Solar photovoltaic installers use specialized skills to install residential and commercial solar projects.
The main focus of solar photovoltaic installer jobs is to assemble, install, or maintain solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs or other structures of houses or other buildings in compliance with site assessment and schematics. These green job holders also perform other work such as measuring, cutting, assembling, and bolting structural framing and solar modules. They may perform minor electrical work such as current checks.
The most important part of solar photovoltaic installer’s job is the preparation of the installation site. Before the installation process begins, they conduct a full audit of the structure, including a survey of the existing electrical system and developing safety procedures. In particular, solar photovoltaic installer job holder need to determine appropriate sizes, ratings, and locations for all system devices, disconnect devices, grounding equipment, and surge suppression equipment. They identify methods for laying out, orienting, and mounting modules or arrays to ensure the efficiency of installation, electrical configuration, and system maintenance. They also identify electrical, environmental, and safety hazards associated with photovoltaic installations. The project is then designed based on the characteristics of the structure and the type of system being installed. After the design is done, solar photovoltaic installers examine the designs to determine current requirements for all parts of the photovoltaic system electrical circuit.
Safety is a priority when installing solar panels because solar photovoltaic installers perform work from a high roof and are surrounded with high voltage. These green job holders must set up the proper safety equipment, such as a rope and anchor system prior to beginning the installation. Often, to support the solar panels, they may have to reinforce the roof, replace rafters, or install supports to handle the added weight of the panels. Solar photovoltaic installers then mark the roof to show where the arrays will be placed, and drill holes in the roof to attach the mounting system. After the mounting system is in place, they can install the solar panels. They must use caution during installation because the panels are fragile, expensive, and weigh at least 40 pounds each.
After the preparation is done, solar photovoltaic installers begin assemble solar modules, panels, or support structures, as specified. They install module array interconnect wiring, implementing measures to disable arrays during installation. They then apply weather sealing to array, building, or support mechanisms. After the installation is done, they check electrical installation for proper wiring, polarity, grounding, or integrity of terminations. They also test operating voltages to ensure operation within acceptable limits for power conditioning equipment, such as inverters and controllers.
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, solar photovoltaic installers must be problem solvers, able to repair damaged systems or replace malfunctioning components.
Solar photovoltaic installers are often self-employed as general contractors or employed by solar panel manufacturers or installation companies. Installation companies typically specialize in installing certain types of panels and provide some maintenance and repair services. When a solar panel system is purchased, manufacturers may provide the buyer with installation services or maintenance and repair work. 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.
Obtaining a green job as a solar photovoltaic installers typically requires a background in construction or as electricians. There is no formal training standard for solar photovoltaic installers. Training courses are offered by a number of institutions such as trade schools, apprenticeship programs, or by photovoltaic module manufacturers. Training programs vary widely and can range from 1 day to several weeks. Many solar photovoltaic 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 solar photovoltaic installers, and many larger projects require workers to be certified.
Solar photovoltaic installers may work alongside roofers, electricians, and plumbers in order to learn the variety of skills needed to complete an installation. Many solar photovoltaic installers enter the field with previous experience in one or more of these fields. Because of the high skill level required, clients may also ask that both lead solar photovoltaic installers and those solar photovoltaic installers who work independently obtain a general contractor’s license, depending on regulations of the localities and states where they work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for Solar photovoltaic installers and expects employment of this field to grow between 10 to 19 percent from 2010 until 2020; about the average for all green jobs. The BLS projected 23,200 solar photovoltaic installer job openings between 2010 and 2020, and noted 45,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles included Installer, PV Design and Installation Technician, PV Installer, Photovoltaic Installer (PV Installer), Solar Designer/Installer, Solar Installer, Solar Installer Technician, Solar PV Installer, Solar Photovoltaic Installer (Solar PV Installer), and Solar Technician. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried Solar photovoltaic installers was $40,620 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $19.53. Across the US job market, the lowest 10 percentile of solar photovoltaic installers earned about $26,250, and the top 10 percentile earned about $57,980 based on level of experience. Installers trained as electricians or those that are licensed as general contractors can make significantly more. Wages and benefits also vary by employer and geographic location.