Solar Photovoltaic Installers


Quick Facts: Solar Photovoltaic Installers
2017 Median Pay $39,490 per year 
$18.98 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 11,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 105% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 11,800

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Solar Photovoltaic Installers Career, Salary and Education Information

What Solar Photovoltaic Installers Do

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, also known as PV installers, assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops or other structures.

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solar photovoltaic installers

Duties of solar photovoltaic installers

PV installers typically do the following:

  • Plan PV system configurations based on customer needs and site conditions

  • Measure, cut, and assemble the support structure for solar PV panels

  • Install solar modules, panels, and support structures in accordance with building codes and standards

  • Connect PV panels to the electrical system

  • Apply weather sealant to equipment being installed

  • Activate and test PV systems

  • Perform routine PV system maintenance

Solar PV panels convert sunlight to electricity, and PV installers put these systems in place. PV installers use a variety of hand and power tools to install PV panels. They often use drills, wrenches, saws, and screwdrivers to connect panels to frames, wires, and support structures.

Many new PV installers 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 connecting electrical components.

Depending on the job and state laws, PV installers may connect the solar panels to the electric grid, although electricians sometimes perform this duty. Once the panels are installed, workers check the electrical systems for proper wiring, polarity, and grounding, and they also perform maintenance as needed.


Work Environment for Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Solar photovoltaic installers held about 11,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of solar photovoltaic installers were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: 43%

Self-employed workers: 20%

Electrical contractors and other wiring installation contractors: 20%

Utilities: 1%

Because photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into electricity, most PV installation is done outdoors. Residential installers work on rooftops and in attics and crawl spaces to connect panels to the electric grid. PV installers who build solar farms work at ground level and need to build structures to hold the PV panel framework.

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

Injuries and Illnesses

Solar photovoltaic installers risk falls from ladders and roofs, shocks from electricity, and burns from hot equipment and materials while installing and maintaining PV systems. Those working on roofs must use required fall protection equipment.


How to Become a Solar Photovoltaic Installers

There are multiple paths to becoming a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer, often called a PV installer. Most workers need a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training lasting up to 1 year. Other candidates take courses at a technical school or community college. Some PV installers learn to install panels as part of an apprenticeship.

Education 

Most employers require PV installers to have a high school diploma. Some PV installers take courses at local community colleges or trade schools to learn about solar panel installation. Courses range from basic safety and PV knowledge to system design. Although course lengths vary 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 option is particularly useful for candidates with prior construction experience, such as former electricians.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations 

Most employers require PV installers to have a driver’s license. Certification is not a requirement but can demonstrate a PV installer’s competency in solar panel installation. The Electronics Technicians Association, International (ETA); the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners; and Roof Integrated Solar Energy (RISE) Inc., all offer certification for PV installers.

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. During training, PV installers learn about safety, tools, and PV system installation techniques.

Electrician and roofing apprentices and journey workers may complete photovoltaic-specific training modules through apprenticeships.

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

Military veterans may benefit from the Solar Ready Vets program, which is a joint effort of the U.S Departments of Defense and Energy to connect veterans with training and jobs in the solar industry.

Important Qualities 

Communication skills. PV installers often need to communicate effectively with clients to ensure customer satisfaction and with other workers to ensure that proper safety and installation procedures are followed.

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 in order to build support structures for solar panels and to 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 throughout the day.

Physical strength. PV installers often lift heavy equipment and materials weighing up to 50 pounds.


salaries for Solar Photovoltaic Installers 

The median annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers was $39,490 in May 2017. 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 $28,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,580.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for solar photovoltaic installers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Utilities: $49,010

Electrical contractors and other wiring installation contractors: $40,180

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: $39,090


Job Outlook for solar photovoltaic installers

Employment of solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, often called PV installers, is projected to grow 105 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The continued expansion and adoption of solar panel installation is expected to create new jobs. As the cost of PV panels and shingles continues to fall, more residential households are expected to take advantage of these systems, resulting in greater demand for the workers who install them. The increasing popularity of solar leasing plans—in which homeowners lease rather than purchase systems—should create additional demand, as they no longer bear the upfront costs of installation.

The long-term outlook, however, is heavily dependent on government incentives, cost, and the continued improvement 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.

Job Prospects for solar photovoltaic installers

PV installers who complete a course in photovoltaic systems at a community college or technical school will have the best job opportunities. Those with apprenticeships 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 projections data for Solar Photovoltaic Installers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 11,300

Projected Employment, 2026: 23,100

Change, 2016-2026: +105%, +11,800


Careers Related to solar photovoltaic installers

Carpenters

Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

Glaziers

Glaziers install glass in windows, skylights, and other fixtures in storefronts and buildings.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration(HVACR) technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Ironworkers

Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers, also known as masons, use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build walls, walkways, fences, and other masonry structures.

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.

Roofers

Roofers replace, repair, and install the roofs of buildings, using a variety of materials, including shingles, bitumen, and metal.

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used in heating and air conditioning systems.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
CarpentersHigh school diploma or equivalent$45,170
Masonry Workers$42,900
Construction Laborers and Helpers$33,450
ElectriciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$54,110
GlaziersHigh school diploma or equivalent$42,580
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and InstallersPostsecondary nondegree award$47,080
IronworkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$51,320
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and SteamfittersHigh school diploma or equivalent$52,590
RoofersNo formal educational credential$38,970
Sheet Metal WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$47,990

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Solar Photovoltaic Installers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/solar-photovoltaic-installers.htm