How to Become a Solar Technician
If you want to get in on a booming industry that is destined for explosive growth, consider the solar industry. Solar energy technician jobs are some of the fastest-growing in the U.S., and with the recent report from the IPCC that the world must quickly decarbonize in the next 12 years you can rest assured that solar technicians will be in high demand for the foreseeable future. Around 12,000 people were employed as solar photovoltaic installers in 2019. Of these around 35% worked for electrical contractors, around 33% were employed by plumbing or heating and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractors, and rest were either self-employed or working for utility companies.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
In active solar power systems, solar energy from the sun is captured by photovoltaic cells located in solar panels, generally installed on rooftops in residential installations or, for business or utility-scale installations, in a solar array that is a large set of panels either on the ground, floating on water or in some instances as a solar roof in a parking lot. Depending on whether your home system is on-grid or off-grid, the solar energy is then added to the electricity in circulation generated by your local provider, which will be reflected in a lower electricity bill for you, or used to power your home, with excess stored on-site in a battery such as a Tesla Powerwall. Off-grid solar power systems are more useful in the case of local power outages but are more complex to install.
Passive solar involves designing structures or using equipment to absorb and release heat through design, without the use of electricity. Passive solar is frequently used to heat water for swimming pools or household use. It can also be used for heating and cooling your home.
What Do Solar Technicians Do?
Solar technicians install, maintain, troubleshoot and test photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, fans pumps and other equipment. They can work on residential installations, private business or utility scale installations. Solar technicians should be comfortable working outdoors. Not all solar installations are on rooftops, but anyone interested in becoming a solar technician should be comfortable with heights. The installation of solar energy systems may require the help of roofers and electricians, and so the solar energy technician needs to be comfortable working alongside other professionals.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installers piece together, set up, and maintain rooftop or other systems that convert sunlight into energy. They will typically be responsible for planning the configuration of the PV system to meet the needs of the customer. This configuration will depend on the amount of energy required (for heating, cooling or charging battery systems), the size of the building and the normal hours of sunlight for the location. The configuration may be constrained by the architecture of the building. They will measure, cut and assemble the structure required to support the solar PV panels, then install the solar panels and support structures in compliance with local building codes and standards.
Solar panel installers may be responsible for connecting solar energy system to the electrical grid, depending on the job and state regulations, although this is sometimes a job for electricians. Once installed, the system will require testing for proper wiring, polarity, and grounding.
Solar energy technicians are also responsible for the maintenance of solar PV systems.
What education is required to become a solar energy technician?
Solar energy is growing in popularity all across the United States, and so are solar technician training programs. There are many programs specifically designed to retrain workers laid off from other waning industries, to aid veterans’ re-entry to the civilian world and to help members of native tribes attain renewable energy training. Some programs can be completed in as few as five weeks, but many will take several months.
The Department of Energy offers a lot of information about opportunities for training in the solar field. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers exams for newly-trained technicians in the field of renewable energy. Solar technicians can test to be certified as a NABCEP Photovoltaic Associate or a NABCEP Solar Heating Associate. NABCEP also offers more advanced certificates for designers and installers. Certification is not generally required for employment, but it does demonstrate competency in panel installation, may make you more attractive to employers and help you access the best solar technician jobs.
PV installers will typically need a high school diploma or GED. Some solar energy technicians take classes at local community colleges, technical or trade schools to learn about solar panel installation. Program content will include basic safety awareness, photovoltaic technical knowledge, building code and regulations and system design. The complete solar energy technician will be equipped with both the technical knowledge of photovoltaic systems and the practical skills required to make a secure and reliable installation.
Training programs you may want to check are the Sustainable Contruction program at Kennebec Valley Community College in Maine
How much do solar panel installers make?
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), solar photovoltaic installers made an average annual salary of $44,890 as of May 2019. While entry-level workers earned less than $31,600, the top 10% earned over $63,880. On average those PV installers employed by electrical contractors earned slightly more.
The future for this occupation is very promising as the BLS predicts the number of solar technician jobs to grow by 51% between 2019 and 2029. This compares with a predicted growth of only 3% for other construction trade workers during the same period.
How is a Solar Energy Technician Different from a Solar Electrician?
While most solar technicians are primarily responsible for installation and maintenance of solar systems, solar electricians handle more complex wiring work, maintaining commercial solar arrays, connecting systems to the grid or inverters and more, and have much more stringent professional requirements. Becoming a solar energy technician is a good start toward becoming an electrician, but to begin the process officially you will need to be taken on as an apprentice and follow a several-years-long process of working under supervision, culminating in testing for a Master Electrician’s license.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in the electrical field and like being outdoors, training as a solar energy technician is an excellent choice. In anticipation of high demand, there are a number of government-supported training programs. Many state governments have made renewable energy pledges that will require a great amount of solar installations for businesses, public buildings and private homes. There will be purchases made by local governments as well as incentives for local citizens to have rooftop solar installed on their homes.
As a solar energy technician, you will not only help your clients save money and possibly have a more reliable source of energy during power outages, but you will also be improving air quality through reduced fossil fuel emissions and helping to fight global warming.
Solar Energy Technician College Programs
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2020 S. Avenue 8E, Yuma, Arizona 85365-8834
8470 N Overfield Rd, Coolidge, Arizona 85128-9030
2800 S. Lone Tree Rd., Flagstaff, Arizona 86005-2701
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100 Campus Drive, Dover, Delaware 19901
18150 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte, Florida 33948-3399
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One Maurice Culberson Drive, Rome, Georgia 30161
5150 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30043-5702
2535 Lanier Tech Drive, Gainesville, Georgia 30507
One Joseph E. Kennedy Blvd, Statesboro, Georgia 30458
5717 White Bluff Rd, Savannah, Georgia 31405-5594
900 South GA Tech Parkway, Americus, Georgia 31709
501 Varsity Rd, Griffin, Georgia 30223-2042
176 Murphy Campus Blvd., Waco, Georgia 30182
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173 Illinois Rt 2, Dixon, Illinois 61021-9112
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2221 Campus Dr, Concordia, Kansas 66901-1002
777 Elsbree St, Fall River, Massachusetts 02720-7395
610 N Capitol Ave, Lansing, Michigan 48933
1555 South Raisinville Road, Monroe, Michigan 48161-9746
3300 Century Ave N, White Bear Lake, Minnesota 55110
1515 East 25th Street, Hibbing, Minnesota 55746
905 Grant Avenue SE, Bemidji, Minnesota 56601-4907
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601 Laclede Ave, Neosho, Missouri 64850
7000 Dandini Blvd, Reno, Nevada 89512-3999
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1200 Old Trenton Rd, West Windsor, New Jersey 08550-3407
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525 Buena Vista Dr SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106
417 Schepps Blvd, Clovis, New Mexico 88101-8381
336 Luna Drive, Las Vegas, New Mexico 87701
Lower Point Road, State Road 371, Crownpoint, New Mexico 87313-0849
2400 North Scenic Drive, Alamogordo, New Mexico 88310
1500 University Drive, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220
2800 N. Sonoma Ranch Blvd., Las Cruces, New Mexico 88011
6401 Richards Ave, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508-4887
4000 University Dr, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544
80 Vandenburgh Ave, Troy, New York 12180
1000 E Henrietta Rd, Rochester, New York 14623
1005 North Abbe Rd, Elyria, Ohio 44035-1691
30335 Oregon Rd, Perrysburg, Ohio 43551
650 College Blvd, Ontario, Oregon 97914
540 N Harrison Rd, Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania 16823
1 HACC Dr., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17110-2999
One College Ave, Williamsport, Pennsylvania 17701-5799
128 Outreach Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802-1503
1260 Lexington Drive, West Columbia, South Carolina 29170-2176
921 Ribaut Road, Beaufort, South Carolina 29901-1288
3535 Adkisson Drive, Cleveland, Tennessee 37312
3737 Motley Dr, Mesquite, Texas 75150-2099
3801 Campus Drive, Waco, Texas 76705
13650 Apple Harvest Drive, Martinsburg, West Virginia 25403
400 Seventh St. North, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601