Solar Photovoltaics

Clean energy such as solar power is expected to be a key piece of the growing "green economy," and jobs in solar power show great potential for new employment opportunities. Jobs continue to grow in all the major sectors of the solar power industry residential and commercial: installation; sales; design; operations and maintenance and project management. 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.

The growing demand for alternative and renewable energy, including solar energy, is helping to create new jobs in Utah. The Energy Institute of Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) offers training in Solar Photovoltaics to meet the growing demand for a highly skilled workforce.

Solar Industry Growth in the United States

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. is solar PV installer, with a projected growth rate of 105% from 2016 – 2026. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational outlook handbook

America now has 242,000 solar workers providing clean, affordable renewable energy in all 50 states. In 2017, Utah employed 4,408 solar professionals. That number grew to 6,048 by the end of 2018. Thanks to rapidly declining costs, solar installations are expected to grow over the coming years and new job opportunities will likely follow in areas such as installation, sales, design and operations/maintenance.
The Solar Foundation – National Solar Jobs Census

Solar Photovolatic Installers

Quick Facts: Solar Photovoltaic Installers

 

 2017 Median Pay  $39,490/year or 
$18.98/hour 
 Typical Entry-Level Education  High school diploma or equivalent
 Work Experience in a Related Occupation  None
 On-the-job Training  Moderate-term on-the-job training
 Job Outlook, 2016-26  105% (Much faster than average)

 

Pay
The median annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers was $39,490 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,580.
Utah was above this, with BLS reporting the following:
    Hourly Mean   Annual Mean   
    $28.86              $60,040

The continued expansion and adoption of solar panel installation is expected to create new jobs. As the cost of PV panels and shingles continues to fall, more residential households are expected to take advantage of these systems, resulting in greater demand for the workers who install them. The increasing popularity of solar leasing plans—in which homeowners lease rather than purchase systems—should create additional demand, as they no longer bear the upfront costs of installation.

The long-term outlook, however, is heavily dependent on government incentives, cost and the continued improvement of PV panels. States and localities that provide incentives to reduce the cost of PV systems should experience greater demand for workers. Common incentives include tax rebates, direct subsidies, renewable energy purchase mandates and net metering.

PV installers who complete a course in photovoltaic systems at a community college or technical school will have the best job opportunities. Those with apprenticeships or journey electrician experience will also have very good job opportunities. Workers with experience in construction occupations, such as laborers, roofers and carpenters, will have better job opportunities than those without construction experience.

Occupations in Photovoltaics
Installation still #1 

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.

Related Occupations

Solar photovoltaic installers usually work as part of a team

What Solar Photovoltaic Installers Do

What they do
Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, also known as PV installers, assemble, install and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops or other structures.

Duties
PV installers typically do the following:

  • Measure, cut and assemble the support structure for solar PV panels
  • Install solar modules, panels and support structures in accordance with building codes and standards
  • Connect PV panels to the electrical system
  • Apply weather sealant to equipment being installed
  • Activate and test PV systems
  • Perform routine PV system maintenance

Solar PV panels convert sunlight to electricity and PV installers put these systems in place. PV installers use a variety of hand and power tools to install PV panels. They often use drills, wrenches, saws and screwdrivers to connect panels to frames, wires and support structures.


Many new PV installers begin by performing basic tasks, such as installing support structures and placing PV panels or PV shingles on top of them. Once the panels are in place, more-experienced installers usually perform more-complex duties, such as connecting electrical components.


Depending on the job and state laws, PV installers may connect the solar panels to the electric grid, although electricians sometimes perform this duty. Once the panels are installed, workers check the electrical systems for proper wiring, polarity and grounding, and they also perform maintenance as needed.

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.
 
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Experience in construction may shorten a new employee’s training time. For example, workers with experience as an electrician, roofer, carpenter or laborer typically already understand and can perform basic construction duties.


In addition, those with knowledge of electrical work, such as electricians, are highly valued by contractors.

Additional employer identified skills or abilities

Skills

  • Installation — Installing equipment, machines, wiring or programs to meet specifications.

  • Communication skills  PV installers often need to communicate effectively with clients to ensure customer satisfaction and with other workers to ensure that proper safety and installation procedures are followed.

  • 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.
  • Mechanical skills  PV installers work with complex electrical and mechanical equipment in order to build support structures for solar panels and to connect the panels to the electrical system.
  • 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.
  • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics and their applications.

Abilities

  • Physical stamina  PV installers are often on their feet carrying panels and other heavy equipment. When installing rooftop panels, workers may need to climb ladders many times throughout the day.
  • Physical strength  PV installers often lift heavy equipment and materials weighing up to 50 pounds.
  • 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.
*Information on this page was provided by Career One Stop & ONET Online

There are multiple paths to becoming a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer, often called a PV installer.

How to become a solar photovoltaic installer 

Education

Most employers require PV installers to have a high school diploma. Some PV installers take courses at local community colleges or trade schools to learn about solar panel installation. Courses range from basic safety and PV knowledge to system design. Although course lengths vary by state and locality, most usually last a few days to several months. The solar program offers two Certificate of Achievement programs: Solar Sales and Solar Installation. Completion of our first two courses takes 20 weeks; those who finish successfully earn the Solar Sales certificate. After completion of the third class, which adds 10 weeks, students earn the Solar Installation certificate.

Training
Some PV installers learn their trade on the job by working with experienced installers. On-the-job training usually lasts between one month and one year. During training, PV installers learn about safety, tools and PV system installation techniques.

Electrician and roofing apprentices and journey workers may complete photovoltaic-specific training modules through apprenticeships.

Solar PV system manufacturers may also provide training on specific products. Such training usually includes a system overview and proper installation techniques for the manufacturer’s products.

Military veterans may benefit from the Solar Ready Vets program, which is a joint effort of the U.S.

Departments of Defense and Energy to connect veterans with training and jobs in the solar industry.

Hands-on Training
Our new classroom is allowing even more interaction with materials, equipment and tools utilized in the solar industry.

Our outdoor training yard is the only one of its kind in Utah. Newly installed at the Westpointe Workforce Training & Education Center, it just keeps getting bigger and better! Students will have the opportunity to gain real-world experience with many types of systems, including roof mount and pole mount, grid-tied and off grid, residential and commercial.

Both the classroom and outdoor training are great additions to the student experience and allow prospective technicians a means to accelerate their knowledge and skills through hands-on training.

Our Instructors
Our Instructors are highly respected within the solar industry and bring years of knowledge and experience gained from various degrees, licenses or certifications. At minimum, they hold the PV Installation Professional certification from NABCEP.

Brok Thayn, PE, LEED AP

Energy Manager

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, Affiliations and Certifications:
    • 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

Tony Stauffer

Relevant Experience

  • NABCEP Photovoltaic Installation Professional Certified
  • Master Electrician
  • SLCC Instructor 10 years, Electrician Apprenticeship and Solar
  • Member NABCEP PVIP Exam Review committee

 

Licenses, Certifications and Registrations

Most employers require PV installers to have a driver’s license.

Certification is not a requirement but can improve the job prospects of installers by demonstrating high competency. The Electronics Technicians Association, International (ETA); the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP); and Roof Integrated Solar Energy (RISE) Inc., all offer certification for PV installers.

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.

Many solar professionals seek one of the certifications currently available through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP): Installation Specialist, Design Specialist, PV Technical Sales or PV Installation Professions.

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