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Oswego Career Ladders - Solar Power

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Solar Power

Anyone who has visited Florida in July knows that the sun can produce heat. And in 1839, French physicist Edmund Bequerel discovered that sunlight could also produce electricity (known as photoelectric effect). Knowledge of the sun's ability to produce both heat and electricity has led to the invention of numerous technologies for capturing the sun's energy. The most common technologies produced and used in the United States today include photovoltaics, concentrating solar power (also known as solar thermal electric) systems, solar hot water systems, and passive solar building design.

Photovoltaics
Photovoltaic (PV)cells, also known as solar cells produce electricity directly from sunlight. When a PV cell is exposed to the sun, the cell, which is made of semiconductor materials, absorbs a portion of the light that strikes it. If the energy from the absorbed light strikes electrons in the outer shell of an atom, these electrons are freed from their parent atoms. Free electrons can then travel into a circuit in the form of electricity. PV vells can be hooked together to meet many different types if electricity requirements, from pumping water to operating calculators and watches, and lighting homes and communities.

Concentrating Solar Power
Although the mechanics of each method differs, all three concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies--parabolic troughs, power towers and parabolic dishes--use mirrors to focus incoming sunlight onto a receiver. The receiver collects the sun's energy in the form of heat, which can then be used directly or converted into electricity using a generator. These technologies are currently in different stages of development.

Solar Hot Water
Energy from the sun can also be used to heat water for buildings and swimming pools. Solar water heating systems for buildings typically include a solar collector, in which fluid is heated by the sun, and a storage tank, which holds the hot fluid after it has been heated by the collector. Systems using fluids other than water require the additional step of passing water through a heat exchanger to heat the water. However, the number of solar hot water systems purchased in the United States is still quite small compared to the number purchased in the rest of the World.

Passive Solar Builsing Design
Building orientation, types of construction materials, glass selection and architectural features all affect the overall energy performance of a building. For passive solar building, designers consider these features early in the design processs along with taking advantage of solar energy to heat and light a building. They also design the building to be cool in the summer. It may cost more to design a passive solar building, but the saving more than make up the difference.

Jobs in Solar Power
Growth of the solar power industry creates high wage, skilled jobs thoughout the country for individuals with many different types of training. R&D groups at national laboratories, universities, and private companies develop and contunually improve solar products to lower their costs and improve their reliability. Individuals employed iin solar R&D generally have professional degrees in electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering, materials science, and/or physics. Many of the people involved with techologies that are still under development, such as parabolic dish systems, focus on R&D. As each technology progresses from the R&D phase toward full-scale commercialization, all increasing number of both professional and skilled workers are needed to sell, manufacture, design, install and maintain equiipment.

Bachelors Degree or Higher

Electrical Engineer - Involved in Research and Development groups at national laboratories, universities, and private companies to develop and continually improve solar products to lower their costs and improve their reliability. They may be involved in the design of solar-powered buildings and the engineering and integration of renewable energy systems. Average salary $70,000/yr.

Mechanical Engineer - Researches, develops, designs, manufactures, and tests tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices. In the field of solar power, the most common technologies produced and used in the United States today include photovoltaics, concentrating solar power (also known as solar thermal electric) systems, solar hot water systems, and passive solar building design. These technologies are currently in different stages of development. The role of the mechanical engineer is to take each technology from the R&D phase toward full-scale commercialization. Average salary $73,000/yr.

Chemical Engineer - Experiments with polymeric photovoltaic materials and liquid crystals to achieve energy conversion efficiencies high enough to compete with inorganic photovoltaic materials. Average $78,000/yr.

Heating Engineers - Designs systems and manages projects including cost estimating, specification writing and construction administration of these projects as well as oversees installation of systems. Average salary $60,000-$70,000/yr.

Materials Scientist - Researches and studies the structures and chemical properties of various natural and manmade materials, including metals, alloys, rubber, ceramics, semiconductors, polymers, and glass. They determine ways to strengthen or combine materials or develop new materials with new or specific properties for use in a variety of products and applications. Average salary $69,000/yr.

Physicist - Knowledge of the sun’s ability to produce both heat and electricity has led to the invention of numerous technologies for capturing the sun’s energy. However, scientists have only begun to scratch the surface in developing new strategies for harnessing the potential of solar energy. For example some Physicists believe that the best available source of energy will be the solar energy which strikes the moon. Others are researching space projects that would involve power plants in low Earth orbit (LEO) that would use solar panels to collect energy then convert it to microwave energy and beam it to the planet, where it would be converted to electricity. Broader schemes would put power plants in higher orbits or other points in space, then beam the energy to Earth-orbiting reflectors. Research Physicists play a major role in formulating and proposing these ideas. Industrial Physicists and engineers have the task of taking these ideas from theory to practice. Average salary $100,000/yr.

* All wages and salaries based on 2009 statistics.

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