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Solar power technicians deal with the planning, installation, and maintenance of solar power panels at residential, commercial, and industrial sites.
They often have to…
- Work overhead and maintain the safe erection of frames that hold panel arrays
- Wire the panel output to building systems or the main electrical grid
Employment for these technicians continues to increase, with solar now being considered as alternative energy for the mainstream.
That’s why the community now needs the services of solar power technicians more than ever.
Let’s take a look below and learn what a solar power technician does and how you can become one.
- Job Duties and Other Considerations
- How to Become a Solar Power Technician
- Salary and Job Prospects
Job Duties and Other Considerations
A solar power technician has to consider many factors in performing his tasks.
The following are some of those considerations that they need to take into account:
Scaling up Small Amounts of Electricity
When installing solar panels, solar power technicians will look into the following:
- Amount of power a panel can produce
- Number of panels needed to power a building or site
- Ways and equipment to store and use solar power suitable for that building or site
Typically, each cell in the panel produces half a volt of electricity.
So depending on the size of a panel, the wattage can produce enough power for an office or home.
Any surplus will be fed back to the electrical grid.
The 90-Degree Rule
Solar power technicians adhere to this rule:
The efficiency is the highest when the sun strikes the cells at a 90-degree angle.
And so, the panels will be installed at various angles or mounted on tracking systems that will follow the sun.
Since the cells are linked to produce sufficient output voltages, shading any part of the panel can greatly reduce efficiency.
So solar power technicians will install blocking diodes that will…
- Minimize the effect of shading
- Prevent the electricity from “leaking” back out of the cells
Arranging Panels in an Array
To produce a sufficient amount of electricity, solar power technicians will arrange the panels in an array.
They will figure out the most efficient way to layout these panels with the following considerations:
- Electrical needs of the building
- Total power production
- Levels of sunlight each season
Tracking the Sun
Solar power technicians install electrical tracking systems, which tilt the panels so that they follow the sun during the day.
It requires two factors to make the systems effective:
- Mechanical ability to install gimbals and motors on the panel array
- Figure out the geometry of the angle of the sun at different times of the day and year
These calculations can be quite complex since they have to consider the type of panel and the surrounding terrain.
For example, trees can shade cells during particular seasons and affect the positioning of the panels in summer versus winter.
Solar power technicians often have to work on rooftops, installing panels in relatively unobstructed locations.
This is why safety is regarded as highly important.
To ensure their safety at work, they need special training in high-angle restraints and rescue.
Also, while at work, they can use bucket trucks, lifts, or ladders to access elevated panels.
Industrial Solar Installations
Solar power technicians can work for power companies that install multi-acre panel arrays on open terrains.
Even though they can access the panels a lot easier, they need to use different wiring procedures at such installation.
They also need to use transformers to get the voltage to the right level so it matches the electrical grid that it will be attached to.
How to Become a Solar Power Technician
As an aspiring solar power technician, you will need to go through the following:
Associate’s Degree Programs
Some community colleges provide associate’s degrees in solar energy technology.
With these degrees, you can quickly enter entry-level positions at solar installation companies.
Also, you can get a better starting salary and job position in the employment arena.
You can gain real-world experience through an apprenticeship program.
In the program, you’ll work as an apprentice under the direct supervision of experienced solar power technicians.
Usually, the apprenticeship lasts for two to four years, after which you’ll take a test to become a journeyman.
As a journeyman, you can work with little to no supervision.
Then, after two or three years as a journeyman, you can take a test to become a master electrician.
State or Jurisdictional Electrician License
Electricians would usually need to meet some kind of state or jurisdiction licensing laws.
In states and jurisdictions with separate licensing classifications for industrial and commercial electricians, non-residential wiring work should be performed under one of these licenses.
It would include electricians who work in power plants or substations installing and maintaining electrical equipment to connect solar farms to the electrical grid.
It also covers those who work with industrial inverters, generators, and transformers, or perform other high-voltage work.
Professional certification is usually voluntary and shouldn’t be confused with an electrician license.
Employers commonly require candidates to have some professional certification to ensure their competencies in solar applications.
One standard requirement for many solar jobs is the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Certification.
Candidates can study for the test themselves and pass it before applying as a solar power technician.
Salary and Job Prospects
Solar power technicians are more popular in low-altitude states with large amounts of sunlight.
For instance, in California and the desert southwest.
At times, they may have to regularly travel to job sites outside their home regions for large installations.
The starting pay rates that employers in large job markets offer can give you some idea of the potential salary.
These data are sourced from the job ads of August 2016 and are provided only for illustrative purposes:
- Solar Edge Electrician in California – $20/hour
- Journeyman Solar Electrician in North Carolina – $20/hour
- Certified Journeyman Electrician with solar installation company in California – $30/hour
- Field Services Technician with a solar installation company in Massachusetts – $25/hour
Typically, they make more than other members of the solar photovoltaic installer crew.
The salary of apprentices can range from 30 to 60% of the salary of a journeyman electrician.
Also, state and federal tax credits are encouraging businesses and individuals to use solar power.
So the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 24% growth in employment for solar power technicians by 2024.
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