Solar Thermal Installers and Technicians use specialized skills to install residential and commercial solar water heating systems.
Solar thermal installer jobs focus on installing, maintaining or repairing solar energy systems designed to collect, store, and circulate solar-heated water for residential, commercial or industrial use.These green job holders also may have to perform some plumbing, electrical, and roofing activities.
Solar water heating systems may be used to provide hot water to a home, a swimming pool, or for commercial purposes. Solar water heating systems are usually set up together with a conventional water heater for times when there is a lack of sunlight. There are two types of solar water heating technology: active and passive systems. Active systems use fans or pumps to move heat to warm water. Passive systems use sunlight to store energy and rely upon gravity to move hot water into a storage tank. They do not require pumps to move water. Residential solar water heaters generally consist of roof-mounted solar water collectors that directly heat water using sunlight or indirectly heat water by using solar collectors to increase the temperature of a heat-transfer material and pump it to a heat exchanger, which creates the hot water. For swimming pools, the water is pumped through a filter, then through a solar collector where the water is circulated to be heated by the sun, and returned to the pool.
Before the job can begin, solar thermal installers and technicians need to assess collector sites to ensure structural integrity of potential mounting surfaces or the best orientation and tilt for solar collectors. They also need to determine locations for installing solar subsystem components, including piping, water heaters, valves, and ancillary equipment. To ensure safety, they need to identify plumbing, electrical, environmental, or safety hazards associated with solar thermal installations.
Solar thermal installers and technicians determine the type of system to be installed, i.e. whether it is active direct or indirect, passive direct or indirect, or pool solar systems. During the installation, solar thermal installers and technicians plan the layout of the system by determining the placement of tanks and pumps. They also perform on-site evaluations to ensure the best placement of solar panels to obtain optimal sun exposure. Solar thermal installers and technicians mount pre-assembled solar panels or systems. They install storage tanks or heat exchangers into existing tanks. They also install pumps, valves, pipes, and ducts. Solar thermal installers and technicians set up and adjust electrical or electronic controls and sometimes do routine maintenance. In new construction, they follow blueprints to connect piping, ducting, controls, and wiring. Solar thermal installers and technicians also demonstrate start-up, shut-down, maintenance, diagnostic, and safety procedures to solar thermal system owners.
Solar thermal installer jobs consist of working outdoors in all types of weather. Their work requires lifting heavy tools and equipment as well as the ability to work on rooftops and in tight spaces. Additionally, solar thermal installers and technicians may risk injury by cuts from hand and power tools. They can minimize risks by following proper safety procedures. Most solar thermal installers and technicians work 40 hours per week, but they may work much longer hours during the spring and summer due to demands. Harsh weather conditions, such as thunderstorms, may delay work schedules.
Obtaining a green job as a solar thermal installers and technicians typically requires a high school diploma or the equivalent and some construction experience. Entry-level solar thermal installers and technicians generally receive on-the-job training by working as a helper to more experienced employees. Many entry-level solar thermal installers have attended an apprenticeship program for one of the construction trades such as carpenters, electricians, heating and air conditioning installers, plumbers, or sheet metal workers. Generally, beginning solar thermal installers and technicians also attend solar technology programs at community colleges or vocational schools to acquire the technical skills needed for the solar industry. Many employers prefer to hire individuals with solar thermal installation experience. However, some will accept experienced plumbers and electricians.
High school preparation courses in English, mathematics, physics, computer technology, drafting, blueprint reading, and shop courses are helpful for candidates interested in becoming solar thermal installers and technicians. Preparatory training programs for solar thermal installers and technicians are also available through Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). Programs include Building Trades, Construction Technology, Electrical Apprenticeship, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), and Plumbing.
Individuals working as employees work under the license of the employer. Those wishing to enter self-employment as a solar installation contractor must pass a written exam, along with a fingerprint background check to obtain a specialty Solar Contractors License. Certification is voluntary. However, certification broadens skills and enhances employment opportunities. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers professional certification to qualifying applicants. Candidates must be at least 18 years of age, pass a written exam, and provide documentation of a minimum of four years’ experience installing solar hot water systems or two years’ experience installing solar pool heating systems. Continuing education is required to maintain NABCEP certification. Applicants must complete 18 hours of continuing education within three years of their initial certification. The educational requirements consist of six hours reviewing the National Electric Code, six hours covering NABCEP Task Analysis, and six hours of photovoltaic or renewable energy instruction. In addition, installers must provide evidence for completing the installation of three solar thermal systems during the three-year certification period.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for Solar Thermal Installers and Technicians 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 thermal installer job openings between 2010 and 2020, and noted 45,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles included Solar Energy Systems Installers; Solar Hot Water System Installers; Solar Thermal Repair Technicians. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried Solar Thermal Installers and Technicians was $34,990 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $16.82. Wages and benefits vary by employer and geographic location.