Home solar is a fast-growing industry and offers some promising career opportunities. By 2019 just over 2 million American homes had installed solar panels but this figure is expected to double by 2023. More than 250,000 Americans already work in the solar industry and this number is also growing fast. It seems that now is a fantastic time to consider a career in solar power.
So I’ve been looking into home solar career opportunities and finding out how to become a solar panel installer. Perhaps that’s a job that interests you too? It’s a promising and rewarding career opportunity so let me tell you all about what you need to do to get started.
What does the job involve?
Okay, this is a bit obvious, but a solar panel installer installs solar panels. Let’s take a look at some different aspects of the job to get a better feel for what it involves.
The consultation stage of a home solar installation involves discussing possibilities with the homeowner and developing an installation package that meets their needs. This is a skilled job that requires assessing the home to evaluate the best location and a type of solar system that meets the client’s needs while complying with relevant local codes.
If you’re new to the business, you’re unlikely to have the skills for expert consultation unless you’ve studied and received a formal qualification.
Installation is the nitty-gritty of the job where you physically install the solar panels on-site, usually on a customer’s roof, but sometimes as stand-alone installations.
It’s important to remember that a solar system doesn’t just consist of solar panels and that these panels must be cabled through to inverters, sometimes batteries, and electrical grid connections.
Most home solar installations will require some form of certification and approval. Understanding the relevant local regulations and helping customers obtain all relevant certificates is an essential part of a solar panel installer’s job.
Maintenance and upkeep
As a general rule, you need to service home solar installations once a year. Maintenance is a valuable source of repeat business for a solar installer and inspection, servicing, and cleaning is an important part of the job.
What skills and talents do solar installers need?
When you decide to pursue any profession, you need to assess whether it suits your skillset and working preferences. Let’s take a look at what abilities you need to be a solar installer so that you can consider if you fit the bill and also if the job will provide you with the rewards and satisfaction you’re looking for.
Solar panel installers need to deal with customers, help them determine what kind of solar system they need, and then provide it. If you like to meet people and get satisfaction from helping others, that’s a significant advantage.
A lot of technology goes into generating electricity from the sun, and there’s a lot that you need to know to get a solar installation right.
For example, you’ll need to answer questions about the best angle and direction to face the panels? Or, will the customer going to be best served by an on-grid or an off-grid solar system?
Solar installers need to have deep background knowledge of their trade and convey this knowledge to clients simply and understandably.
Physical strength and dexterity
Solar panels are heavy, and solar panel installers place them in some pretty out-of-the-way and precarious places. It’s a physical job that requires agility, dexterity, and fitness. You don’t necessarily need to be incredibly strong and work out at the gym, but solar installers need to be in good enough shape to take on the physical requirements of the job.
Good with heights
Now, this is an important one. If you suffer from vertigo, or you just aren’t comfortable with heights, then the solar installation isn’t for you.
Most home solar systems are installed on the roofs of homes, so you’re going to need to get up there to put them on. If you’re not comfortable with ladders, or heights, then, sorry, but that pretty much rules you out.
A love of the outdoors
A solar panel installer works outdoors, rain and shine, summer and winter. If you love being outdoors, whatever the weather, you will be well suited to the job.
What professional qualifications do you need?
It’s possible to become a solar panel installer without any formal qualifications except a high school diploma. You can get an entry-level position in a junior role and learn the skills through on-the-job training.
But professional qualifications are available, and getting a formal qualification is an excellent way to enter the business a few rungs up the career ladder.
A popular and well-recognized qualification is the SEI Solar Training and Solar Professionals Certificate Program.
NABCEP offers an alternative certification which is another qualification that will set you ahead of the competition when seeking employment as a solar panel installer.
PV INSTALLATION PROFESSIONAL (PVIP)
PV TECHNICAL SALES (PVTS)
PV DESIGN SPECIALIST (PVDS)
PV INSTALLER SPECIALIST (PVIS)
PV COMMISSIONING & MAINTENANCE SPECIALIST (PVCMS)
PV SYSTEM INSPECTOR (PVSI)
SOLAR HEATING SYSTEM INSPECTOR (SHSI)
SOLAR HEATING INSTALLER (SHI)
Tips on how to become a solar panel installer
Here are some ideas and tips to consider as you get into the solar installation business.
1 – Sole operator or company employee?
At the start of your career as a solar panel installer, it’s a great idea to work for someone else. Even if you have gained a qualification, there’s a lot of practical experience to the job. It’s unlikely that you’ll be a success as a solo operator until you’ve gained several years of practical solar installation experience.
2 – Research the industry
Home solar is a dynamic and fast-changing industry. Technology is improving rapidly, and federal and local incentives change all the time. If you want to be a successful solar panel installer, it’s vital that you stay abreast of what’s happening in the industry. Background knowledge will help you find employment opportunities and serve your clients by offering them the best solar solutions.
3 – Make contacts
If you have friends or relatives working in the solar industry, then talk to them and get some valuable inside information about the market and employment opportunities.
It is an excellent idea to call businesses and individuals who are involved in home solar just to learn about what they do.
Trade shows and fairs are a great place to network and make contacts that might lead to opportunities and jobs.
4 – Get qualified
You don’t have to have a certification or qualification to become a solar panel installer, but it certainly helps. If you obtain either the SEI or the NAV CEP qualifications, you will give yourself the best chance to get a good position.
5 – Consider relocating
Jobs in the solar industry are not evenly spread across all states. Home solar is far more popular in some locations than others and these places are where the jobs are. There are a couple of factors that explain this uneven distribution.
The first factor is the basic rule that when it comes to generating electricity from solar panels, some places are better than others. The amount of power that you can produce from home solar varies dramatically from state to state and is measured in peak daylight hours.
Dry southern states have more direct sunlight than the cloudier and more northern states, and so home solar is more prevalent in these places. Note, however, that isn’t as important a factor as it used to be since improvements in solar technology mean that home solar is now viable even in states with lower peak daylight hours.
A more important factor is local incentives. The federal government offers a nationwide tax rebate for home solar installations. But, while this is available everywhere, many states, districts, and utilities offer additional incentives for home solar installations.
Areas that offer homeowners the best incentives for installing home solar have the most vibrant domestic solar markets and the most jobs. It’s a good idea to do some homework and find out more information about the breakdown of these local incentive schemes.
By researching what incentives are available by area, you can find the best places to start your career as a solar panel installer or start your own installation business.
Your next steps
By now, you should have enough information to know how to proceed with becoming a solar panel installer. Here’s a quick recap of the main points.
- We’ve seen that the job of a solar panel installer involves consultation, installation, certification, maintenance, and upkeep.
- Solar installers need a few abilities to do their job. People skills are essential, as is an excellent technical knowledge of how solar systems work. It’s an outdoor job and involves working with heights and heavy and delicate equipment.
- Good ways to get ahead of the pack include gaining a certification, researching the industry, making contacts, and considering relocating to find the best jobs.
Best of luck with pursuing your career in this exciting and fast-growing business!
If you have any comments or questions about how to become a solar panel installer, then please share them with us.