10 Green-Collar Jobs with $80,000+ Salaries

By Christian Hudspeth
August 03, 2011

Thanks to rising fossil-fuel prices and attractive federal tax credit incentives for businesses and individuals, it's never been an easier time for Americans to purchase new "green" technology.

The popularity and demand for wind and solar energy in the United States has exploded over the past decade. Since 2000, we have increased our wind turbine energy capacity more than tenfold from 3,000 megawatts to over 35,000 megawatts today; enough to power 9.7 million homes. The amount of solar energy supplied to our grid increased by 37% in 2009 alone and powers an additional 350,000 homes.

But alternative energy industries aren't the only ones growing. As the price of fossil fuel energy continues to rise, the demand for cost saving, energy-efficient "green" buildings will grow rapidly as well. The U.S. Green Building Council projects the number of green construction industry jobs to grow by 2.3 million between 2009 and 2013 to keep up with the strong demand for more efficient buildings.

As the price of solar and wind technology continues to drop to more affordable levels, and as energy-efficient buildings become more popular, "green" industries will grow even more rapidly in the future.

So how can you get in on this expansion of the clean, mean and "green" industries? By getting a "green" job that pays handsomely, of course. Here are 10 "green-collar" jobs that pay $80,000+ salaries.

1. Green Building Architects

Green building architects are in charge of making a building design that is functional, safe, economical and of course, "green." Having energy efficiency in mind, the architect may design the building with several sun facing windows for natural, energy-free lighting. Because larger buildings use more energy, a green architect may design smaller, space-efficient rooms, keeping "wasted" area to a minimum. The most desirable green architects will carry the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional credential.

Median Salary: $77,210 to $80,000+

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's or Master's degree in architecture (5-8 year program). Architectural license -- complete three-year internship and pass a national exam. LEED AP credential.

2. Wind Turbine Service Technician

Also called wind techs, these skilled green collar techicians repair and maintain the complex machinery and systems found within wind turbines. Atop 300-foot tall wind generators, wind techs fix broken circuit boards and motors, inspect turbine blades, replace faulty generator components and even change out light bulbs that have burned out within a turbine.

But be prepared to be on-call all hours of the night for a repair; as a specialized technician you are the hero that will come to the rescue when trouble strikes.

Median Salary: $31,000 (entry-level) to $104,000 (experienced)

Minimum Training/Education: Training program in wind turbine technical operations is desirable. Companies like to hire workers with electrical experience and generally provide on-the-job training.

3. Materials Scientists

Materials scientists in the solar power industry study the material composition and chemical properties of solar cells to enhance the current technology or create new solar cell products. For example, materials scientists are developing thin-film solar cells that can be seamlessly installed on existing buildings without hurting their aesthetic appeal (e.g., no clunky solar panels). They also seek to boost the efficiency and cut the cost of solar cells by using sunlight harvesting materials other than silicone. 

Median Salary: $84,720

Minimum Training/Education: At least a Bachelor's or Master's degree in science and/or engineering. A doctorate degree is essential for scientists that perform original research and develop new materials.

4. Construction Managers

Green building construction managers are responsible for overseeing an entire building project from its initial blueprint to the final coat of paint. They ensure that the building fulfills its "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)" guidelines and that the building is completed on time and within budget.

Not only do construction managers have to see that the building uses all energy-efficient equipment and design, they must select architects, engineers and even plumbers that have knowledge of green building techniques in order to guarantee that the LEED specifications are met.

Median Salary: $85,030

Minimum Training/Education:
Bachelor's or higher in construction management. LEED Green Associate credential or take NCCER's Sustainable Construction Supervisor Training and Certification Program.

5. Materials Engineers

Similar in name to materials scientists, these engineers construct, test and improve material components used in wind turbines and solar panels. In wind turbines, they ensure that the thousands of metal, ceramic, plastic and semiconductor parts meet the exact strength, mechanical and electrical specifications to face the stresses involved in harnessing wind power.

In the solar-power industry, materials engineers work with materials scientists to create new materials that meet electrical and chemical requirements of solar cells.

Median Salary: $83,190 wind-power industry; $86,380 solar-power industry

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, higher degrees preferred. Typically need to be licensed and keep up with technological advancements with continuing education.

#-ad_banner_2-#6. Atmospheric and Space Scientists

Often called meteorologists, these scientists examine potential wind turbine or solar power plant project locations to determine if wind and weather conditions are favorable for energy generation. They may study an area's current weather patterns and use advanced computer models to forecast future conditions months or years before a project is even started.

Using their invaluable research, these scientists decide the angle and placement of wind turbines and solar panels to ensure that the maximum amount of wind or sunlight energy is captured. Atmospheric and space scientists will continue to be in high demand in the wind and solar power industries.

Median Salary: $84,710 wind-power industry, $87,780 solar-power industry

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's or Master's degree minimum. A Ph.D. is desirable for scientists that study location suitability and provide expert guidance on optimal wind-harnessing placement of turbines.

7. Electrical Engineers

Green-collar electrical engineers develop, test and manage production of the electrical components used in green building construction, photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines. In green building construction, they may be asked to find optimal places for natural lighting and install lights with energy-saving motion sensors.

In photovoltaics, electrical engineers design the circuitry and supporting wiring systems for solar panels. In wind turbines, they ensure electric motors, lighting and wiring, generators, communications systems, energy transmission systems and machinery controls are working efficiently.

Median Salary: $83,110 wind-power industry, $84,350 green building industry, $92,820 solar-power industry

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, higher degrees preferred. Typically need to be licensed and keep up with technological advancements with continuing education.

8. Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply their knowledge of chemistry to improve the manufacturing processes of chemicals and materials used in the production of solar panels. They help design equipment and create development processes for the mass production solar panels. Chemical engineers also plan and test new methods of chemical and manufacturing processes in an effort to reduce the cost of solar cell production.

Median Salary: $92,820

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, higher degrees preferred. Typically need to be licensed and keep up with technological advancements with continuing education.

9. Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers working in the wind-power industry design, test and oversee the manufacturing of the 100-foot wind turbine blades and rotors. Working alongside meteorologists, they ensure that the blade designs' aerodynamics and rotor configurations work well with wind conditions to maximize energy output. They are also frequently asked to help find the optimal locations to set up new wind turbines.

Median Salary: $94,780

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, higher degrees preferred. Typically need to be licensed and keep up with technological advancements with continuing education.

10. Software Developers, Applications

Software developers in the solar-power industry build applications that forecast weather and sunlight patterns to decide if an area is worth the cost of building a sun-harvesting power plant. Also for solar power plants, they create equipment monitoring software that adjusts the direction of mirrors and PV solar panels. The precision software must make mirrors or panels adjust in precise tandem with the sun's daily movement path to maximize the amount of sunlight energy that the solar plant can harness.

Median Salary: $96,230

Minimum Training/Education: Bachelor's degree in computer science and experience in computer programming and software design.

The Investing Answer: Much like most other jobs that pay salaries in excess of $80,000, landing some of these green jobs will require a four-year college degree or higher. But if you're interested in earning a high income and making a difference for the environment, you may seriously consider going back to school to enter the rapidly growing solar, wind and green building industries.