Solar energy may still be considered an alternative power source compared to conventional means, but it is gaining popularity in the public’s eye. As a result, jobs related to its installation is projected to grow far quicker than the average growth of all occupations.
Those employed to install solar systems are called Solar Photovoltaic Installers (PV Installers) and they assemble, set up, and maintain rooftop or other systems that convert sunlight into energy.
Solar installers evaluate a client’s property and determine the best installation plan to meet the client’s needs. Next, they will install the panels in accordance with local and national code and connect them to the client’s electricity system.
With the growing demand for renewable energy, solar panel installers can work just about anywhere in the country. The solar industry is relatively new compared to other, more established industries, so a lot of solar energy companies are rather small, although there are some large companies around the country.
Solar installer responsibilities
PV installers will find themselves routinely doing any/all of the following:
- Design/plan solar photovoltaic systems according to customer specifications
- Create (measure, cut, fabricate) supporting fixtures for solar panels
- Install all components of solar photovoltaic systems, including housing modules, panels, and supporting fixtures. All in accordance with building codes.
- Link PV systems to existing electrical systems
- Weather proof any outdoor equipment
- Run activation, testing, and ongoing diagnostic programs on solar photovoltaic systems
While on a job site, PV Installers have plenty of tasks from start to finish. They will have to verify measurements and designs of the system prior to installation.
Depending on the structure being used (flat roof, angled roof, stand-alone units), PV installers may need to construct a mounting unit used for positioning the panels at the correct angles themselves. The PV installers will set up the new systems on the newly constructed support structures and set up the panels or shingles on top of them.
Once this portion is completed, PV installers will install all electrical components together, connecting to either new or existing electrical systems on site. To conclude the process, testing and troubleshooting will need to be done as well.
To complete these various tasks, PV installers will need to be proficient in the use of several hand and power tools, including drills, saws, wrenches, screwdrivers, and other common construction tools. In addition to this, a basic knowledge of wiring will likely be necessary as well.
In reference to the electrical tasks, depending on the specific job and state codes, an electrician may be required to handle some of the work, especially if it is getting connected to a larger power grid. PV installers may handle these tasks on their own as well as checking the wiring, polarity, and grounding of electrical systems.
Within residential or small commercial projects, PV installers may be tasked with preparing the system layout based on specific requirements. This can include obtaining permits with local offices, measuring, cutting, fabricating, and connecting structural framing as well as the solar panels, installing panels to roofing or ground mounts, connecting to electrical systems, and finally troubleshooting and commissioning the system to go.
Often the size of the job and the employing company will determine how specialized each individual's role(s) may be within the above list of duties.
Pros & cons of a solar installer career
There are many pros and cons to working as HV installers, another term for solar installer. Some of the pros are:
- Rapidly growing job market
- Good salary and benefits
- Ability to start your own company
- Positive impact on the environment
- No degree required
- Hands on work
- Easy to become one
- Work just about anywhere
While there are many pros to working as a solar installer, there are also some cons, some of which are listed below:
- Long hours
- Physically demanding
- Takes some time to learn
- Often work alone
Where can a career as a PV installer take you?
The Solar energy sector can offer plenty of differentiation and advancement past the career of a PV installer. Below we list some of the different routes you can take with a career in solar.
- Solar PV Technician (commercial/utility): This career move takes you into the field of large scale electrical systems, which will have its own set of additional training processes.
- Solar Project Manager: This career move usually includes additional training in general solar system designs and construction project management.
- Utility Interconnection Engineer: This career move will require you to get an associate's degree surrounding clean energy economics will facilitate this move.
- Residential PV System Designer: This career move will require you to gain certification and additional mechanical or electrical training in the PV field.
- Solar Installation Contractor: This career move takes you on a more independent route, typically requiring additional licensure and solar, business, or construction management training.
- Solar Instructor: This career move will require you to gain certification and a bachelor’s degree or master crafts credential, allowing you to shift away from labor and into solar systems education.
Solar installer salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, solar photovoltaic installers earn $47,670 per year on average. This is about the same as construction trade workers, who make $47,860 per year on average and is about 4.2% higher than the average annual salary of all occupations, $45,760.
Your salary as a PV Installer will vary based on a number of factors, including location, years of experience, and the skills you possess.
National solar installer salary data
- Median Annual Salary: $44,890 ($21.58 per hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $63,880 ($30.71 per hour)
- Bottom 10% Salary: $31,600 ($15.18 per hour)
Solar installer median annual salary (2012-2019)
State salary data
- Highest Median Annual Salary: Oregon, Hawaii, Texas, Massachusetts, & Arizona
- Lowest Median Annual Salary: Florida, Utah, North Carolina, Michigan, & Indiana
Solar installer salary by state
Training, certification, & licenses for solar installers
Prior to your employment, you’ll be required to have a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the programs offered, local colleges or technical schools may have classes about solar panel installation, which would also be beneficial knowledge to have prior to employment. Not required, but having additional experience and knowledge in the construction field can be useful due to the overlap of common tasks and necessary skills.
Regardless of the amount of knowledge you posses prior to employment, a large portion of specific training will come on the job under the guidance of experienced installers. This on the job training can last anywhere from a month to a full year. During this time, you will learn about common and required safety procedures, the tools you’ll be commonly using, and the specifics surrounding installing a photovoltaic system.
Due to the complexity of the solar photovoltaic systems, on the job training may also be conducted by the system manufacturers for all installers, regardless of experience or tenure.
Certification requirements for PV installers
Some states require PV installers to obtain a license. Because this varies state by state, you should contact your state’s licensing board for more information.
In terms of other requirements, as a PV installer you will likely travel between job sites, so many employers require a valid driver's license.
While not often required for employment, attaining certification in solar panel installation can show your competency and an existing wealth of knowledge on the topic. Electronics Technicians Association, International (ETA) and the North American Boards of Certified Energy Practitioners are two organizations that offer certifications for PV Installers.
In some states, in order for jobs and projects to qualify for renewable energy subsidies, all PV installers working on the specific project must have some certification. Contact individual employers for more information regarding their exact needs.
Solar installer job outlook
With more projected growth in the renewable energy sector, a continued expansion of solar PV systems is expected to create employment of solar photovoltaic (PV) installers. This projection of growth was determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showing an increase of 51% from 2019 to 2029. This is significantly larger growth compared to all other occupations in that time frame.
Specifically looking at PV systems, the cost of panels and shingles continues to decrease. This leads to more residential buildings demanding systems, and in turn a larger demand for workers who install and maintain those systems.
This demand is likely to be greatest in states and localities that offer incentives to businesses and homeowners that reduce the upfront costs of a PV system.
Despite the projections for growth, this job currently is very competitive due to limited employment opportunities existing at the moment. You are likely to find the most success with completing courses regarding PV systems, entering through apprenticeships or job-studies, or presenting prior experience in construction occupations.
Solar installer job growth (2012-2019)
Solar installer knowledge & skills
Your work as a PV installer does require specific skills, traits, and abilities in order to conduct common actions while on the job.
- Ability to work at heights: Because solar PV systems require access to sunlight, you’ll often work on roofs while using ladders or lifts that are far above the ground.
- Communication skills: As a PV installer you will be asked to interact with many different people while on a project. This includes employers, other installers within a team, other laborers of varying specializations, and on site personnel.
- Detail oriented: PV systems can be complex. As a result, you must pay close attention to detail when creating and installing those systems.
- Electrical and mechanical skills: Equipment used is both mechanical and electrical in nature when building support structures and installing systems. You will need to be proficient in both areas.
- Physical strength and stamina: The role of a PV installer is a manual one. You will be on their feet and transporting equipment the whole time they are on the job, so strength and stamina are required.
Solar installer work environment
Solar photovoltaic panels and shingles require sunlight in order to operate, and as a result most installation is done outside. Common job sites will have PV installers on rooftops or constructed elevated structures in direct sunlight. Depending on the site, work can also be done in attics or crawl spaces, especially when connecting to existing electrical systems.
The job will often vary between employers as well as site by site, so work may be done either alone or as a part of a team. Teams can consist of other installers, as well as roofers, electricians, and other construction specific occupations.
How to become a solar installer
There are multiple routes that you can take to become employed as a PV installer. Once you have a high school diploma or a certified equivalent, you have the required education necessary to apply.
As is common with most applications for employment, there are other things that you can do to make yourself an appealing hire to employers. This includes taking courses regarding solar panel technology through community colleges or technical schools, work apprenticeships through specific employers, and work experience in other construction related fields.