State of the Solar Industry
The solar energy industry and related solar panel installer jobs are still growing at a rapid pace. Yet, the rate has slowed some in recent years due to the current political climate across the U.S. and other countries. This includes tariffs that have been imposed on imported components which makes it more expensive to manufacture solar cells and panels.
Despite this, momentum is building with the global push for sustainable and renewable energy sources like solar and wind. As a result, there is projected to be a large wave of new solar panel installer jobs over the course of the next decade. In fact, Solar Panel Installer is projected to be the fastest-growing job by 2025 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Solar energy professions will pick up steam as solar panel prices continue to come down and energy suppliers or state governments offer rebates for installation. While changes in government may take longer, they will be forced to adopt clean solar energy policies as the population begins to demand it.
What is Photovoltaics (PV)?
A term you will see often when it comes to solar energy is Photovoltaics or commonly referred to as PV.
Photovoltaics (PV) is the act of converting light (solar) energy into electricity using semiconducting materials, such as silicon where are used in solar cells.
This is the most important process that allows us to generate and capture electricity out of solar panels.
How do solar panels work?
Solar panels are used in many different settings and locations. You may see them mounted on rooftops of houses, installed in open fields, or attached to sides of buildings.
Before jumping into the solar energy profession, it would benefit you to understand how the technology works.
Solar panels work by:
- Starting with the solar panels being constructed using silicon and conductive materials covered by a protective sheet of glass.
- Two types of silicon (P-type and N-type) are used to create an electric field. P-type silicon carries a positive charge and N-type carries a negative electric charge.
- When sunlight comes in contact with the layered P-type and N-type silicon, it disrupts the bond and creates free-roaming electrons.
- With both layers attached to conductive surfaces, it creates a circuit that provides a direct current (DC) of electricity.
- An inverter is used to convert direct currents (DC) into alternating currents (AC) since that is what modern appliances and devices support.
- Excess energy not used is either sent to the electric grid to be distributed to other homes/buildings or stored in a battery for later use.
The following graphic from Save On Energy explains these concepts with support from excellent visuals.
TEDEd also has a great 5-minute lesson that explains the basics and more technical aspects of how solar panels work. Richard Komp explains how a solar cell is used to convert solar energy into electrical energy for use in homes, offices, or virtually anywhere that receives some amount of sunlight.
In addition, some panels like Telsa’s Solar Roof are manufactured to look just like roofing shingles. These solar panels look great and are claimed to last for decades like standard roofs.
Many companies are also working on lowering manufacturing costs for panels to make the technology more accessible and cost-effective. As prices come down, the demand for the products along with qualified solar panel installers and technicians will skyrocket!
What do Solar Panel Installers do?
Solar Energy Technicians or Installers assemble, install, or maintain solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs or other structures. This is typically done following site analysis to determine the energy demands of the customer. The role may also involve measuring, cutting, assembling, and attaching solar modules based on specifications.
Solar Technician Responsibilities
Your responsibilities as a solar technician or engineer will depend mostly on the company. Larger companies will have more specific roles while smaller / startup companies prefer a “jack of all trades”. In general, here are your responsibilities as a solar technician:
- Perform site audits on solar systems by taking measurements, photographs, notes, and shading measurements of project sites
- Schedule, prepare, and complete solar installation site inspections
- Meet with customers and discuss project details to understand their needs
- Prepare documentation for solar installation project teams and track progress
- Complete post-installation inspection with the customer and provide them with general operating information
Solar Technician Qualifications
Each company will have different requirements, but here are the typical minimum requirements to land a job as a solar technician:
- High School diploma (college degree preferred)
- At least one year of previous relevant field construction experience (3+ years preferred)
- PV design or electrical experience preferred
- Excellent customer service, verbal and written communication, organizational, and time management skills required
- Strong computer and technical skills
- Must have a valid drivers license and be willing to travel between multiple sites daily
This is a shortlist of experience for anyone to achieve relatively quickly. If you’ve been working for any amount of time, you should be able to speak to #1 and 4-6 easily during your interview.
The other two items on the list may be the most challenging if you have no previous PV or solar electronics experience. If you are coming from another trade career (construction, mechanic, electrician, plumber, etc.), you should have more than enough relevant field experience.
However, we strongly encourage you to take training before you interview for the job or start your new career with solar energy. Having only a basic understanding of the technology and job responsibilities gives you an advantage and sets you up for a successful career.
Average Solar Panel Installer Salary
The average pay for a solar panel installer technician ranges between $14 to 25 per hour (approximately $31,000 to $52,000 per year). Where you fall in this range is heavily dependent on your experience level, work location, and company.
Best Solar (PV) Installer and Technician Training
Without question, the best source to find training to prepare you for a career in solar energy is Solar Energy International (SEI). They are the leading source of training and preparation for solar energy professionals looking to earn a PV certification.
They are world-renowned and recognized by every established company in the solar energy field. You can’t go wrong with the invaluable insights and expertise SEI offers with each of their courses.
This FREE course from SEI provides an outstanding introduction to learn the basics for the various renewable energy systems. It explains the latest trends in the industry and gets into how the technologies work.
If you are a beginner in the solar panel field, this is a great place to start!
Solar Technician Career Paths
Curious what a career in the solar technology field might look like? Here is a great depiction of the possible career paths available from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). This organization is recognized by the United States and globally which helps define standards and manages the certification process for energy practitioners.
Solar Panel Installer Certifications
There are many reasons to become a certified solar technician by taking a NABCEP administered exam. A few of the best reasons to pursue certification include:
- Potential to increase your annual pay by an average of $11,000
- Validates your experience and knowledge of solar technologies
- Establishes the credibility of your PV skills with customers and employers
PV Installation Professional (PVIP) certification is recognized by organizations globally as it validates your competence to perform in the role of PV Installation Professional. This often involves all aspects related to solar panel system design, installation, operation, and maintenance.
PV Design Specialist (PVDS) certification targets more advanced PV system designers that have higher experience and skill levels. The certification demonstrates your ability to design and configure all mechanical and electrical components of PV systems.
PV Installer Specialist (PVIS) certification is entirely focused on those who are highly proficient with all aspects of PV installation. This includes installing:
- DC and AC conductors for PV systems
- Raceways for protecting solar components
- System monitoring, controls, and communication hardware
- PV system safety plans and controls
PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist (PVCMS) certification demonstrates your expertise in the operation, maintenance, and commissioning of photovoltaic systems. It spotlights your ability to apply verification protocols, critically analyze systems, and implement preventive and corrective maintenance procedures for PV systems.
PV Technical Sales (PVTS) certification was created for those who have demonstrated expertise in engaging prospective clients, performing site analysis, and calculating financial incentives of PV systems. PVTS professionals are able to capture technical requirements, analyze data points to determine customer energy capacity needs, and recommend solutions that meet their demands.
PV System Inspector (PVSI) certification focuses on recognizing the experienced and skilled professions that inspect residential and commercial solar energy systems. In order to attain this certification, you should be highly knowledgeable of PV systems, relevant codes and ordinances for your service area, and capable of assessing the safety and operation of PV systems.
12 States with the Highest Employment of Solar Panel Installers
Employment rates for solar technicians continue to climb across the globe. However, specifically within the United States, some states are fostering rapid growth more than others. Here are the states where you can find the most jobs for installing and maintaining solar panels and related technologies.
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
Top Employers of Solar Panel (PV) Installers & Technicians
If you’re looking for a job in the solar energy profession, odds are it’ll be with one of the companies on our list. These are the most well-known companies in the field and are quickly expanding their reach as solar technology becomes mainstream.
- SolarCity (Tesla)
- ION Solar
- StraightUp Solar
- DPI Solar
Projected as one of the fastest-growing professions over the next decade, becoming a Solar Panel (PV) Installer is an excellent and stable career path. As the world continues to aggressively adopt more renewable energy sources, you’ll be a step ahead with the right training and certification in the solar energy profession.