What Do Solar Installers Do and How Much Do They Make?

Interested in a job in solar energy? Here’s a quick overview of what solar photovoltaic (PV) installers do, the training needed to become a solar installer, and the career outlook for solar installers.

Solar PV installers are key to the operations of solar panel installation and maintenance. They utilize a particular skill-set to maximize the effectiveness of both residential and commercial projects. They are in charge of safely attaching the modules to the roofs of houses or other buildings and guaranteeing that the entire systems works. Solar PV installers are expected to work with a variety of tools (both electronic and mechanical), have knowledge of electrical wiring, and possess basic math skills. At any given point, installers must be ready to be problem solvers, ready to repair damaged systems or replace malfunctioning components at the drop of a hat. Not surprisingly, safety is a top priority when installing solar panels because of the height of most projects and the high voltage that solar panels produce.

Solar PV installers can either be self-employed as general contractors or employed by solar panel installation companies. Self-employed installers typically have training and experience with installing a variety of solar power systems and are hired directly by the property owners or by a project development firm. Installation companies typically specialize in installing a certain type of module, and may also provide some maintenance and repair services. When a solar panel system is purchased, installers may provide the buyer with maintenance and repair work to complete themselves.

Solar Installer Job Responsibilities

One of the most important aspects of a solar installer's role is the design and planning of the project site. Before the project can start, a full review of the structure is conducted, including an audit of the current electrical system and development of any site-specific safety precautions. The project is then designed based on the shading and structural qualities of the site and the type of photovoltaic system being installed. After the design and specifications are finalized, the permits are obtained from the relevant local or state governments. If the installer does not do these preparations themselves, they must become familiar with the permits and arrangements before they begin working on it.

Once installation starts, essential safety equipment, such as a harness and anchor system, must be set up to protect the installer from falls. Sometimes, the roof will have to be reinforced to support the solar modules; this may involve upgrading materials, replacing rafters, or introducing backings to handle the weight of the modules. The markings must be made to show exactly where each module will be placed, and holes are drilled in the roof to attach the mounting framework. After the mounting is in place, the solar panels can be installed. Extreme caution is taken during installation because the modules are delicate, costly, and weigh about 40 pounds each. Installers do not want to be on the hook for modules that need repair or substitution because of damage during the installation process

Solar Installer Credentials

Solar PV installers typically have a background in construction or as electricians. There is no required training standard for installers, but many solar installers are licensed as general contractors and many are licensed by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). NABCEP Certification, while not required, significantly improves the employability of installers, and larger projects generally require workers to be certified.

When starting out, many solar installers work alongside roofers, electricians and plumbers in order to learn the mixture of abilities required to complete an installation. Many installers enter the field with previous experience in one or more of these fields, but this is by no means necessary. In some cases, clients may also ask that both lead installers and those installers who work independently obtain a general contractor’s license, depending on regulations of the localities and states where they work.

Solar Installer Wages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and industry groups, solar installers usually have starting salaries between $40,000 and $50,000 per year. Installers trained as electricians or those that are licensed as general contractors can make significantly more. As with any occupation, wages and benefits vary by employer and geographic location.

Other Occupations in Solar Panel Installation and Maintenance

Solar PV projects require more than installers — site assessors, electricians, plumbers and roofers are all likely involved in one way or another. These workers are involved in the installation process but are not classified as solar photovoltaic installers.

Site Assessor Solar Job Duties

Site assessors determine how much energy can be harvested at a particular location and then make recommendations based on that assessment. Site assessors help determine the best type, size, and layout of solar panels, and help draw up plans for installation crews. Assessors may take readings of sunlight at a proposed location, review weather patterns, and calculate potential costs and savings. Site assessors are usually hired for commercial projects by companies that are making substantial investments in solar power and therefore want to ensure maximum benefits from the project. Some site assessors may consult with homeowners or solar installation companies on residential projects. Many times, this role is left to the solar sales professionals

Electrician Solar Job Duties

Electricians install and maintain all of the electrical and power systems in a home or business. They install and maintain the wiring and control the equipment through which electricity flows. Electricians are responsible for connecting the solar panels, inverter, and other equipment to a building's power supply. Electricians may or may not specialize in solar installation; however, most electricians that work with solar panels have some experience or training on solar power equipment. If a new building or house is being constructed with a solar power generating system, electricians may be responsible for installing the solar power system along with the electrical wiring system, or they may be responsible for simply connecting the solar equipment.

Plumber Solar Job Duties

Plumbers install solar water heating systems. These systems replace or augment a conventional water heater and must be connected to a home's or building's plumbing. To install these systems, plumbers require specialized training to work with solar water heater equipment.

Roofer Solar Job Duties

Roofers install and repair roofs, and they ensure that any cuts or holes made in the roof during the installation of solar panels and mounting racks are properly repaired and sealed. They may also assist with the installation of mounting systems and structural supports. Roofers typically work with a variety of materials including tar, asphalt, gravel, rubber, thermoplastic, metal and shingles. Roofing work is very strenuous. It requires workers to be on hot roofs for long periods of time, and it carries the risk of falls and other injuries.

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