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Solar power technicians deal with planning, installation, and maintenance of solar power panels at commercial, industrial, and residential sites.
They often have to work overhead and maintain the safe erection of frames that hold panel arrays.
They are also responsible for wiring the panel output to building systems or the main electrical grid.
The solar power is becoming more and more common all over the country.
Since 2006, solar installations have been increasing at an annual rate of 60%, as the Solar Energy Industries Association reports.
The efficiency of solar panels increases while the installation costs reduce.
So solar is being considered as alternative energy for the mainstream.
- Job Duties and Other Considerations
- How to Become a Solar Electrician
- Salary and Job Prospects
Job Duties and Other Considerations
Solar panels that are produced today are of three basic types:
- Monocrystalline is the most expensive but also efficient.
To produce large, single-crystal per cell, it uses only silicon.
- Polycrystalline is cheaper and less efficient.
It uses multiple small crystals per cell joined together.
- Amorphous is the cheapest cells made of silicon layered over metal.
They don’t use true crystals and are inefficient.
Scaling Up Small Amounts of Electricity
Solar panels produce power as photons pass through silicon-based crystals and strike exotic elements such as cadmium telluride or gallium arsenide in joined thin-film cells to produce electrical outputs.
Each cell in the panel produces half a volt of electricity.
But as the cells are linked together, they can produce a combined voltage enough to charge battery bank to power homes, businesses, or offices.
Depending on the size of a panel, wattage can produce enough power for an office or home.
Any surplus will be fed back to the electrical grid.
The 90 Degree Rule
The efficiency is the highest when the sun strikes the cells at a 90-degree angle.
Because of this, the panels might have to 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 reduce the efficiency greatly.
Solar electricians install blocking diodes that minimize this effect and prevent the electricity from “leaking” back out of the cells if they are shaded.
Arranging Panels in an Array
Since every panel produces fairly little power, they are connected in a parallel or a series to get a sufficient amount of electricity.
The cells in a panel are connected in a similar way.
Figuring out the most efficient way to make these connections and layout the panels requires solar electricians to evaluate the electrical needs of the building and make calculations on the total power production.
It will also depend on the levels of sunlight and seasons.
Tracking the Sun
Solar technicians also handle the installation of electrical tracking systems, which tilt the panels so that they follow the sun during the day.
It requires the mechanical ability to install gimbals and motors on the panel array as well as figuring 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 the 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 electricians often have to work on rooftops installing panels in relatively unobstructed locations.
Safety is highly important, and solar electricians working at heights need special training in high-angle restraints and rescue.
They may also use bucket trucks, lifts, or ladders to access elevated panels.
Industrial Solar Installations
Solar electricians 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 Electrician
Electricians that work as solar photovoltaic installers don’t require any specialized certification or electrician license.
However, this type of work can be a good step to becoming a solar service electrician.
It can help you get a working understanding of the components of a solar electrical system and how they work together.
State or Jurisdictional Electrician License
Electricians who troubleshoot and diagnose operational issues, install system monitoring software, perform complex wiring installations, and bring solar electrical systems online 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.
In would include electricians that 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, transformers, or performing other high voltage work.
Associate’s Degree Programs
Some community colleges provide the associate’s degrees in solar energy technology.
With these degrees, you can quickly enter entry-level positions at solar installation companies.
New candidates that have an associate’s degree can usually get a better starting salary and be in a better position to compete for supervisory positions with more experience.
You can start a career as a solar electrician by gaining education through an associate’s degree or certification program at a career school or community college.
At the same time, you can gain experience through an apprenticeship with hands-on work on solar panels.
Similar to other electricians, candidates should be hired as an apprentice and work under the supervision of experienced solar electricians for a few years.
Usually, the apprenticeship lasts for two to four years, after which candidates can take a test and become a journeyman.
As journeymen, they can work without supervision.
After two or three years of work as a journeyman, electricians can take a test to become a master electrician.
Professional certification is usually voluntary and shouldn’t be confused with an electrician license.
Employers commonly require candidates to have some professional certification ensuring to hire electricians skilled in solar applications.
A fairly standard requirement for many solar jobs is a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certification.
Candidates can study for the test themselves and pass it before applying for a position of a solar electrician.
Salary and Job Prospects
Solar panels installers work everywhere in the US, but they are more popular in low-altitude states with large amounts of sunlight.
Most jobs are offered in California and the desert southwest.
However, installers 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 what salary you can expect in the field.
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, solar electricians 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.
State and federal tax credits are encouraging businesses and individuals to use solar power.
So, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor estimates a 24% growth in employment for solar technicians by 2024.