Thursday, August 30, 2012

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

Site assessors, electricians, plumbers, and roofers are also involved in the solar photovoltaic installation process, but are not classified as installers. However, they possess many of the same skills as solar photovoltaic installers and often have work experience in these fields. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes some common jobs in solar panel installation and maintenance.

Occupations in Solar Panel Installation and Maintenance

Site assessors determine how much energy can be harvested at a particular location and then make recommendations based on that assessment. Site assessors help determine the best type, size, and layout of solar panels, and help draw up plans for installation crews. Assessors may take readings of sunlight at a proposed location, review weather patterns, and calculate potential costs and savings.

Site assessors are usually hired for commercial projects by companies that are making substantial investments in solar power and therefore want to ensure maximum benefits from the project. Some site assessors may consult with homeowners or solar installation companies on residential projects.

Electricians install and maintain all of the electrical and power systems in a home or business. They install and maintain the wiring and control the equipment through which electricity flows. Electricians are responsible for connecting the solar panels, inverter, and other equipment to a building's power supply. If a new building or house is being constructed with a solar power generating system, electricians may be responsible for installing the solar power system along with the electrical wiring system, or they may be responsible for simply connecting the solar equipment.

Plumbers install solar water heating systems. These systems replace or augment a conventional water heater and must be connected to a house's or building's plumbing. To install these systems, plumbers require specialized training to work with solar water heater equipment.

Roofers install and repair roofs, and they ensure that any cuts or holes made in the roof during the installation of solar panels and mounting racks are properly repaired and sealed. They may also assist with the installation of mounting systems and structural supports.

Education and Training

Site assessors generally have past experience with electrical or roofing work or experience as solar photovoltaic installers. They receive on-the-job training as well as specialized training in the equipment and techniques used to assess a site for a potential solar project. Some formal educational programs are available that teach basic site assessment including how to gauge the feasibility of solar generation, estimate costs, and determine which products to use.

Electricians and plumbers receive training through supervised apprenticeships administered by technical schools or community colleges. Apprenticeships usually consist of 4 or 5 years of paid on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of related classroom instruction per year. Most states require electricians and plumbers to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but it is common for states to require between 2 and 5 years of experience, followed by an examination that tests knowledge of trade and local codes. Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least 18 years old and in good physical condition. Drug tests may be required, and most apprenticeship programs ask that applicants have at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

Electricians and plumbers working on solar installation projects must also have specialized training on the systems that they will be installing, or they must work under the supervision of a qualified solar photovoltaic installer. Certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is required for many jobs, particularly large commercial installations and residential installations.

Roofers typically have on-the-job training and may participate in 3-year apprenticeship program. Many roofers in the solar industry educate themselves through additional training, or they gain experience to become solar photovoltaic installers.


The following table shows U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for selected occupations in the Construction of Buildings industry group for May 2010. This industry group includes new residential and nonresidential construction and remodeling. BLS does not publish data for site assessors. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location..

Occupation Median annual wage
Electricians $45,790
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters $50,550
Roofers $30,290

For more detailed information on solar panel installation and maintenance occupations in the solar power industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's new green job series: Careers in Recycling

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