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Solar engineering, while an ancient practice, is still a relatively new industry that has caught more mainstream attention only within the past 20 years. With forecasts of fossil fuels' eventual extinction and the focus shifting to sustainable business practices, more engineers are researching and developing solar-powered products as a means to conserve energy.
There are two types of solar energy: passive solar energy and active solar energy. Passive solar energy, as the name suggests, means that no mechanical devices are needed to gather energy from the sun. Positioning buildings to face the sun is one example of passive solar energy. In direct contrast, mechanical devices are used for active solar energy—to collect, store, and distribute solar energy throughout buildings. For instance, mechanical equipment such as pumps, fans, and blowers are used to gather and distribute solar energy to heat the space inside a home. Active solar energy is just one area in which solar engineers work. They help create active solar-space heating systems that are liquid (e.g., water tanks) or air based (e.g., rock bins that store heat), and active solar-water heating systems that use pumps to circulate and heat fluids.
Solar engineers are frequently electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, or even petroleum engineers who are working on solar projects and designing photovoltaic systems.
Solar engineers may be responsible for such things as reviewing and assessing solar construction documentation; tracking and monitoring project documentation; evaluating construction issues; meeting with other engineers, developers, and investors to present and review project plans and specifications; participating in industry forums; and possibly even dealing with clients directly. One general requirement for most solar engineering positions is a working knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering, and an understanding of a range of engineering concepts (such as site assessment, analysis, and design, and energy optimization).
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