The solar energy industry is booming. Since 2008, the amount of solar energy connected to the grid has increased more than 38 fold, reaching 42.4 GW today. This expansion has resulted in the creation of thousands of new solar industry jobs, with more than 260,000 people currently employed and projections of major growth in the future.
So you want to get a job as a solar installer, but don’t know where to begin? Here are 4 tips to help jump-start your career.
1. Learn: Before you start your solar career, you must understand a few key concepts.
PV, short for photovoltaic, cells are made up of two semiconductor layers. As a PV cell is exposed to sunlight, photons are absorbed by the negative layer of the cell, causing electrons to be freed. These freed electrons naturally migrate to the positive layer creating a voltage differential. Each individual solar energy cell produces only 1 to 2 Watts, so to increase the power output, cells are combined in a weather-tight package called a solar module, commonly called a solar panel. Another important component is the inverter, the brains of a solar system, which converts the electricity from your solar panels which generate DC, or direct current into power that can be used by home appliances, which use AC or alternating current.
Net-metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backward to provide a credit for the electricity produced. Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use.
Kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the amount of kilowatts produced over an hour. For example, a 1-kW system, if operating at full capacity for five hours will produce (or use) 5 kWh of electricity. Understanding the basic unit of measuring energy is crucial if you plan on being in the solar field.
These are just a few basic concepts, so I highly recommend seeking further education.
2. Network: According to a report from ABC News, 80% of today’s jobs are landed through people’s network of connections. Building relationships is going to be a key part of your strategy in landing a job in the solar field. So even before you start applying to positions as a solar installer, it would be a great idea to get involved in the solar community near you or online. You can find groups on Meetup.com, attend conferences, or even start your own solar community in your area.
3. Get certified: Luckily for you, the solar industry is so new that there isn’t a required certification program to be a solar installer. Saying that, it will definitely give you a leg up over other candidates if you are certified. There is the NABCEP program that requires 18 hours of training, passing an entry level test, an additional 40 hours of advanced training, and passing the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification exam.
Completing all of these would make you a highly desired candidate and very promising to solar providers looking to hire top talent. To reiterate, there is no standard certification system and many solar installers have not gone through the program, it’s just a great way to increase your chances of getting your solar dream job.
4. Move to a solar-friendly state: There’s a great saying in real estate: Location, location, location. The same applies to the solar industry. Although solar companies can be found in an ever-increasing number of states, the truth is that opportunities are better in some areas rather than others. Pay attention to states with solar-friendly policies for the best job opportunities. A great resource for this information is The Solar Foundation, or the industry trade organization
The solar industry is growing at an exponential rate and being a solar installer is a one of best ways to get a good paying job in this space. This is the time to enter the field and be a part of the future of our renewable energy world.