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.
Why Should You Consider a Career in Solar Energy?
The solar energy industry is growing rapidly. We’ve prepared this helpful infographic to explain. (If you’d like to share this, get the code below).
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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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