Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Green Job Series: Careers in Solar Power [Fifth Installment]

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. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes the job of a solar photovoltaic installer.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Solar photovoltaic installers are often self-employed as general contractors or employed by solar panel manufacturers or installation companies. 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.

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.

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.

Education and Training

Solar photovoltaic installers typically have a background in construction or as electricians. There is no formal training standard for installers, but courses are offered by a variety of institutions, such as trade schools, apprenticeship programs, or by photovoltaic module manufacturers.

Many solar installers are licensed as general contractors and many are licensed by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Certification, while not necessary, can improve the job prospects of installers, and many larger projects require workers to be certified.

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.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not currently publish wage data available for solar photovoltaic installers, but these data are being collected. According to industry sources, solar installers usually have starting salaries between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Installers trained as electricians or those that are licensed as general contractors can make significantly more. As with any occupation, wages and benefits vary by employer and geographic location.

For more detailed information on operations occupations in the solar power industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Tomorrow’s final solar power industry series installment: Other Occupations in Solar Panel Installation and Maintenance

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