New, energy-efficient buildings are needed to support the nation’s ever-increasing population, fuel demands and environmental initiatives.
But who will build them? That’s the question on many contractors’ minds.
Not enough men and women are entering the increasingly green construction trades, and the country currently faces a skilled trades shortage. We need more trained HVAC/R technicians, electricians and especially solar photovoltaic installers to support the expanding green building industry.
Solar is the fastest-growing sector of the green energy industry, and the field of solar panel installation and maintenance is set to add jobs rapidly. In fact, it’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ fastest-growing occupation.
What Is a Solar Panel Installer?
These technicians work with solar panels, sheets of photovoltaic (PV) cells that collect sunlight and convert it into electricity.
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It’s a job that can take workers to great heights—literally—because solar panels are usually located on rooftops where they can best capture the sun’s rays.
So what exactly does a solar panel installer do? They assemble, install and maintain solar panels.
They might start by measuring, cutting and putting together the structures that support the panels. Next, the panels have to be secured to these structures.
Depending on their level of experience, PV installers might connect the panels to the electrical grid, or they might pass this task off to coworkers with electrician training.
Advanced PV installers might perform minor electrical work, such as checking the current.
Once the solar panels are up and operational, solar photovoltaic installers take measures to increase their lifespan. This includes applying weather sealant to the panels and performing routine maintenance.
Where Do Solar Panel Installers Work?
Where it’s sunny. While Florida has one of the highest levels of employment of solar photovoltaic technicians, California, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina are also among the top states for these tradespeople.
Plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors are the biggest employers for PV installers, followed by electrical contractors and other wiring installation contractors.
A significant percentage of solar panel installers work for themselves, and a handful report to utility providers.
Like many other skilled trades professionals, solar photovoltaic installers don’t spend their days in a stuffy office. Solar PV installation jobs are performed outdoors. Installations are usually done on rooftops, and electrical work occurs in attics and crawlspaces.
How to Become a Solar Photovoltaic Installer
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that job growth for solar photovoltaic installers is set to be 105 percent through 2026. How can you enter this thriving industry?
If you have your high school diploma or GED, then you’ve taken the first step toward a career in solar panel installation. Beyond possessing certain physical, mental and social skills, training is often the next step.
You have a handful of options when it comes to solar panel installer training.
Many solar panel manufacturers hire inexperienced workers and train them for entry-level installer jobs.
But landing positions with more responsibilities and potentially higher pay often requires that applicants have some electrical or electromechanical training. On-the-job training can have cost advantages, but the skills you learn at one company might not transfer well to another.
Another option is formal training at a trade school or community college, where students can take courses in photovoltaic knowledge, basic safety and system design.
An electro-mechanical technologies program can offer training in not only solar photovoltaic technology, but also the fundamentals of electricity and electrical wiring. Advanced positions in the solar photovoltaic installation field typically require electrical knowledge and skills.
Yet another path to this career is an apprenticeship. You’ll get paid to work in the field while you train.
But this route can take longer. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that a registered apprenticeship usually lasts from one to six years.
The route to solar panel installation jobs is typically an electrician apprenticeship, and these are generally three to five years. It can also be difficult to land an apprenticeship, as competition for free training can be high.
Lastly, if you’re already an electrician, taking some online solar panel installation classes could help get you up to speed to work in this industry.
Licenses and Certifications
Some regions require that PV installers hold certain solar certifications, depending on the state they’re in.
The Solar Panel Installation Industry Is Prosperous and Competitive
Fields that are expected to expand significantly in the coming years can offer excellent job security and career advancement opportunities.
Still, just because an industry is growing doesn’t mean there isn’t competition for jobs. If you’re interested in becoming a solar photovoltaic installer, trade school could be your best bet.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that applicants who have completed courses at a technical school will have the best job opportunities in the coming years.
Some technical schools offer online solar installation training courses. For examples of course subjects and information on what to expect from such programs, check out “How to Become a Solar Installation Technician.”