Solar Energy Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a solar energy master's degree or Ph.D. program? Read about the master's degree or Ph.D. requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Solar Energy Master's Degree, Ph.D. and Online Course Info

Although master's degree and Ph.D. programs in solar energy are rare, you can find graduate programs in related fields, such as engineering, that offer a specialization in solar energy. As a solar energy student, you learn about solar energy technologies and applications, which can help prepare you for a career in the solar industry. Many jobs in the solar industry require a master's or doctoral degree. Graduates can find employment in areas such as scientific research, construction, operation, maintenance, installation, project development and manufacturing. Employment was expected to grow in the solar power industry from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Master's Doctorate
Who is this Degree for? Individuals who want careers in the solar industry Students who want to work in academia or in the solar industry
Common Career Paths (with approx. median annual salary)* - Environmental scientist and specialist *($62,000)
- Materials engineer *(86,000)
- Mechanical engineer *(79,000)
- Chemist *($68,000)
- Materials scientist *($85,000)
- Physicist *($106,000)
Time to Completion1-6 years3-8 years
Common Graduation Requirements Applied research project or thesis - Possible internship and field work
- Qualifying examination and dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's degree
Online Availability No, but coursework is available No, but coursework is available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010)

Master's Degree in Solar Energy

In a master's degree program in a related area with a specialization in solar energy, you will learn about solar energy technology and how to use it in the world. By balancing theoretical and hands-on learning, programs can help prepare students to work in the field after graduation. Students may have the opportunity to integrate study in other disciplines such as science, mathematics and engineering. You may also be able to work in a collaborative mentorship and complete an applied research project that addresses a problem in the field.

Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree in Solar Energy

Pros

  • You can find work in a wide range of areas, such as installation, construction and maintenance that involve the use of solar energy.
  • You can make a difference and help the environment by doing work that promotes the use of a renewable energy source.
  • The solar industry is an emerging and growing field.

Cons

  • It is difficult to find master's degree programs with concentrations in solar energy.
  • Since solar energy is a relatively new field of study, educational programs in the field may not be well-developed.
  • The solar industry is changing rapidly, so it may be difficult to keep up with all of the changes in the field.

Courses and Requirements

In a master's degree program with a specialization in solar energy, students are required to complete a research project or thesis. Some common courses you might take include:

  • Solar energy
  • Solar systems engineering
  • Alternative energy systems
  • Energy and the environment

Online Course Info

Although it can be difficult to find online master's degree programs in solar energy, you can find coursework in the field online. Courses taken over the Internet provide opportunities for discussion online and interaction with instructors. Online courses enable students to have more flexibility in their schedules because of family and work commitments.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Choosing occupations in solar installation such photovoltaic installers could help you get ahead, since these occupations are expected to have the largest growth in the solar industry. Engineers are also in great demand in the solar power industry. It is helpful to get experience in other industries, since many employers in the solar power industry prefer other kinds of experience in areas such as construction.

Ph.D. in Solar Energy

In a Ph.D. program in a related field with a concentration in solar energy, students focus on advanced study and in-depth research of solar energy topics. A Ph.D. program helps prepare you for work in academia and other areas in the solar industry. In your research, you can concentrate in areas such as photovoltaic materials, fuel cells and efficiency in sunlight capture. Students may also have the opportunity to study in other disciplines as part of the Ph.D. program. In addition, you may be able to complete an internship and get hands on experience in the field. A doctoral degree is needed for students who want to become scientists and conduct original research and create new products.

Pros and Cons of a Ph.D. in Solar Energy

Pros

  • You can conduct in-depth research about a particular aspect of solar energy.
  • A Ph.D. program prepares you to work in academia.
  • You may have to opportunity to do interdisciplinary study.

Cons

  • A Ph.D. may not be needed for most jobs in the solar industry.
  • You may need to specialize early on in a Ph.D. program.
  • You may need to complete an internship and field work in order to graduate.

Courses and Requirements

In a Ph.D. program, you might have to complete an internship and field work, as well as a qualifying examination and dissertation. Some course topics may include:

  • Solar engineering
  • Energy systems design
  • Energy and sustainable development
  • Power electronics

Online Course Info

Online Ph.D. programs in solar energy are not very common, but you can find a wide variety of courses online in solar energy. In online classes, you can learn about many different solar energy topics, such as solar technologies, solar heating and measuring solar energy. Online coursework accommodate students with work and family obligations.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Taking continuing education courses can help you stand out, since engineers in the field will need to keep up with the changes in technology. You can get ahead by honing your computer skills, since scientists conducting research in solar energy need to use computers in data analysis, testing, modeling and integration.

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