How to Become a Solar Panel Installer

Written by John Ho on October 19, 2020
How to Become a Solar Panel Installer 2020

Solar energy systems are going famous due to the incentives given by the state departments. Electricity generated from solar energy is cheaper than the power grid. The reason behind this is that solar technology has evolved so much during the past few decades.

The owner will use free electricity for an average of 20 to 25 years. It needs less maintenance, for example, cleaning of solar panels and batteries monitoring.

Solar panel installer jobs are in demand due to the expansion of solar companies. It is the right time to switch to the solar panel installer career. You can take a fresh start with this fascinating career if you are young and deciding for the future. I will give you in-depth knowledge about the job requirements and how to become a solar panel installer.

I will also discuss training courses and license acquisition procedures. In the end, I will help you decide to choose this career or switch to any other career path.

Get Enrolled in a Technical Institute

You will first need to attend a course offered at a local community college or trade school. It will help you get the fundamental knowledge and training about the installation. The course content may differ based on the duration and skill level of participants. It ranges from basic safety and system installation to complete system design. The completion time of the course will also be different as per the curriculum.

Many institutes offer practical and technical training during or after the course. Training programs have a variable length from one month to a year. If you have experience in an electrical or related trade, you will get the benefit. In this case, getting training from one to two months will be enough for you.

Go for On-the-Job Training

I will recommend you go for on-the-job training after completing the course. It will help you get trained in the real environment working with senior staff having years of experience. You will understand the needs of the job and the basic requirements. You will get a chance to use related machinery under the supervision of senior staff.

You can start your career under the supervision of a senior PV installer. Perform basic tasks like installing support structures and frame components on the rooftop. As you develop your understanding of the job, you can start working on the electrical side.

You can enroll in an apprenticeship program offered by a company. Many companies have collaborated with trade schools where you get formal training. Besides, you get on-the-job training from the company to prepare you for the job. Apprenticeship is one of the best paths to land into a great career. Some companies also offer stipends during the training program.

This on-the-job training will help you excel in your career as a successful solar panel installer.

Get Certification from NABCEP

Certification is not essential to date on the federal or state level. I will suggest you get certified from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). NABCEP has designed a voluntary certification program to build consumer confidence in practitioners. NABCEP has a range of certifications that will help at the later stage of your career. Some of these certifications are,

  • NABCEP PV Installation Professional® (PVIP) Certification
  • NABCEP PV Design Specialist™ (PVDS) Certification
  • NABCEP PV Installer Specialist™ (PVIS) Certification
  • NABCEP PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist™ (PVCMS) Certification

The certification improves public perception about you and distinguishes from the competitors. The individuals who can apply for the exam may be a lead installer, system designer, electrician, or a quality assurance agent. Online practice exams are also available, which can be accessed here on their website. Before applying for the exam, you need to complete the requirements of certifications. The main requirements for the initial certification (PVIP) are,

  • You must have performed in a decision-making role for two years. The role must be related to the quality and serviceability of the PV installation.
  • All installations must be complete with a permit and final approved inspection.
  • You must have completed all the installations within the last two years before the application submission date.
  • All systems must have a minimum rating of 1 kW DC (STC).

This NABCEP Handbook will help you get detailed information about the certification procedure. NABCEP certifications are valid for three years. After that, you pay a recertification fee to get the certificate for the next three years.

Job Responsibilities

Solar installers are responsible for installing solar panels on rooftops and commercial properties. They may also be working on solar heater installations. You should know about mechanical fittings and electrical wiring of the system. Having a basic knowledge of reading the drawings will give you an added advantage.

One of the most wanted skills is a problem-solving skill. It helps you resolve issues related to the rooftop surface considerations and orientation. Sometimes, you need to check the rooftop's durability to accommodate the weight of the PV panels.

As an electrician, you connect system components like solar panels, inverter, batteries, and the house's main distribution panel. A certified electrician should perform the wiring of the solar energy system. If you have an electrical installation certification, it will give you an edge to land into a better job.

Senior-level PV installer designs the system based on customer needs and site constraints. He also performs the testing of the system before putting it into operation. He is also responsible for supervising the work performed by the junior installers.

Already installed systems may need troubleshooting due to some malfunctioning in the system. You should understand the system errors and consult technical manuals of the system.

Important Qualities You should have

Like other professions, this trade also requires you to have qualities to fulfill the job. They will enhance the efficiency and productivity of the work performed.

  • Look into the details of the work you are going to perform. Before going to test the system, you must ensure that system will work properly.
  • Professional practices are necessary for personal safety, team members, and equipment.
  • You will be installing solar panels on the rooftops in residential buildings. Hence, you should have the ability to work at height.
  • We have advanced software for system design in this modern era. Still, get some basic knowledge of trigonometry, algebra, and geometry.
  • You should know about building structures and their weight-bearing capacity. The roofs of the residential or commercial buildings must bear the weight of the solar panels.
  • Try to get in-depth knowledge of electrical wiring. It is one of the crucial steps of the solar energy system installation.
  • Be ready to work on heights, carrying panels and mechanical structure to the top. Therefore, you should have the physical stamina to deal with the job. One solar panel's weight can vary between 9 kg to 20 kg based on the size of the solar panel.
  • If you have a driving license, it will benefit you with an increased salary compared to other team members. It is always a need to drive to the job sites from the company office.

Future Growth in the Job

As it is one of the modern growing industry, you should always be ready to learn new things. It will help you reach the next level of seniority in the company. Learn skills related to the system design and project management to progress in your job. Chances are there that you can get a promotion to the higher positions of the company.

Start Your Own Business

After getting experience of five to ten years, you can register your own company. A license from concerned authorities is a must for starting the business. Keep updated with the tax exemptions and incentives offered by the local government. It will help you convince your clients to switch towards solar energy.

While working for other companies during your career, make your links in the industry. It will pay off when you start your own company while purchasing and acquiring equipment. You should have a truck or van to transport the equipment to the site. If the business is getting more customers, you can hire a fleet of trucks for transportation. To feed your business initially, you can use your savings or take a loan from a bank.

Salary

You have come up to start a fascinating career in the solar energy sector. Similar to other jobs, solar panel installers get paid on an hourly basis or per month. The average wage per hour ranges from $15 to $35, based on the field experience. On a permanent or contractual basis, you can get $45000 to $65000 per annum.

Conclusion

As the solar energy sector is evolving, a lot of jobs are announced per year. As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected percent change from 2019 to 2029 is 51 percent. This number is higher than in other occupations. The average growth rate for all other trades is 4 percent. In 2019, around 12000 people were working as solar panel installers.

Despite fast growth, the industry has a slow employment history. A tough competition exists in some states due to the overproduction of the workforce.

Apprenticeship is the most promising way to excel in this field. Companies help apprentice in training for their own needs. Chances of hiring in the same company or related companies are high. Therefore, I will strongly recommend you choose the apprenticeship path if you are young and full of energy.

Article written by John Ho

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