The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is off to a promising start in India. From less than 5 MW at the end of 2009, the total installed capacity in India is expected to cross 500 MW by March this year.
For graduate engineers eyeing the energy sector for jobs, solar companies could just be their next big destination. For every ten jobs created in solar factories, there will be 15 jobs created downstream, in installation, financing, project development and distribution. So to fulfil the target of 20,000 MW of installed solar power capacity under the National Solar Mission (NSM), the Indian solar sector would need over 100,000 skilled solar professionals by 2022. If we consider the potential employment generation by state solar policies, the cumulative figure would be much higher.
The solar industry will require 60-65 per cent electrical engineers, 20-25 per cent mechanical engineers, 10 per cent electronics engineers and remaining civil engineers in areas where technical expertise is required. Even now, there is tremendous dearth of experienced hands as well as entry-level resources in the solar sector. Solar companies are poaching talent from top conventional power companies in the public and private sectors. Experienced professionals are hopping from one company to another every six months for better compensation packages.
Given that the industry is expanding fast, career opportunities are only going to grow.
Where all can you get into
Both sides of the solar business—equipment manufacturing and power generation—need people to cash in on the growth in the solar industry. Solar PV systems involve use of semiconductor technology. Hence electronics engineers, along with mechanical and electrical engineers, have a role to play in the solar industry.
The most common jobs for electronics engineers are in fabrication, testing and wiring of solar cells and modules. In India, most of the solar industry is based on crystalline or polycrystalline silicon solar cells and amorphous silicon solar cells.
Though R&D and production are the most suitable for electronics engineers in this industry, they would find a suitable position in instrumentation, installation, operation and monitoring, financing and project development related works as well. Installation and operation of large-scale PV systems is slowly and steadily gaining momentum, creating many opportunities.
In the instrumentation sector, there are various positions available with the inverter, charge controller and power conditioner manufacturers like Siemens, ABB, Schneider, Focus, Optimal Power Solutions and Bonfiglioli.
Skill sets required
You can work in the solar industry as a solar PV design engineer, process engineer, R&D professional, sales and marketing engineer, production manager, project manager, PV fabrication and testing technician, and so on.
Solar system engineers and managers create system solutions around charge controllers and inverters for grid-tied and off-grid solar applications. They work with customers for technical presentations, perform testing and qualification for internal R&D, and are a systems expert to work with marketing. For this position, you should be a B.Tech or M.Tech, and have the basic knowledge of solar systems, PV panels, inverter systems, DC cabling and SCADA systems. You should be highly analytic and capable of handling all the test equipment including logic analysers and remote monitoring. Knowledge of financial aspects of project report preparation, cost estimation and proposal preparation is required. Also, you must possess excellent communication skills, negotiation skills and analytical skills. You must be able to foresee the things and take actions proactively.
Process engineers are required to have experience in solar photovoltaic cell/module or semiconductor device manufacturing.
If you are interested in R&D, you should either have a Ph.D in solidstate physics, BE/B.Tech in electronics & communication engineering, or M.Sc. in electronics or solidstate physics. For a senior position, some experience in electronics R&D, and technology management and product development processes is required.
To get into quality assurance, you should be a BE or B.Tech in electronics and communication engineering or in electronics and electrical engineering with experience in the field of quality management in either a manufacturing, electronics, light engineering or semiconductor industry. You should be well versed with advanced practices and concepts in quality management and have the capacity to drive quality culture across all functional areas.
BE in electronics with MBA and two-three years of experience in industrial marketing in the solar/renewable energy field will qualify you for the position of sales and marketing engineer. You should be willing to travel to different places. As you gain experience, you can grow to the position of manager for sales and marketing.
For equipment maintenance, you should be a BE or B.Tech in electronics and electrical engineering with experience in equipment maintenance in a manufacturing industry. You should have worked with programmable logic control based equipment. Also, you should be good at troubleshooting and runing machines with minimal down time.
If aiming for production management, you should be a BE or B.Tech in electronics/instrumentation/mechatronics or M.Sc. in physics/electronics with experience in a manufacturing environment—preferably in the electronics or light engineering industry. Candidates with experience in semiconductor devices, solar photovoltaic cells or modules manufacturing are preferred. A good insight of modern manufacturing practices and prior work experience in a systems based environment are desirable.
For project management, you should have experience in turnkey project management in a manufacturing industry. Prior experience in handling major projects under challenging conditions is desirable.
Where to study
The solar PV industry is in a very nascent stage and the infrastructure not completely built in India. However, with the rapid development of this industry, there will be requirement of fresh graduates and postgraduates who can be trained in the respective areas.
There is a huge talent crunch as few colleges or institutes offer courses dedicated to solar energy or renewable energy. However, there are about 25 institutes in India offering courses in energy studies, with renewable energy as one of the subjects.
Most of the courses in renewable energy are available at the master’s level. Some of the institutes and universities offering these courses are Department of Energy Science & Engineering, IIT Mumbai; Center of Energy Studies, IIT, New Delhi; School of Energy Studies, Jadavpur Univeristy, Kolkata; Department of School of Energy Studies, University of Pune; TERI University, New Delhi; University of Lucknow; and Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (Gandhinagar, Gujarat). Outside India, University of Dundee in Scottland and University of Nottingham in England also offer this course.
Also, there are centres of energy studies where specialisation in renewable energy or solar PV can be pursued. Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University has a School of Solar Energy which offers courses in solar technology. Many universities offer alternative energy sources as an elective for final year of the four-year graduate-level programme.
IIT-Bombay, SEMI Group and KPTCL conduct introductory or short-term courses for a week or two. These courses are not specific to power electronics but cover system design, integration, etc.
To bridge the short-term resource gap, SEMI India has launched a solar skill development programme in collaboration with the National Centre for Photovoltaic Research and Education (NCPRE) based at IIT-Bombay. These are short-term technical training courses, three days in duration, conducted by faculty drawn from IIT-Bombay and solar industry. SEMI India is also going to hold a short-term course on off-grid solar PV components and systems at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on April 11-13, 2012.
Career growth over the years
Entry-level positions start from trainee engineers in manufacturing, system and project design, installation, operation and maintenance, procurement, etc. You can progress from the level of assistant manager to manager and general manager level both in production and R&D.
A fresher or trainee engineer can earn Rs 20,000-25,000 a month. However, if you have graduated from a reputed engineering college or have a master’s degree, you can earn anywhere between Rs 35,000 and Rs 40,000 a month depending on your individual skillset. Currently, professionals with eight to ten years of experience in the solar industry earn Rs 2-2.5 million per annum. Entry-level positions start from trainee engineers in manufacturing, system and project design, installation, operation and maintenance, procurement, etc. You can progress from the level of assistant manager to manager and general manager level both in production and R&D. A fresher or trainee engineer can earn Rs 20,000-25,000 a month. However, if you have graduated from a reputed engineering college or have a master’s degree, you can earn anywhere between Rs 35,000 and Rs 40,000 a month depending on your individual skillset. Currently, professionals with eight to ten years of experience in the solar industry earn Rs 2-2.5 million per annum.
Key to success
The key to a successful career in the solar industry is “Learning by doing.” You can do that by continuing research and training, attending conferences and events, joining local and national groups, reading industry magazines and websites, making personal contacts and volunteering to show commitment. In short, sound technical knowledge, awareness about latest developments and dynamics of the field along with a passion for renewable energy technology will help you get going. The key to a successful career in the solar industry is “Learning by doing.” You can do that by continuing research and training, attending conferences and events, joining local and national groups, reading industry magazines and websites, making personal contacts and volunteering to show commitment. In short, sound technical knowledge, awareness about latest developments and dynamics of the field along with a passion for renewable energy technology will help you get going.
The author is an executive editor at EFY