In the job market today, juggling our desire for fulfilling work, searching for high job rate opportunities, and finding a way to serve our environmental consciousness can be a challenge at times. Fortunately, careers in alternative energy, such as solar, can meet all three.
News of the increasing solar power popularity across the country continues to be reported as a step in the right direction and a way to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels
The Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, revealed that, up through the third quarter of 2019, over two million solar systems were installed across the nation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the solar energy field are rocketing upwards. From California to Florida, this increase in the installation of solar energy systems is creating job opportunities at an exciting rate.
Further, solar installation jobs are predicted to be the fastest-growing jobs in the next decade.
Solar installers, also known as solar photovoltaic installers, are responsible for assembling, installing, and providing maintenance for solar panel systems. Most of this work is conducted outdoors, so if that is your preferred work environment, this may be the job you’re looking for.
Job Prospects for Solar Installers
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for solar installers are predicted to grow much quicker than the standard for all other occupations. This projected 63 percent growth rate from 2018 to 2028 will add numerous job opportunities across the country.
Within the next five years alone, the capacity for solar installation will reportedly double as solar projects increase rapidly from California to the East Coast.
With that being said, those seeking jobs as Solar Installers will benefit better if they have completed at least one class in photovoltaic systems at either a technical school or a community college.
Those with apprenticeships or experience as a journey electrician may have several good job opportunities. Workers with experience in various construction jobs, including carpenters, roofers, and laborers, may also have greater job opportunities than many of those who do not have construction experience.
In slight contrast, the website Glassdoor Economic Research states that although solar energy-related jobs are set to grow rapidly, the industry is still in transition, and we shouldn’t expect a hiring boom just yet. However, it is on the upswing. This is due to several factors, including:
- Solar energy system prices continue to fall, making them more affordable to more people.
- Environmental awareness by individuals and the government is expanding.
- The cost of solar installations continues to dramatically decline.
- Solar Leasing Plans have increased in popularity. The plans allow homeowners to lease rather than purchase systems. This should lead to additional demand as there are no upfront costs for installation.
In a US News and World Report magazine’s annual report for the best jobs in 2020, Solar Installers rank:
- 2nd in the Best Construction Jobs category,
- 8th in the Best Jobs Without a College Degree category,
- 22nd in the Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree category, and
- 68th in the 100 Best Jobs for 2020 overall category.
As for the long-term outlook, this will depend heavily on government regulations as well as government incentives. Common incentives include renewable energy tax rebates, direct subsidies, and purchase mandates.
The Top States for Solar Installation Jobs
As mentioned earlier, The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), as of the third quarter of 2019, reports that over two million solar energy systems have been installed across the nation.
Another organization, The Solar Foundation, releases a Solar Jobs Census each year, with the most recent one due out any day now, in early 2020. Based on the previous census, the top states for solar-related jobs also match up with SEIA’s list of top states.
According to SEIA and The Solar Foundation, the top states for solar installation, and where most jobs may be found, are as follows:
- California — California is the largest solar market in the US, with over a million installations, 3,000 solar companies in the state, and more than 76,000 solar-related jobs.
- North Carolina —North Carolina currently has almost 7000 solar-related jobs.
- Arizona — Arizona has over 7000 solar-related jobs.
- Nevada — Nevada has almost 7000 solar-related jobs.
- Texas — Texas has almost 10,000 solar-related jobs.
- New Jersey —New Jersey has approx. 6500 solar-related jobs.
- Massachusetts — Massachusetts has over 10,000 solar-related jobs.
- Florida — Florida has over 10,000 solar-related jobs.
- New York — New York has approx. 10,000 solar-related jobs.
- Georgia —Georgia has almost 4,000 solar-related jobs.
- Utah — Utah reported almost 7,000 solar-related jobs at the end of the third quarter of 2019.
Growth will be seen in other states going forward as well due to state government actions, rebates, and the like. These fast-growing states include:
South Carolina — Growth in South Carolina is being driven by the influx of major technology companies to the Southeast. These companies have signed agreements to buy electricity from large solar farms throughout the states, including South Carolina. On the residential side, a state tax credit and individual utility rebates will be available. The demand for rooftop solar systems is expected to grow across the entire state.
Ohio — Renewable energy legislation has had a checkered past, both good and bad, in Ohio. The state froze, then unfroze, its renewable portfolio standard during the last several years. Now, however, there is a renewed focus on renewable industry job growth and on clean energy overall.
Illinois — Back in 2017, Illinois introduced a program to encourage solar project development, and in turn, the state received numerous applications from large developers. Today, there is an increase in solar interest and awareness among residential homeowners, which is catching up to the level of those large developers. Also pushing the interest and demand up is the recent announcement by the state of its 100 percent renewable goals, meaning solar will grow steadily going forward.
Rhode Island — Rhode Island may be one of the smallest states, but it has some of the best and most robust solar economics in the country. This is due to its rebate for small scale solar systems as well as its renewable growth programs.
Similar and Related Jobs to Solar Installers
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), specific Green Jobs outlook, similar and related jobs that will also be in demand include:
Site Assessors — Site accessors provide information gained by determining how much a particular location can harvest in energy and also help determine the layout, type, and size of solar panels. They can also draw up the plans for installers.
Electricians connect solar panels, inverters, and other required equipment to a power supply in the building.
Electronics Installers and Repairers work on solar electronic equipment, which is dependent on various functions.
Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers assemble the solar components, including the complex circuitry in a solar panel, all the way to the final solar energy product.
Plumbers are responsible for installing the solar water heating systems, replacing or augmenting conventional water heaters, and connecting to the building’s or house’s plumbing. This requires specialized training in solar systems.
Roofers are needed to oversee the holes or cuts made in the roof during the installation of solar panels and mounting racks and be sure these are repaired then sealed. They may also assist in mounting systems and structural support installation.
Manufacturers to manufacture solar panel materials.
Sales Professionals with knowledge of solar systems will be needed as sales professionals in the solar industry.
Additional options can be found in other alternative energy fields, such as wind, windmill installation, and maintenance, or wind-turbine technicians.
Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics states they do not currently publish wage data, they do provide the following wage information.
Starting salaries for Solar Installers are between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. The median annual wage hovers around $42,680. Those in the highest 10 percent earn over $63,580.
Installers trained as electricians or licensed as general contractors can make higher wages also.
Requirements to Become a Solar Installer
Nationwide standards to become a solar installer vary across states, from licensing requirements to certifications.
Most paths to becoming a solar installer include having your high school diploma and on-the-job training, which can last up to one year. Another option is to take courses at technical schools or community colleges in order to learn more about solar panel installation. Apprenticeships are yet another option.
1) License or Certification Requirements
There are certain state laws to take into consideration, which require a license and it varies from state-to-state. Currently, there are 12 states, and also Puerto Rico, which require solar contractor licensing.
Although certification isn’t required in most cases, obtaining one can enhance your career opportunities and also demonstrate competency as a solar panel installer. Those seeking jobs as Solar Installers will also greatly benefit if they have at least completed a photovoltaic systems course at a community college or technical school.
2) Certification Programs
Certification is still considered voluntary in most states at this point but can be highly beneficial for your career.
There are several solar installer certification programs and schools, but three of the most recognized are:
- Electronics Technicians Association, International, or ETA — ETA is an accredited certification association, recognized throughout the technology-related industries, and provides individual certifications for working in various industries, including renewable energy.
- North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) —This national certification organization for renewable energy professionals offers certifications and credentials. These are developed\by subject matter experts as well as renewable energy professionals.
NABCEP certificate offerings include:
- PV Installer Specialist Certification.
- PV Design Specialist Certification.
- PV Installation Professional Certification.
- PV System Inspector Certification.
- PV Technical Sales Certification.
- PV Commissioning and Maintenance Specialist Certification.
Roof Integrated Solar Energy, Inc., or RISE. — Roof Integrated Solar Energy offers a Solar Roofing Professional (CSPR) certification, which is a voluntary certification for professionals who are planning to oversee the installations of the solar photovoltaic systems on rooftops.
There are several programs offered across the country where you can learn to be an installer. CleanEnergyAuthority.com is one place to start your search for a program near you.
As the industry continues to grow, state regulation, along with licensing requirements for solar contractors, may also grow. There may also become a mandatory requirement for certification in some states.
Preparing for a job in the solar installation will be beneficial in helping you obtain a job in the field. The demand for workers will only continue to grow. Already, according to a recent Forbes article, approximately one-quarter of firms find it difficult to fill open positions due to the lack of qualified applicants.
Additionally, if you are a veteran, The Solar Foundation maintains a Solar Ready Vets Network to help transition you into the workforce.
It is an exciting time in the solar energy industry. The green economy continues to grow, and alternatives to the over usage of fossil fuels is leading the way to new careers, particularly in the solar industry. Overall, solar power industry jobs are expected to grow. This includes more than just the solar installer positions. There will be more in manufacturing, construction, project development, maintenance and operation, and installation. These jobs are and will be located nationwide.
With the abundance of sunlight on the planet, harnessing its potential in environmentally friendly ways could very well exceed the current and even future electricity demands. As a result, this could lead to a decrease in emissions from the generation of electricity and also long-term energy costs. It’s a win-win situation.
As the cost-effectiveness of solar power rises, it potentially could fill a larger share of the growing energy needs of the US. As the usage of solar power expands, there will be a growing need for more workers, including manufacturing workers to make solar panels, construction workers to build power plants, solar installers to install solar panels, and so on.
As a result, Careers in the alternative energy sectors will continue to evolve and escalate in 2020 and beyond.