Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, often called PV installers, assemble, install, or maintain solar panel systems on roofs or other structures.

Duties

PV installers typically do the following:

  • Plan PV system configuration based on customer needs, expectations, and site conditions
  • Connect PV panels to the power grid
  • Install solar modules, panels, or support structures in accordance with building codes and standards
  • Apply weather sealing to equipment being installed 
  • Perform routine PV system maintenance
  • Activate and test PV systems to verify performance

Sunlight is considered an environmentally safe source of energy. By way of solar panels, sunlight is transformed into electricity. Recent technological advances have sufficiently reduced the cost of solar panels, making it a viable source of electricity for businesses and homeowners alike. PV installers put these systems in place.

PV installers use a variety of hand and power tools to install photovoltaic panels. They often use wrenches, saws, and screwdrivers to connect panels to frames, wires, and support structures. This work is typically done on roofs, where the greatest amount of solar radiation—or sunlight—is captured.

Many new workers begin by performing basic tasks, such as installing support structures and placing PV panels or PV shingles on top of them. Once the panels are in place, more experienced installers usually perform more complex duties, such as evaluating sites, planning the layout of solar panels, and connecting electrical components.

Depending on the job, PV installers may connect the arrays to the electric grid, although electricians sometimes perform this duty. Once installed, workers check electrical systems for proper wiring, polarity, grounding, or integrity of terminations, and perform maintenance as needed.

Work Environment

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers held about 4,800 jobs in 2012. The majority were employed in the construction industry.

The industries that employed the most solar photovoltaic installers in 2012 were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors 34%
Electrical contractors and other wiring installation contractors 22
Power and communication line and related structures construction 12

Although most PV installation is done outdoors, installers often work in attics and crawl spaces to connect panels to the electric grid. Those who work on rooftops must climb ladders.

PV installers may work alone or as part of a team. Installation of an array may require the help of roofers and electricians as well as solar photovoltaic installers.

Workers must travel to job sites. 

Injuries and Illnesses

Solar photovoltaic installers risk falls from ladders and roofs, electrical shocks, and burns from hot equipment and materials while installing and maintaining PV systems.

Work Schedules

Nearly all solar photovoltaic installers work full time, which may include evenings and weekends. They often are required to be on call to handle emergencies.

Education and Training

Although some photovoltaic (PV) installers need only a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training lasting up to 1 year, most candidates receive training at a technical school or community college. These 2-year programs offer entry-level courses or may be part of an apprenticeship program.

Education

Most PV installers take courses at local community colleges and trade schools to learn about solar panel installation. Courses range from basic safety and PV knowledge to system design. Although course length varies by state and locality, most usually last a few days to several months.

Some candidates may enter the field by taking online training courses. This is  particularly useful for candidates with prior construction experience, such as former electricians.

Training

Some PV installers learn their trade on the job by working with experienced installers. On-the-job training usually lasts between 1 month and 1 year, where workers learn about safety, tool use, and PV system installation techniques.

Solar PV system manufacturers may also provide specific training on a product. Such training usually includes a system overview and proper installation techniques of the manufacturer’s products.

Some large construction contractors provide training to new employees on their own. Workers learn basic PV safety and are given increasingly complex tasks as they prove their abilities.

Although there are currently no apprenticeship programs for solar photovoltaic installers, a few workers learn PV installation through other occupational apprenticeship programs, such as electrician apprenticeships.

In most states, an electrician is fully qualified to connect PV systems to electric grids. They are also able to connect panels to battery sources.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Residential panel installers must work in customers’ homes. As a result, workers must maintain professionalism and perform the work in a timely manner.

Detail oriented. PV installers must carefully follow instructions during installation. If they fail to do so, the system may not work properly.

Mechanical skills. PV installers work with complex electrical and mechanical equipment. They must be able to build support structures that hold PV panels in place, and properly connect the panels to the electrical system.

Physical stamina. PV installers are often on their feet carrying panels and other heavy equipment. When installing rooftop panels, workers may need to climb ladders many times during the course of the day.

Physical strength. PV installers must often lift heavy equipment, parts, and tools. Workers should be strong enough to lift panels that weigh up to 40 pounds.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Prior experience in construction may shorten a new employees training time. For example, workers with prior experience as an electrician, roofer, carpenter, or laborer typically already understand and can perform basic construction duties.

In addition, those with knowledge of electrical work, such as electricians, are highly valued by contractors.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not mandatory, PV installers may obtain certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Certification can demonstrate professionalism and basic PV knowledge to employers.

To qualify, candidates need at least 58 hours of advanced PV training by an accredited school or organization as well as complete a ten-hour construction safety course through OSHA.

The Electronics Technicians Association International also offers certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers was $37,900 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,250, and the top 10 percent earned more than $57,980.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for solar photovoltaic installers in the top three industries in which these installers worked were as follows:

Power and communication line and related structures
construction
$41,250
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors 39,520
Electrical contractors and other wiring installation
contractors
32,470

Nearly all solar photovoltaic installers work full time, which may include evenings and weekends. They are often required to be on call to handle emergencies.

Job Outlook

Employment of solar photovoltaic (PV) installers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

The rapid expansion and adoption of solar panel installation is expected to create new jobs. As the cost of PV panels and shingles continue to fall, more residential households are expected to take advantage of these systems, resulting in greater demand for the workers who install them.

The long-term outlook, however, is heavily dependent on government incentives, cost, and the continuing efficiency of PV panels. States and localities that provide incentives to reduce the cost of PV systems should experience greater demand for workers. Common incentives include tax rebates, direct subsidies, renewable energy purchase mandates, and net metering.

The development of solar leasing should create additional demand, as homeowners no longer must bear the upfront costs of installation.

Job Prospects

PV installers who complete training at a 2-year technical school will have the best job opportunities.

Those with apprenticeship or journey electrician experience will also have very good job opportunities. Workers with experience in construction occupations, such as laborers, roofers, and carpenters will have better job opportunities than those without construction experience.

Employment of PV installers fluctuates with the overall economy. On the one hand, there is great demand for PV installers during peak periods of building activity. On the other hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls.

There is less maintenance performed by many PV installers as compared to other construction occupations, so most work should be for installation and not maintenance.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeship or other training opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, technical colleges, the state apprenticeship agency, local photovoltaic contractors, firms that employ PV installers, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll-free help line: 1 (877) 872-5627; or Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about apprenticeships for solar photovoltaic installers, visit

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

For more information about accredited training programs, visit

Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc.

North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners

An article related to solar careers was published by BLS in 2011.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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