Better pay, more flexibility! Survey details trends on solar sector pay and benefits

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Renewable energy recruitment company RO shared  results from a salary survey of over 400 respondents in the U.S. solar industry. 

The survey found that above-market salaries, guaranteed first-year bonuses, and flexible remote work options all were important to successful job offers in 2021. In fact, 82% of respondents said remote work was important to them. At the same time, only 17% of survey members said they do not work remotely. Nearly half (46%) said they work fully remote, and the rest reported a blended approach.

Borrego Solar installation in New York.

Borrego Solar

On average, respondents reported a 3-5% pay raise each year. Despite this, individuals were not likely to seek new opportunities unless the starting salary at a new company was on average 12% higher than their current salary.

Last year’s survey reported a 6% pay gap between males in females who worked in the same role and offered the same experience. In 2021, that gap widened to 10%.

When asked what the most important benefit of work was, 29% said the culture and work environment mattered most. This was the top response for those who reported 0-5 years of experience as well as for those with 16+ years in the industry. A work from home option was most important to 29% of respondents; it was the top benefit for industry members with 6-15 years of experience.

A NEXTracker engineer works on an NX Gemini smart solar tracker.

Image: NEXTracker

Other popular benefits included flexible working hours, (18%) health insurance, (13%), and retirement contributions (8%).  Childcare support, and per diem expense coverage each garnered 2%.

When asked what they felt was missing from their current compensation packages, respondents said equity and salary increases (12% each), 401k retirement plans (11%), more paid time off (9%), and a bonus (9%).

On average, a solar industry member had 15 days of paid time off. Around 10% of respondents said they have unlimited holidays.

Salaries

According to the survey, construction jobs across all sectors paid around $84,600 entry-level. Construction workers with six to 10 years experience made $126,000, and those with 16+ years reported making $170,600. In development jobs, the first two years of experience led to an average pay of $87,600. That rose to $129,200 by years six to 10, and $187,100 for those working in the industry for 16 or more years.

Flexible work hours were a popular benefit.

Image: Sullivan Solar

Engineers and operations and maintenance (O&M) workers started off with the lowest salaries, $77,500 and $67,500, respectively. By year six to 10, engineers were paid an average of $94,200 annually and O&M pros made $121,800. By year 16, engineering jobs paid $127,600 on average, and O&M roles made $174,000.

Finance offered the highest pay levels in solar: an average of $94,000 for the first two years of experience, $149,100 years six to 10, and $195,000 for experience beyond 10 years.

The survey said that utility-focused solar jobs pay more than commercial and industrial (C&I), as well as distributed generation (DG). In the first two years of experience, C&I/DG workers averaged $75,500. Meanwhile, utility-focused jobs started off with salaries averaging $88,000.

Interestingly, mid level (six to 10 years) C&I/DG averaged $120,400, while utility-scale was slightly lower at $116,800. Highly experienced utility-sector workers with more than 16 years of experience made on average $173,000, while similarly experienced C&I/DG workers averaged $169,300.

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