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In the modern world, climate changes are critical and rapid.
For this reason, the establishment and use of renewable energy systems are essential.
Recently, the International Energy Agency reported that solar energy production will increase to 8% of all green energy by 2023.
Solar panels have been in use for a long time.
But only in the mid-2000s did the solar panels become more cost-effective, and the use of renewable solar energy became common.
As the SEIA informed, the costs for the solar panel installation reduced by over 70% since 2010.
The large corporations such as Google, Walmart, Starbucks, and others are actively using renewable energy.
Besides, it becomes more popular among residential customers.
The conversion of solar energy into electricity is related to photovoltaics.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels are usually put up on the roof of a building and convert light into electricity supplying power to the building.
With the recent technological advancements, it became possible to mount the PV panels directly into the roof tiles.
That allows a household to produce its own power.
There are also solar farms.
They refer to the commercial establishments which install the PV cells on the ground.
They generate electricity which is afterward sold to the businesses and utility systems.
According to the SEIA data of 2017, almost half a million Americans are engaged in the solar industry.
This is twice as much as in 2012.
In every state, over 9,000 companies employ people for such jobs.
The experts who deal with solar panels installation are solar technicians.
They are also referred to as PV installers or technicians, solar service technicians.
The solar power industry is growing rapidly.
Thanks to that, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics informs that solar PV installers careers have great potential.
Based on their data, the employment rate in the area is expected to double 2016 through 2026.
Some great job opportunities for experienced technicians with proper photovoltaic education are about to appear.
The Duties of a Solar Technician
Solar technicians deal with construction, installation, and maintenance of the solar systems.
They are installed on the roofs and other constructions.
PV installers are mechanically apt and usually work outdoors.
Their work involves carrying the panels, climbing ladders, and staying on their feet for most of the day.
So it’s important for the technicians to be physically fit.
Solar technicians should be comfortable working with heights as well as operating individually, and as a part of a team.
The installation of the PV panels usually involves the entire team while the repair and maintenance jobs can be done individually.
The responsibilities of solar technicians are diverse and depend on the level of experience.
Prior to installation, they should determine the location and arrangement of the solar panels.
It includes the orientation of the PV panels and the approval of the structural efficiency of the building.
The solar technicians must comply with the federal, state, and local regulations and codes in the course of installation.
Additionally, they should be able to understand blueprints, schemes, and specifications of the project.
Because of that, they may have to deal with the building inspectors frequently.
New technicians can be tasked with measurements, cutting, and assembling the solar panels.
The installation of the PV panels involves the use of tools such as drills and screwdrivers.
Then, the panels should be hooked to the electric mains.
It should be done by more experienced technicians.
Installation of the panels comprises assembling the batteries, fans, pumps, supporting structures, etc.
It ensures the proper work of the solar panels.
The installation of the panels is followed by the testing process.
It is necessary to ensure that all the systems are correctly set up and work properly.
For the final testing, the licensed electricians are required in some states.
After the installation, all the cavities in the roof should be shut and waterproofed.
Besides installing the solar systems, solar technicians are also responsible for maintenance of the existing ones and troubleshooting malfunctions on them.
Requirements for Solar Technicians
Most commonly, solar technicians are required to have a high school diploma or similar certification and a driving license.
For most companies who offer practical training, knowledge of safety procedures is essential.
Technicians with some specialized training can get better positions and payment.
Those who have appropriate trade experience (e.g., electricians, carpenters, roofers, etc.) can also have better work opportunities.
These experts are already familiar with the construction process and will only need minimal training.
Successful solar technicians are also expected to have effective communication skills and interact with customers, supervisors, and co-workers.
Steps to Enter the Solar Technician Industry
There are different ways towards the solar technician career.
What should be noted though, is that the technology becomes more sophisticated and the machinery more complicated.
Therefore, technicians should have deeper knowledge to enter the field than they needed in the past.
Here are four essential steps that can be involved in the career path of a solar technician:
- High school diploma or equivalent (4 years).
Prospective solar technicians should attend shop classes and develop their manual skills from a young age.
Solar installations comprise a wide use of electronics, so students should take science, math, electronics and computer classes.
The minimum GPA required is 3.0.
They are highly encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities.
They can enroll in an internship or obtain a part-time job for construction or solar organizations.
- Advanced training (several months to 4 years).
Aspiring technicians having experience working for solar companies during high school can continue their practical training after graduation.
Others can find a company that will hire them without formal training.
Practical training can take from a month to a year.
The focus is usually on safety and the use of tools.
New technicians can also take courses in community colleges or trade schools.
The training lasts from one to two years.
Those who have previous experience in construction or as electricians can take online courses.
The specialized courses at their professional organizations can also be an option.
There is also training available from equipment distributors in the use of their hardware.
These programs don’t exceed several months.
- Degree or certificates (various timelines).
The solar technology is highly advanced, so there are certain requirements set by the supervisory agencies.
The highest demand is for technicians with undergraduate degrees in solar technology, renewable, or alternative energy, system design, etc.
Except for a bachelor’s degree, the technicians can also earn certifications in the solar industry.
There are organizations that provide such certificates:
- Electronics Technicians Association.
Through the ETA one can obtain certificates covering all areas of electronics.
They can include anything from basic electronics to renewable energy.
The ETA certification can open doors to such huge companies as ESPN, Google, and even the US Armed Forces.
New technicians can obtain the Photovoltaic Installer – Level 1 certificate.
They can apply for it only with previous on-site training from one of the schools approved by ETA.
Basic knowledge in the solar principles, installation of solar systems, troubleshooting methods, safety practices, and more are required.
- National Roofing Contractors Association.
The NRCA offers a Certified Solar Roofing Professional certification.
Those who would like to expand their knowledge in the rooftop solar area and have concrete proof of their knowledge can enroll in the program.
The fundamental education includes an understanding of PV systems, integration of PV systems with the electrical system.
Knowledge of the benefits and risks of the PV systems to the building owners is essential as well.
Students should understand the building codes, post-installation processes.
A license is different from certification.
In the majority of states, independent solar technicians should have a license.
The requirements and fees can vary from state to state and in various municipalities.
In some states, a specialized and separate solar license is required.
The new technicians have to check the licensing requirements in the state they reside (or going to work) to stay on the right side of the law.
Wages of Solar Technicians
The wages of solar technicians can vary based on their experience, skills, education, and geographical location.
According to Payscale, the wages of solar technicians range from $11 to $26 hourly.
Technicians with more extended experience and troubleshooting skills can make more.
According to the BLS, the average salary per year is $43,010.
The lowest wages amounts to $28,760 and highest can go up to $61,580.
The median salary of solar technicians is $39,490.
This data reported is based on the BLS information for May 2017.
The entry-level workers (0-5 years of experience) can earn from $24,266 to $53,528, according to Payscale 2018 report.
The entry-level level employees make 3% less than experienced workers.
After solar technicians gain more experience, they can expect to earn higher wages.
Based on Payscale data, mid-career technicians (5-10 years of experience) make 22% more than the average workers.
The experts with over 10 years of experience earn 63% higher than the average.
According to the BLS, the states with the highest wages of solar technicians include Utah ($57,620 ), Hawaii ($52,950).
Nevada ($49,520), Colorado ($48,380), and Massachusetts ($46,130) are also among them.
Solar Technician Career Perspectives and Outlook
According to the BLS, employment in the solar installation area will increase by 105% from 2016 to 2026.
This is far faster than the average percentage of other top occupations in the country (7%).
This increase is due to the rapidly growing solar panel installation demand.
Because of the installation costs decreasing, the solar panels get more demand and become more affordable for homeowners and businesses.
Thanks to that, more solar technician job openings appear constantly.
The BLS report on the development of solar power in the US and solar-related jobs provides a list of professions in demand.
They include areas of scientific research, solar power engineering, solar power plant development, manufacturing of solar energy, and more.