Guide to solar technician training programs

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Sunlight is an ongoing supply and solar technicians help to convert this natural resource to electricity by installing solar panels on roofs or other types of structures, such as free-standing arrays. Because they are employed in solar power, much of their work occurs outside or even in an attic or crawl space of the place where they are installing solar panels. Exciting, right? As it turns out, one solar photovoltaic (PV) system is installed every four minutes in the U.S., and that number is expected to increase to one every one minute and 20 seconds by 2016 if the current pace of demand continues. Do you want to learn how to become part of this growing field? Are you excited about the opportunity to work at a different job site and mostly outdoors in the sun? Read on in this solar technician training guide to discover more about the occupational opportunities and the various steps that you could take to gain entry into the field.

In addition to installing panels, solar technicians, also referred to as solar photovoltaic installers, may be responsible for assembling, maintaining or repairing panels on grids, and could work under the guidance of an engineer or advanced technician. Travelling is an important part of the job as work is typically done on a client’s site. Most work is done during regular full-time hours although some technicians may need to be available for emergencies during weekends of evenings.

What kind of job do they have?

Solar technicians must have a wide range of knowledge, which they can gain through solar technician training or even on the job. Responsibilities can vary, but include the need to be able to read drawings and schematics, knowing about local code and regulations, and understanding the current requirements for the electrical circuit of a solar panel system. Installing a panel or panels may be more in-depth than it may seem at first. According to O*NET OnLine, solar technicians must know how to apply weather sealing to the panel or system, put in interconnected wiring and test voltages to ensure the system operates within acceptable limits.

What does a solar technician earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for solar photovoltaic installers is $37,900 per year or $18.22 per hour. Job growth in the occupation is expected to be much faster than the average for all occupations, at 24 percent, due to a decrease in the cost of panels and systems for residential homes and thus more need for the installation of systems. Government incentives and improved efficiency of these panels could also impact the demand.

How do you become a solar technician?

A high school diploma or its equivalent is generally needed to enter the field, but job prospects could be best for those who have a two-year degree, according to the BLS. Community colleges and trade schools often offer programs through which students gain basic solar power knowledge as well as safety and system design. Online opportunities may also be available and particularly helpful to workers who have former construction or electrical experience. Of course, there are other ways to become a solar technician. A few of these are listed below.

  1. On-the-job training: Workers can learn about the occupation via on-the-job training lasting anywhere from one month to one year, according to the BLS. This gives them the opportunity to gain hands-on solar technician training and learn about installation techniques, safety and tool use. They may be given increasingly difficulty responsibilities as they gain more skills on the job.

  2. Systems manufacturers: Solar technician training can also be obtained through solar photovoltaic systems manufacturers that want to provide specific skills about installing and maintaining their products.

  3. Related apprenticeships: While there are no apprenticeships available to solar photovoltaic installers, students could be trained in solar panel installation through an apprentice program in another field, such as for an electrician. This could be a good career choice because, in many states, an electrician has the qualifications to be able to connect photovoltaic systems to an electrical grid.

What solar technician training programs are available?

From certificates to two-year degrees, the options that are available to those interested in solar technician training vary. Below, we provide a look at some of these options and hope through them you can gain a better understanding of some of your choices:

Ecotech Institute, in Aurora, Colorado, offers an associate’s degree in solar technology that is 88 weeks in length, and has a job placement rate of 86 percent for its students. You’ll take classes such as Introduction to Sustainability, Fundamentals of Electricity and Photovoltaic Installation and Repair, and complete 96-quarter hour credits. Students should be prepared to sit for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) entry-level exam upon completion.

Indian River State College, in Fort Pierce, Florida, offers a 12-credit certificate program. Your coursework will include four three-level classes that include DC Circuits, AC Circuits, Solar Thermal Systems, and Solar Photovoltaic Systems. An electronics engineering associate degree is also available through the school.

Pima Community College, in Tucson, Arizona, offers a certificate program to become a solar installer. Classes include Blueprint Reading, Basic Photovoltaic Installation, Solar Hot Water Systems and others, totaling up to a 24-credit program. Students can continue their education by completing an associate of applied science degree in the building and construction technologies at the school.

Delaware Technical Community College, with locations in Dover, Georgetown and Stanton, offers a renewable energy solar associate degree that can prepare students for employment positions such as PV Installer, PV technical salesperson or solar thermal technician. This degree requires a minimum completion of 66 credits and features courses such as Solar Energy Systems, Photovoltaic Systems, and Electrical Circuits.

Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri, actually offers both an associate of arts and an associate of applied science degree in Alternative Energy Program – Solar, as well as a certificate that could be of interest to those wanting solar technician training. The associate degrees include classes such as Passive Solar Systems, Solar Thermal Systems, and Solar Electrical Systems. The certificate program is 20 credit hours and includes coursework and applied research projects.

Can I find online solar technician training?

The answer is yes, you can, and the options will vary just like they do with campus-based programs. Below, you can peruse some of the programs available online, or through online and campus-based learning, and read about more ways you can obtain solar technician training. Using the included hyperlinks will allow you to discover more about program details and highlights and about whether solar technician training and education could be right for you.

Solar Energy International is a membership based association, and offers an online exam prep package for $1,295 that helps to prepare students for the computer-based NABCEP exam. The package includes courses such as Solar Electric Design and Education. Other classes are available online in durations of three to six weeks.

SolPowerPeople offers online courses of 24 to 40 hours in length, including Photovoltaic Systems Foundations, Technical Sales Training, and Advanced PV Design and Installation. Prices vary. SolPowerPeople also has free massive open online courses (MOOC) through its Solar MOOC Academy. Finally, free, short online micro classes, such as Introduction to Solar Energy, PV System Components, and Solar Design Tools are also available.

Century College, in White Bear Lake, Minn., provides an energy technical specialist associate of science degree as well as certifications in advanced photovoltaic energy systems and advanced solar thermal energy systems. The associate degree is a hybrid program, meaning that it provides a combination of daytime, evening and online classes.

What kind of certification do I need?

Certification is not necessary to work as a solar technician, but it is available through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). To be eligible, candidates need a minimum of 58 hours of advanced photovoltaic training available through an accredited school and 10 hours of construction safety through OSHA. Students can also take the NABCEP entry-level exam, which is not the same as certification, but provides a way for them to demonstrate that they have obtained basic PV systems. Electronics Technicians Association (ETA) International also offers numerous certificates including for the photovoltaic installer and at the apprentice, specialist and technician levels, also referred to as I, II, and III. The association also offers three levels of certification for renewable energy integrators, who are capable of including residential renewable energy systems with home management systems.

What about accreditation?

You want to ensure that the school you choose to attend, particularly if it is a vo-tech school or community college, has received accreditation from an accrediting organization. This accreditation means that a school or program has undergone a rigorous assessment process to ensure that a quality education is being provided and meets specific standards in education. For example, Delaware Technical Community College has accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and U.S. Secretary of Education. You can also check to see if the program you are considering is accredited through the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), which has been providing training accreditation for more than 30 years to trade associations, private organizations, labor unions, and colleges and universities that have clean energy programs. According to the IREC website, accreditation means that a rigorous standard of quality has been met and could be advantageous to a school’s enrollment numbers.

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