Solar Panel Installers
Overview | Related Occupations | Outlook | Helpful High School Courses | Preparation | Related Educational Programs | Additional Sources of Information
Solar panel installers place solar panels in sunny places to gather the sun's power.
Solar panel installers help capture the sun's energy. Solar panel installers are also called solar photovoltaic installers, solar photovoltaic technicians, or solar installer-roofers. They install solar modules on the ground, on poles, on roofs, and on the sides of buildings. These solar modules are made from solar cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity.
The most common type of solar module is the 3' x 5' flat solar panel. It is usually mounted on top of a roof. Before adding the panels to a roof, installers make sure that there is enough room and that the roof can hold the extra weight. If the roof isn't strong enough, installers reinforce it. Once the roof is ready, installers bolt structural framing, or racking, to the roof. They attach the solar panels to the frame and connect them with wires.
However, solar modules aren't limited to just the 3' x 5' panel. Flexible panels, roof tiles, and shingles are also common. Some building materials, such as siding or windows, are also made out of solar cells.
Installers run the wires down to a basement, garage, or outside box where the wires are hooked to an inverter. This device turns the energy captured by the solar cells into electricity that can be used by homes and businesses. Some systems include a battery backup that stores power for later use. Inverters must be wired to buildings by licensed electricians. Because of this requirement, many installers are licensed electricians. The last step is to activate the system and check that it is working correctly.
Lead installers might be responsible for getting work permits and inspections. They may work with utility companies to connect the systems to the main electrical grid. Some installers also repair solar modules that are already in use.
Most residential installations take about three days to complete. Large commercial installations can take several months. As a result, work schedules of solar panel installers can be similar to those of construction workers. They may work long hours on some days followed by periods of no employment.
A solar installer's work depends on the sun in more ways than one. An installer's day often starts early to avoid the worst of the heat. If it's raining, the work can't always be completed. Wet weather can make installation dangerous. Workers must be comfortable working at heights. Most commercial installations take place on flat roofs. Many residential installations take place on roofs with steep slopes and on loose or fragile materials, such as clay shingles. Installers often wear safety harnesses when working on these types of roofs.
Solar panel installers need mechanical skills. They must be able to use power tools and hand tools to construct equipment. Knowledge of electrical circuits and basic math are helpful. Attention to detail and problem-solving skills are important. They must be able to precisely follow diagrams and instructions. Heavy lifting is also required at times. Solar panels typically weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. Batteries can weigh even more.
As the use of solar power expands, the job tasks of solar panel installers are evolving. Some workers primarily install the panels. Others, especially those at small companies, do everything from sales to planning to wiring. Experienced installers may become lead installers, system designers, or sales representatives.
- Architecture and Construction
Hawaii Career Pathways:
- Industrial & Engineering Technology
Analysts expect that the solar-power industry will continue to grow rapidly. This is due to the trend in government incentives and increased consumer interest.
About 7,000 solar panel installers are employed in the U.S.
Helpful High School Courses
You should take a general high school curriculum that meets our state's graduation requirements. Click here for for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2011 or 2012. Click here for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2013 or later. If you attend a private school, check with your school counselor for graduation requirements.
Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this occupation include:
- Computer Science
- Equipment Maintenance and Repair
- Introduction to Mechanics
- Physical Science
The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.
You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.
Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Click here for examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.
To work as a fuel cell technician, you must:
- have a high school diploma or GED; and
- have work experience in a related occupation or have a combination of education and experience.
Education after high school
A college degree is not required to become a solar panel installer. However, many installers have an associate degree in an electrical or solar field, or a certificate from a training program.
A small number of colleges and universities offer training or continuing education programs in solar energy. A list of training programs within the United States is available at: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/education/educational_professional.html
Be careful when enrolling in solar installation programs. This is an emerging industry, and there are no standard training requirements. As a result, the quality of information provided by programs varies widely. You should investigate the schools you are interested in.
It is helpful to have mechanical or electrical work experience. People with construction backgrounds are well suited for the work. Roofing experience is valuable.
If you have related work experience, you can become a solar panel installer through on-the-job training. The length of this training can vary. New workers often learn on the job, although training in solar installation or solar power is helpful.
Related Educational Programs:
- Electrical/Electronics Technologies
Additional Sources of Information
- "Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future" ($19.95 paper cover, p. 368)
By Jim Cassio and Alice Rush, MA, RPCC, MCC
Publication date: 2009
New Society Publishers
Career Information Available on the Internet
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