.”



Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.58.53 PM

Ellie Hartye

“Being honest is the best form of communication–not being afraid to admit your confusions and mistakes because you and your boss grow as a result.”




Interviews have been edited for brevity.

Virtual Clean Tech Job Fair

Did you miss this year’s Clean Tech Summit?

No worries, scroll through this gallery to learn about some of the top employers  in the solar industry.

Grid Alternatives : based in Oakland, California. Founder: Erica Mackie Grid Alternatives is a company that seeks to provide access to solar energy to underprivileged and struggling communities. They offer several training programs, including Solar Spring Break, to provide students with practical skills for the solar workforce. Photo Credit: Robert Scoble
Grid Alternatives : based in Oakland, California. Founder: Erica Mackie
Grid Alternatives is a company that seeks to provide access to solar energy to underprivileged and struggling communities. They offer several training programs, including Solar Spring Break, to provide students with practical skills for the solar workforce.
Photo Credit: Robert Scoble
United Solar Initiative : based in Chapel Hill, NC. Founders: Alex Wilhelm, Steven Thomsen, and Ed Witkin.
United Solar Initiative is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to finding solutions to energy and water crisis in underdeveloped communities. They work both domestically and abroad to provide solar-powered water pumps and other needed projects.
Photo Credit: US Dept. of Agriculture
Sungevity : based in Oakland, CA.
Sungevity is a for-profit solar company that often partners with nonprofits to provide affordable solar power to low-income individuals. They also work to equip homeowners and businesses with solar panels.
Photo Credit: 350.0rg
Cypress Creek Renewables : based in Gilbert, AZ
Though based in Arizona, Cypress Creek Renewables also has a presence in Carrboro. They focus on providing local solar energy and services to the surrounding community.
Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan
Strata Solar : based in Chapel Hill. Founders: Markus and Cathy Wilhelm
Strata Solar prides themselves in making local employment a priority, boasting 1200 new jobs created in 2013. They offer a variety of career options and are a top employer of UNC students.
Photo Credit: Michael Mazengarb

Gone With The Wind: Renewables Replace Traditional Energy Jobs?

In 1975, Arizona congressman Morris K. Udall outlined a path for protecting the environment while saving the nation money in fuel costs: adopting renewable energies, particularly solar.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that being for the environment means you have to be against progress,” he said.

That was 41 years ago.

Now, solar power is one of the fastest growing sectors of renewable energy in the country. The U.S. hit a record high for installed residential solar panels last fall.

But naysayers oppose renewables solely on the basis of the job market.  They argue that with each retired coal plant comes a wave of displaced workers.  Questions remain about what renewable energy will mean for the job security and paychecks of average Americans.

A System Overhaul

Today, the energy industry is experiencing some of the most rapid change in its lifetime.  As renewable energy comes online, new energy producers are competing with traditional monopolistic utilities like Duke Energy.  Falling prices of new technology and have put renewables in a position for rapid expansion.

However, this threat to the old order has citizens worried about job security.

“The renewable business is a strange kind of beast in that all of the capital investment is made upfront and then there is very little in the way of operating costs,” said Wayne Harris, the director at the Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission.

Due to their less resource-intensive nature, renewable energy production facilities usually employ fewer workers than a traditional coal or gas fired power plant.

“If you think about the life cycle of a coal plant, it’s a dirty business. It’s pumping dangerous carbon into the atmosphere, but over the life of the plant, there are guys who are mining it, guys who are shipping it. There’s a huge supply chain involved over a 20-year period,” said Harris.  “Then with a wind farm, 300 men and women build it and then 10 people maintain it for the next 30 years.”

This assessment is confirmed by the North Carolina Clean Energy Census of 2011.  It found that, with the exception of smart grid and manufacturing sectors, the average firms operating in the clean energy sector employed fewer than 10 employees.

“Most of these technologies that save energy also eliminate jobs,” said Harris.

Maggie Clark, the director of government affairs from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, made a similar argument regarding the temporality of renewable energy instillation jobs.

“Even though the construction job, just like any construction job, may not be a permanent job, its just another form of construction and there are other maintenance jobs that are full time,” said Clark.

Clark also expects that industries like solar power may be able to support more long-term construction jobs as the companies hire workers to update system components as technology improves.

And the jobs generated by the clean energy sector are different from traditional jobs like coal mining.

The Evolution of Energy Jobs

For conventional fuel sources, many jobs are concerned with location and extraction of fuel.  By contrast, clean energy jobs are much more technologically advanced and management-oriented, which appeals more to younger generation.  Jobs range from software designing, data interpreting and grid management to cyber security, and research and development of new products and equipment.

The jobs that are created in the clean energy sector typically pay well: $75,000-80,000 annually.  By contrast, coal miners in the US make a yearly average salary of $25,000-65,0000.

According to the North Carolina Clean Energy Census, 3,158 new clean energy jobs were added in 2015 for a total of 26,154.  Of these new jobs, half are involved in energy efficiency and retrofitting older buildings, followed closely by solar activities.  Some of the most numerous jobs in past years have been in areas such as research and development, manufacturing, and energy efficient design.

“Historically, energy efficiency has been the leading employment sector in the clean energy industry,” said Clark.  Energy efficiency can encompass jobs from the technical aspects of instillation to energy-conscious design.  “Jobs that you may not think of as clean energy sometimes fall into the energy efficiency category.”

Energy efficiency jobs made up 50% of the clean energy job market in 2015, an addition of 1,760 jobs since 2014.

Hidden Benefits

Unlike traditional energy production, renewable energy jobs help to generate revenue that stays in the local community, since the fuel for energy production is locally sourced.  This is particularly important to many rural areas of the US, like Roscoe Texas.  They have been able to use wind power as a tool to revitalize their community and local economy.

Harris added that renewable energy projects generate revenue – typically from property taxes levied – without putting pressure on local resources.

“The county gets $250,000 a year with almost no additional strain on its existing infrastructure—not a whole bunch of extra kids in school, no need for extra roads. They just collect the check,” he said.

This is good news for towns with already strained resources.  It provides incentives beyond just job creation for communities to invest in renewable energy growth.



Photos:  Left- The Baldwin Hills oil wells of Los Angeles, California.  Photo Credit The City Project.  Right- A wind farm in Iowa.  Photo credit Don Graham.