Solar Photovoltaic Installation

Solar power is expected to be a key piece of the growing green economy, and jobs in the solar industry continue to show great potential for new employment opportunities in Utah.

As solar technology evolves and new uses for solar power are discovered, occupations in the industry will continue to grow and develop, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs are expected to grow in all the major sectors of the solar power industry: manufacturing, project development, construction, operation and maintenance, and installation. This growth in the solar power industry is evidenced by the rapid increase in solar capacity over the past several years, leading to the increased demand for skilled workers. Jobs in this industry are located in many states and cover a wide variety of occupations.

The growing demand for alternative and renewable energy, including solar energy, is helping to create new green jobs in Utah. The Energy Institute of Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) offers training in Solar Photovoltaics geared toward this emerging workforce.

Students in solar classes will have the exciting opportunity to use the newly rebuilt solar training yard, the first of its kind here in Utah. The yard allows prospective technicians a means to accelerate their knowledge and skills through hands-on training.

If you are interested in applying to the solar program, be sure to provide your full license name(s) and number(s) at time of registration to ensure your information is submitted in a timely manner.

Instructors

All of the solar curriculum was developed and is instructed by NABCEP certified instructors. Many of the courses offer re-licensing credit required by the Utah Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL).

Thaniel Bishop - NABCEP Certified, Master Electrician

Relevant Experience

  • Solar PV Contractor, ­seven years of experience
  • Master Electrician, 10 years of experience
  • Solar Energy International (SEI) Graduate
  • National Joint Apprenticeship Committee (NJATC) Graduate
  • Salt Lake Community College Adjunct Instructor for the past five years
  • Owner - T Squared Power Solar Company for the past two years
  • Owner – Steadfast Solar & Electric Systems for the past four years
  • Journeyman Electrician – Skyline Electric Company for two years
  • Foreman/Ap. Electrician – Pioneer Solar & Electric Company for six years
  • Associates of Applied Science Degree
Brok Thayn, PE, LEED AP

Energy Manager, nine years of experience

Relevant Experience

  • Over nine years of experience in electrical engineering
  • Specialized in electromagnetics, space craft systems, lighting design, alternative energy systems, and power distribution systems
  • Additional experience includes LEED projects, photovoltaic systems, BIM modeling, substation design, total station layout, industrial, residential and commercial design. Education:
  • Utah State University ‐ Master of Engineering, Electrical Engineering
  • Licenses, Affiliatons and Certficatons:
    • State of Utah Professional Engineer
    • NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professional
    • LEED Accredited Professional
    • Illuminating Engineering Board Member
    • U.S. Green Building Council
    • Utah Solar Energy Association

Growth of solar power in the United States by James Hamilton - June 2011- Report 12 - Bureau of Labor Statistics

Because of a growing interest in renewable energy and the increasingly competitive prices of alternative energy sources, solar power has received a lot of attention over the past several years. However, solar power generation itself is not new; it has been used for more than half a century, mostly on a small scale or for specialized purposes, such as generating electricity for spacecraft and satellites or for use in remote areas. Large scale solar generation was mostly developed in the 1970s and 1980s, and is considered a clean energy because of its lack of emissions. Continued growth is expected because solar power has many environmental benefits and is decreasing in price, which will allow it to become increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

The relatively steep cost of solar power compared with traditional sources of electricity generation is caused by the high cost of manufacturing and installing solar panels. However, the cost of solar power has been trending downward as technology has improved and manufacturers have learned how to improve production efficiency. In addition, as solar power generation becomes more widespread, the cost of installing solar-generation capacity will continue to fall. And as the price of fossil fuels increases, solar power will become more cost effective relative to traditional sources of energy.

The solar power industry has experienced rapid growth in the past decade. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), total U.S. solar electric capacity surpassed 2,000 megawatts in 2009, enough to power over 350,000 homes. In 2009 alone, the residential market doubled in size and three new concentrating solar power (CSP) plants opened in the United States, increasing the solar electric market by 37 percent. Despite this growth, solar power is still a minute portion of total energy generated in the country. In 2009, solar power provided less than 1 percent of total electricity generated in the United States.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not currently have employment data for the solar power industry. However, the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of solar energy technologies to help meet the world’s energy needs, estimates that in August 2010, 93,000 workers spent more than half of their work hours on projects related to solar power. The solar industry includes workers in science, engineering, manufacturing, construction, and installation. 

Scientists, for example, are involved in the research and development of new and more efficient materials, and engineers design new systems and improve existing technologies. Manufacturing workers make the equipment used in solar power generation, such as mirrors and panels. Construction workers build solar power plants. Electricians, plumbers, and solar photovoltaic installers install residential and commercial solar projects. The Solar Foundation estimates that the largest growth in the solar industry in 2011 will be in occupations in solar installation, including photovoltaic installers and electricians and roofers with experience in solar installation.

All of the preceding information was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics

Methods of solar power generation by James Hamilton - June 2011- Report 12 - Bureau of Labor Statistics

There are two basic methods for generating electricity from solar power. The first method uses photovoltaic (PV ) solar panels to generate electricity directly from sunlight. The second method is known as concentrating solar power (CSP) and converts sunlight into heat to produce steam, which is then fed through conventional steam-turbine generators to generate electricity. Photovoltaic panels have traditionally been used for smaller scale electricity generation, particularly for residential or commercial use in individual buildings or complexes, while CSP is used for utility-scale electricity generation in solar power plants. However, photovoltaic solar plants recently started generating electricity in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, and Florida. CSP is also being adapted for smaller scale electricity generation.

Photovoltaic solar power

Modern photovoltaic solar cells were developed in the 1940s and 1950s, and the technology has evolved rapidly over the past several decades. The space programs of the United States and the Soviet Union first used photovoltaic cells as a source of energy to generate electricity for satellites and spacecraft. Solar energy is still used to power the International Space Station and the vast majority of satellites. Photovoltaic panels have also proven useful for providing electricity to remote locations that are not supplied by a local electric utility. Photovoltaic power uses solar cells that convert the energy of sunlight directly into electricity through the photovoltaic effect. (See diagram 1.)

The photovoltaic effect is a process by which light from the sun hits a solar cell and is absorbed by a semiconducting material such as crystalline silicon. The photons in the sunlight knock electrons loose from their atoms, allowing them to flow freely through the material to produce direct electric current (DC) electricity. For household or utility use, an inverter must be used to convert the electricity to alternating current (AC). The individual solar cells are arranged onto a solar panel. The solar panel is coated in glass or another laminate to protect the cells from damage. A new technology allows solar panels to be placed on a thin strip of backing, usually aluminum, and covered with a plastic film, which decreases the weight and cost of a solar panel. These thin-film solar panels are becoming more common, although traditional glass- or laminate-coated panels continue to make up the majority of the solar panel market. Usually, several panels are arranged into an array, which can be scaled to produce enough capacity to generate the desired amount of power. A single cell can produce enough electricity to power a small device, such as an emergency telephone, but larger arrays are required to power a house or building. Utility-scale photovoltaic plants consisting of thousands of solar panels are a more recent occurrence.

Concentrating solar power

The first large-scale solar power plants in the United States were concentrating solar power (CSP) plants. Built in the California desert in the 1980s and 1990s, these plants are still among the largest, most powerful solar generating plants in the world. Several plants have also been in operation since the 1980s in the southwestern United States, and many more are currently in the planning and construction stages. Although there are several different CSP technologies, they all involve reflecting sunlight onto a focal point that contains a heat-transfer material. The heat-transfer material, usually synthetic oil or molten salt, is collected in a heat storage unit and eventually used to create steam that powers conventional generators. One advantage of CSP is that at night or on extremely cloudy days, the conventional generators can be run on natural gas or petroleum, allowing the plant to continue to generate power when the sun is not shining. All CSP plants consist of arrays of mirrors. The first type of CSP technology (still used today) works through the use of parabolic troughs, long, curved mirrors that move to follow the path of the sun, and focus the sun’s heat onto a tube in front of the mirror. This dramatically increases the temperature of the heat-transfer material, which in turn boils water and creates steam that drives a generator. (See diagram 2.)

Solar power towers, another type of CSP technology, were first used at experimental power plants in the California desert during the 1980s and 1990s; improved solar power towers are currently being developed for newer CSP plants. In these plants, a large array of flat mirrors (called heliostats) is focused on a central tower that contains the heat-transfer material. The transfer material is pumped into storage tanks that can contain the heat for up to a day. It is then passed through a heat exchanger, where it produces steam that drives the generators. (See diagram 3.)

Engineers and scientists have recently developed a new form of CSP technology called the dish system. In this system, the mirrors are arranged in a parabolic shape, similar to that of a satellite dish, which focuses the heat onto a central receiver mounted above the center of the dish. (See diagram 4.)

The receiver contains an engine known as a Stirling engine that converts heat to mechanical power by compressing a cold fluid, which could be water or synthetic oil. The heating of the fluid causes it to expand through a turbine or a piston, which produces mechanical power. An electric generator or alternator then converts the mechanical power into electricity. Large scale electricity is produced by arranging several dishes into a larger array. New power plants using this technology have recently been approved for construction in California. The linear Fresnel system is one of the newest CSP technologies. This system is similar to the parabolic trough system, but it uses multiple rows of flat mirrors to focus light onto a set of tubes, increasing the temperature of the heat-transfer fluid. (See diagram 5.) The advantage of the linear Fresnel system is that it is much less expensive to manufacture flat mirrors than curved ones.

Solar water heating

Solar power can be used for another important purpose: the heating of water for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. Residential solar water heaters generally consist of roof mounted solar water collectors that directly heat water using sunlight or indirectly heat water by using solar collectors to increase the temperature of a heat-transfer material and pump it to a heat exchanger, which creates the hot water. Solar water heating systems may be used to provide hot water to a home, a swimming pool, or for commercial purposes. Solar water heating systems are best suited to warm climates, but they can be effective in colder climates as well. Most systems provide a majority of a home’s hot water needs, but are backed up by a conventional water heater for times when there is a lack of sunlight. Usually, solar installers mount the thermal collectors for solar water heating using similar equipment as used to install photovoltaic panels, but thermal collectors are used instead of panels. A plumber is needed to connect water pipes to the plumbing system of the house, pool, or commercial building.

All of the preceding information was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics

Tasks

  • Activate photovoltaic (PV) systems to verify system functionality and conformity to performance expectations.
  • Apply weather sealing to array, building, or support mechanisms.
  • Assemble solar modules, panels, or support structures, as specified.
  • Check electrical installation for proper wiring, polarity, grounding, or integrity of terminations.
  • Compile or maintain records of system operation, performance, and maintenance.
  • Demonstrate system functionality and performance, including start-up, shut-down, normal operation, and emergency or bypass operations.
  • Determine appropriate sizes, ratings, and locations for all system overcurrent devices, disconnect devices, grounding equipment, and surge suppression equipment.
  • Determine connection interfaces for additional subpanels or for connecting photovoltaic (PV) systems with utility services or other power generation sources.
  • Determine materials, equipment, and installation sequences necessary to maximize installation efficiency.
  • Determine photovoltaic (PV) system designs or configurations based on factors such as customer needs, expectations, and site conditions.
  • Diagram layouts and locations for photovoltaic (PV) arrays and equipment, including existing building or site features.
  • Examine designs to determine current requirements for all parts of the photovoltaic (PV) system electrical circuit.
  • Identify and resolve any deficiencies in photovoltaic (PV) system installation or materials.
  • Identify electrical, environmental, and safety hazards associated with photovoltaic (PV) installations.
  • Identify installation locations with proper orientation, area, solar access, or structural integrity for photovoltaic (PV) arrays.
  • Identify methods for laying out, orienting, and mounting modules or arrays to ensure efficient installation, electrical configuration, or system maintenance.
  • Install active solar systems, including solar collectors, concentrators, pumps, or fans.
  • Install module array interconnect wiring, implementing measures to disable arrays during installation.
  • Install photovoltaic (PV) systems in accordance with codes and standards using drawings, schematics, and instructions.
  • Install required labels on solar system components and hardware.
  • Measure and analyze system performance and operating parameters to assess operating condition of systems or equipment.
  • Perform routine photovoltaic (PV) system maintenance on modules, arrays, batteries, power conditioning equipment, safety systems, structural systems, weather sealing, or balance of systems equipment.
  • Program, adjust, or configure inverters and controls for desired set points and operating modes.
  • Select mechanical designs, installation equipment, or installation plans that conform to environmental, architectural, structural, site, and code requirements.
  • Test operating voltages to ensure operation within acceptable limits for power conditioning equipment, such as inverters and controllers.
  • Visually inspect and test photovoltaic (PV) modules or systems.

Skills

  • Installation — Installing equipment, machines, wiring, or programs to meet specifications.
  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Monitoring — Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
  • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
  • Judgment and Decision Making — Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Quality Control Analysis — Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
  • Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.

Knowledge

  • Mechanical — Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
  • Building and Construction — Knowledge of materials, methods, and the tools involved in the construction or repair of houses, buildings, or other structures such as highways and roads.
  • Design — Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles involved in production of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.
  • Customer and Personal Service — Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
  • Production and Processing — Knowledge of raw materials, production processes, quality control, costs, and other techniques for maximizing the effective manufacture and distribution of goods.
  • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
  • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.

Abilities

  • Problem Sensitivity — The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.
  • Visualization — The ability to imagine how something will look after it is moved around or when its parts are moved or rearranged.
  • Information Ordering — The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
  • Deductive Reasoning — The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
  • Control Precision — The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
  • Manual Dexterity — The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.
  • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

Personal Traits Needed

  • Cooperation — Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
  • Dependability — Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
  • Attention to Detail — Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
  • Integrity — Job requires being honest and ethical.
  • Initiative — Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
  • Self Control — Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
  • Achievement/Effort — Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
  • Leadership — Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
  • Stress Tolerance — Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high stress situations.
  • Persistence — Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.

Tools & Technology

  • Hammers — Claw hammers; Sledgehammers

  • Levels — Builders' levels; Laser line levels; Torpedo levels

  • Pipe wrenches — Large pipe wrenches; Medium pipe wrenches

  • Power drills — Cordless drills; Impact drills

  • Screwdrivers — Phillips head screwdrivers; Straight screwdrivers

  • Electronic mail software — Microsoft Outlook

  • Office suite software — Microsoft Office software

  • Project management software — Cost estimating software

  • Spreadsheet software — Microsoft Excel

  • Word processing software — Microsoft Word

* Information on this page was provided by CareerOneStop & ONET Online

Occupations in Photovoltaic Installation

Solar photovoltaic installers are key to the process of solar panel installation and maintenance. They use specialized skills to install residential and commercial solar projects. They are responsible for safely attaching the panels to the roofs of houses or other buildings and ensuring that the systems work. Solar photovoltaic installers must be able to work with power tools and hand tools at great heights, and possess in-depth knowledge of electrical wiring as well as basic math skills. When necessary, installers must be problem solvers, able to repair damaged systems or replace malfunctioning components. Safety is a priority when installing solar panels because installers run the risk of falling from a roof or being electrocuted by high voltage.

Solar photovoltaic installers are often self-employed as general contractors or employed by solar panel manufactures or installation companies. Installation companies typically specialize in installing certain types of panels and provide some maintenance and repair services. When a solar panel system is purchased, manufacturers may provide the buyer with installation services or maintenance and repair work. Self-employed installers typically have training and experience with installing solar power systems and are hired directly by the property owners or by a construction firm.

Job Duties

The main component of a solar installer’s job is the preparation of the installation site. Before the installation process begins, a full audit of a structure is conducted, including a survey of the existing electrical system and developing safety procedures. The job is then designed based on the characteristics of the structure and the type of system being installed. After the layout and equipment are finalized, the permits are obtained from the relevant governments (local, state, federal, or a combination). If the installers do not do these preparations themselves, they must familiarize themselves with the site before they begin working on it.

Once installation begins, the proper safety equipment, such as a rope and anchor system, must be set up to prevent falls from the rooftop. Often, the building will have to be upgraded to support the solar panels; this may involve reinforcing the roof, replacing rafters, or installing supports to handle the added weight of the panels. The roof must be marked to show where the arrays will be placed, and holes are drilled in the roof to attach the mounting system. After the mounting system is in place, the solar panels can be installed. Workers use caution during installation because the panels are fragile, expensive, and weigh at least 40 pounds each. If the panels are damaged during the installation process, the company has to cover the cost of repair or replacement.

Credentials

Solar photovoltaic installers typically have a background in construction or as electricians. There is no formal training standard for installers, but courses are offered by a variety of institutions, such as trade schools, apprenticeship programs, or by photovoltaic module manufacturers. Training programs vary widely and can range from 1 day to several weeks. Many solar installers are licensed as general contractors and many are licensed by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

Certification, while not necessary, can improve the job prospects of installers, and many larger projects require workers to be certified. Solar installers may work alongside roofers, electricians, and plumbers in order to learn the variety of skills needed to complete an installation. Many installers enter the field with previous experience in one or more of these fields. Because of the high skill level required, clients may also ask that both lead installers and those installers who work independently obtain a general contractor’s license, depending on regulations of the localities and states where they work.

Other Occupations in Solar Panel Installation & Maintenance

Other occupations in solar installation and maintenance are site assessors, electricians, plumbers, and roofers. These workers are involved in the installation process but are not classified as solar photovoltaic installers. However, solar photovoltaic installers posses many of the same skills as these occupations and often have work experience in these fields.

Job Duties

Site assessors determine how much energy can be harvested at a particular location and then make recommendations based on that assessment. Site assessors help determine the best type, size, and layout of solar panels, and help draw up plans for installation crews. Assessors may take readings of sunlight at a proposed location, review weather patterns, and calculate potential costs and savings. Site assessors are usually hired for commercial projects by companies that are making substantial investments in solar power and therefore want to ensure maximum benefits from the project. Some site assessors may consult with homeowners or solar installation companies on residential projects.

Electricians install and maintain all of the electrical and power systems in a home or business. They install and maintain the wiring and control the equipment through which electricity flows. Electricians are responsible for connecting the solar panels, inverter, and other equipment to a building’s power supply. Electricians may or may not specialize in solar installation; however, most electricians that work with solar panels have some experience or training on solar power equipment. If a new building or house is being constructed with a solar power generating system, electricians may be responsible for installing the solar power system along with the electrical wiring system, or they may be responsible for simply connecting the solar equipment.

Plumbers install solar water heating systems. These systems replace or augment a conventional water heater and must be connected to a house's or building's plumbing. To install these systems, plumbers require specialized training to work with solar water heater roofers install and repair roofs, and they ensure that any cuts or holes made in the roof during the installation of solar panels and mounting racks are properly repaired and sealed. They may also assist with the installation of mounting systems and structural supports.

Roofers typically work with a variety of materials including tar, asphalt, gravel, rubber, thermoplastic, metal, and shingles. Roofing work is very strenuous. It requires workers to be on hot roofs for long periods of time, and it carries the risk of falls and other injuries.

Credentials

Site assessors generally have past experience with electrical or roofing work or experience as solar photovoltaic installers. They receive on-the-job training as well as specialized training in the equipment and techniques used to assess a site for a potential solar project. Some formal educational programs are available that teach basic site assessment including how to gauge the feasibility of solar generation, estimate costs, and determine which products to use.

Plumbers and electricians receive training through supervised apprenticeships administered by technical  schools or community colleges. Apprenticeships usually consist of four or five years of paid on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of related classroom instruction per year. Most states require plumbers and electricians to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but it is common for states to require between two and five years of experience, followed by an examination that tests knowledge of trade and local codes. Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least 18 years old and in good physical condition. Drug tests may be required, and most apprenticeship programs ask that applicants have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Plumbers and electricians working on solar installation projects must also have specialized training on the systems that they will be installing, or they must work under the supervision of a qualified solar photovoltaic installer.

Certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is required for many jobs, particularly large commercial installations and residential installations. Roofers typically have on-the-job training and may participate in three-year apprenticeship program. Many roofers in the solar industry educate themselves through additional training, or they gain experience to become solar photovoltaic installers.

Occupations in Scientific Research

Solar power is still gaining popularity and acceptance, so research and development are key aspects of the industry. Continued research and increased returns to scale as production has increased have led to many developments that have decreased costs while increasing efficiency, reliability, and aesthetics. For example, new materials have been developed that allow for low-cost and lightweight thin-film solar panels that are less expensive to produce and easier to transport than glass- or laminate-coated solar panels. Occupations in scientific research and development have  become increasingly interdisciplinary, and as a result, it is common for physicists, chemists, materials scientists, and engineers to work together as part of a team. Most scientists in the solar industry work in an office or laboratory and also spend some time in manufacturing facilities with engineers and processing specialists.

Job Duties

Physicists observe, measure, interpret, and develop theories to explain physical phenomena using mathematics. In the solar power industry, physicists work with chemists, materials scientists, and engineers to improve the efficiency of solar panels. Physicists also find new materials to use for solar panel generation, such as the thin-film photovoltaic solar panels.

Chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter and the laws that govern the reactions of substances to each other. Using this knowledge, chemists in the solar power industry are able to improve on solar cell design, develop new materials for making solar cells, or improve existing materials. They typically focus on semiconducting materials, which are usually silicon-based materials or organic compounds, because most solar panels are made of semiconducting materials and some newer thin-film panels are made out of organic materials. Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials to develop new products or enhance existing ones. Current research in the solar power field is focused on developing new materials, especially thin-film cells, and decreasing the cost of photovoltaic panels.

Materials scientists are also seeking to increase solar panel efficiency. Efficiency refers to the percentage of available energy that is actually harnessed by the solar cells. Most modern solar cells can only harvest about 10 to 15 percent of solar energy, with some types of panels capable of 25 to 30 percent efficiency. Finally, material scientists are seeking to create building-integrated solar energy technologies that address common complaints about solar panels taking away the aesthetic appeal of a building because of their large and bulky nature.

Credentials

A doctoral degree is a necessity for scientists that conduct original research and develop new products; however, some workers may enter the scientific fields with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Computer skills are essential for scientists to perform data analysis, integration, modeling, and testing. Certification or licensure is not necessary for most of these scientists.

Occupations in Solar Power Engineering

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific research and commercial applications. Many engineers specify precise functional requirements, and then design, test, and integrate components to produce designs for new products. After the design phase, engineers are responsible for evaluating a design’s effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety. Engineers use computers extensively to produce and analyze designs, and for simulating and testing solar energy systems. Computers are also necessary for monitoring quality control processes.

Computer software developers design the software and other systems needed to manufacture solar components, manage the production of solar panels, and control some solar generating systems.

Most engineers work in offices, laboratories, or industrial plants. Engineers are typically employed by manufacturers of solar equipment and may travel frequently to different work sites, including to plants in Asia and Europe. Engineers are one of the most sought-after occupations by employers in the solar power industry. According to the Solar Foundation, 53 percent of manufacturing firms reported difficulty in hiring qualified engineers in 2010

Job Duties

Materials engineers are involved in the development, processing, and testing of the materials for use in products that must meet specialized design and performance specifications. In the solar industry, they work with semiconductors, metals, plastics, glass, and composites (mixtures of these materials) to create new materials that meet electrical and chemical requirements of solar cells.

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to design or improve equipment or to devise processes for manufacturing chemicals and products. In the solar power industry, they design equipment and processes for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing solar cells, and supervise the production of solar cells.

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical components. They are responsible for designing the electrical circuitry of solar panels and supporting devices for panels, such as inverters and wiring systems.

Industrial engineers determine the most effective ways to use the basic factors of production—people, machines, materials, information, and energy—to make a product or provide a service. In the solar power industry, they are concerned primarily with increasing productivity through the management of people, the use of technology, and the improvement of production methods of solar cells or mirrors.

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, manufacture, and test tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices.Computer software developers are computer specialists who design and develop software used for a variety of purposes. In the solar power industry, computer software is used in forecasting weather and sunlight patterns to assess the feasibility and cost of generating solar power in a particular area.

Engineering technicians assist engineers with solving technical problems in research, development, manufacturing, construction, inspection, and maintenance. Engineering technicians who work in the research and development of solar panels or machines will build or set up equipment, prepare and conduct experiments, collect data, and calculate or record results.

Credentials

Engineers typically enter the solar industry with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. However, because of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Nine Green Jobs: Solar Power complexity of some systems, a significant number of jobs require a master’s or doctoral degree. Engineers are expected to complete continuing education and keep up with rapidly changing technology. Certifications are usually required and depend on the systems used by a particular manufacturer. Licensure as a professional engineer (PE) is desirable and often required, depending on an engineer’s specialty. Entry-level engineers may be hired as interns or junior team members and work under the close supervision of senior or supervisory engineers. As they gain experience, they are assigned more complex tasks and are given greater independence and leadership responsibilities.

Software developers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related discipline, combined with experience in computer programming and software design.

Engineering technicians typically have an associate’s degree or certification from a community college or technical school.

Technicians participate in on-the-job training and are closely supervised by engineers.

Occupations in Manufacturing for Solar Power

Manufacturing in the solar industry focuses on three technologies: concentrating solar power (CSP), photovoltaic solar power, and solar water heating. However, the vast majority of solar manufacturing firms focus mainly on photovoltaic solar power and producing photovoltaic panels. The production process for photovoltaic panels is more complex than for CSP components, and it involves complicated electronics. Making photovoltaic panels requires the work of many skilled workers, including semi-conductor processors, computer-controlled machine tool operators, glaziers, and coating and painting workers. The manufacture of CSP mirrors includes many of the same occupations.

Job Duties

Semiconductor processors are workers who oversee the manufacturing process of solar cells. Semiconductors are unique substances, which act as either conductors or insulators of electricity, depending on the conditions. Semiconductor processors turn semiconductors into photovoltaic cells. The process begins with the production of cylinders of silicon or other semiconducting materials, which are called ingots. The ingots are sliced into thin wafers using automated equipment, and are sometimes polished. The wafers are then connected to metal strips and placed into t  the cells. These cells are then arranged into larger solar panels.

Computer-controlled machine tool operators are workers who run computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, a machine tool that forms and shapes solar mirror or panel components.

Welding, soldering, and brazing workers apply heat to metal pieces during the manufacturing process, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Welders join one or more pieces of metal by melting them together. Soldering and brazing workers use a metal with a lower melting point than that of the original piece, so only the added metal is melted, preventing the piece from warping or distorting. Solar panels are made up of many small cells that are soldered to electric circuitry. This process may be automated, with workers monitoring the machines.

Glaziers are responsible for selecting, cutting, installing, replacing, and removing glass or glass-like materials. Photovoltaic panels are placed in an aluminum frame and are typically encased in glass or laminates to protect them from the elements. The glaziers are responsible for measuring and cutting the glass or laminate to cover the panel; CSP plants are made up of many highly reflective mirrors manufactured to exact specifications. Many of these plants use curved mirrors, which are challenging to produce. Glaziers are instrumental in the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of these mirrors.  Mirrors also break frequently, and glaziers produce the replacements.

Credentials

The level and type of training necessary for occupations in the solar power manufacturing process varies. Most production workers are trained on the job and gain expertise with experience. Workers in more skilled positions, such as computer-controlled machine tool operators, may attend formal training programs or apprenticeships. Experience working with electronics or semiconductors may be helpful for some of these occupations. Industrial production managers are typically required to have college degrees in business administration, management, industrial technology, or engineering.

Occupations in Solar Plant Development

Building a solar power plant is complex and site selection requires years of research and planning. The proposed site must meet several criteria: large, relatively flat site, adequate sunlight, and minimal environmental impact once built. Prior to beginning construction on a new solar plant, real estate brokers and scientists must ensure the site is suitable and that the proper federal, state, and local permits are obtained for construction of a power plant.

Job Duties

Real estate brokers are instrumental in procuring land on which to build power plants. Real estate brokers in the solar industry must have specialized knowledge of property specifications for solar power plants and the regulations in place for obtaining the property.

Atmospheric scientists (including meteorologists) study the atmosphere and weather patterns. In the solar power industry, they study particular areas being considered for development of a solar power plant. They can help determine if solar power will be a cost-effective way to generate energy in a particular area by studying past weather patterns and using computers to create models of expected weather activity.

Environmental scientists ensure that environmental regulations and policies are followed and that sensitive parts of the ecosystem are protected. Many solar power plants are built in desert areas that have fragile ecosystems and numerous protected species.

Credentials

Real estate brokers typically have a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree in business, real estate, law, engineering, or a related discipline. Experience with obtaining land permits and an understanding of tax and accounting rules are necessary, as well as familiarity with local environmental and energy regulations. Experience working with relevant government agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, is also desirable. Companies typically hire people with experience in land acquisition and management and train them to their specific needs.

Atmospheric and environmental scientists typically need a bachelor’s degrees, but scientists with a master’s or doctoral degree are preferred, depending on the scale of the projects they work on. Many of these scientists are hired on for the length of specific projects, and more education and experience makes them more attractive to hire full time. Atmospheric and environmental scientists may also need to be licensed, depending on local regulations.

Occupations in Solar Plant Operations

Workers at solar power plants install, operate, and maintain equipment. They also monitor the production process and correct any problems that arise during normal operation. Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants require more workers than photovoltaic plants; photovoltaic plants can sometimes even be run remotely.

Job Duties

Power plant operators monitor power generation and distribution from control rooms at power plants.

Pump operators tend, control, and operate pump and manifold systems that transfer oil, water, and other materials throughout the CSP plant. CSP plants use mirrors to heat fluids like molten salt or synthetic oil, which are pumped through the solar heating devices and into a heat-transfer device to produce steam. The work tends to be repetitive and physically demanding. Workers may lift and carry heavy objects and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions. Some work at great heights, and most work is done outdoors.

Electricians are responsible for installing and maintaining the electrical equipment and wiring that connects the plant to the electrical grid.

Credentials

Power plant workers generally need a combination of education, on-the-job training, and experience. Strong mechanical, technical, and computer skills are needed to operate a power plant. Certification by the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) is necessary for positions that could affect the power grid. Companies also require a strong math and science background for workers seeking highly technical jobs. Knowledge of these subjects can be obtained through specialized training courses.

Because of security concerns, many power plant operators are subject to background investigations and must have a clean criminal record. They must also be willing to submit to random drug testing. Electricians and pipe fitters and steam fitters must be trained on the specific systems on which they work. They attend specialized training programs and undergo extensive on-the-job training.

Related Occupations

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Myers-Briggs Type Indicator & Strong Interest Inventory assessment

Anyone interested in taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator & Strong Interest Inventory assessment for $40, may receive one-on-one interpretation time with an SLCC Academic and Career Services Adviser. Click this link to take the fee-based assessment and follow step-by-step instructions.

SLCC Electrical Apprenticeship Program

Solar Photovoltaic Training Yard

Our state-of-the-art solar training yard just keeps getting bigger and better!! Additional donations have been received, allowing us to expand the hands-on learning opportunities. NEW training labs will be offered SPRING 2015 - dates will be announced soon!

The SLCC Solar Program is an Interstate Renewable Energy Council Accredited Training Provider for both Solar PV Installation and PV Technical Sales. A key component of our program is the real world learning students receive from hands-on activites utilizing various roofing structures, pole mounted, grid-tied and off-grid opportunities. Close interaction with our highly skilled instructors ensure each student has ultimate learning opportunities.

SLCC Solar Training Yard, June, 2014

Read more about the training yard on: Interstate Renewable Energy Council website.

Check out the construction action:

The goals of these grants are to train new solar instructors as well as to build a green energy workforce. The Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) is helping to fulfill a critical need throughout the western United States for high-quality, local, and accessible training in solar system design, installation, sales, and inspection through train-the-trainer programs. The Utah Electric Sector Workforce Development initiative is focused on training new PV Installers, Technicians and/or Sales Associates to bring Solar to homes and businesses throughout Utah. 

In addition to grant funding, there were many organizations and individuals that provided materials and/or time and effort in the construction. 


The SLCC Solar Program is very thankful to all our donors who generously provided both time and materials: 

Advanced Green Technologies
Aspen Roofing
Evosolar
Russell Pacific
Salt Lake Community College Facilities Department
Solartek Solutions
Sol-Ice Engineered Systems
Steadfast Solar
Steven Sales
Sunlight Solar
Synergy Power
Tra-Mage

Thaniel Bishop, Lead Instructor for the Continuing Education Solar Program, coordinated the construction of the training yard with collaboration from students as well as staff in both the School of Math, Science and Engineering and the Division of Continuing Education. 

Much of the Green Academy training is based upon work supported by the U. S Department of Energy under Award Number DE-OE0000457 and DE-OE0000458.

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