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The Forecast is Bright for Photovoltaic Installers

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Helping the world is one reason people choose to install solar panels for a living, says Larry Snyder. Snyder is head of the renewable energy technology program at Colorado's Red Rocks Community College.

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells, convert solar energy from the sun into electricity. Groups of cells are used to make solar panels.

These solar panels are then installed in homes or commercial buildings by photovoltaic installers (sometimes known as solar technicians).

Solar panels can be used for simple electrical purposes like operating a calculator or watch. They can also be used for larger scale operations like lighting up homes and communities.

The technology has been around for decades. However, usage of solar panels is now on the rise in North America. More and more solar energy systems are being added to homes and commercial buildings to reduce energy bills and provide back-up power systems.

With growing demand for solar panels, job prospects look good for photovoltaic installers.

However, the job isn't as easy as one may think, Snyder warns. "Students may be surprised that there is much more to learn than it would seem -- most electricians complain about [it being] so hard," he says.

Photovoltaic installers must be good troubleshooters. They repair and maintain equipment. To set up a series of panels, installers must be able to read diagrams and drawings.

Snyder says high school subjects such as math and physics can help prepare students for a career in solar panel installation.

Organizational and multi-tasking skills are important, as well as good communication skills. Strong interpersonal and customer service skills are also essential in dealing with clients and co-workers.

The job requires physical strength. Solar panels can weigh a lot, so a day at work can be a workout for both the body and the brain.

Solar panels are often located on rooftops, so photovoltaic installers must be comfortable with heights.

Roofing experience may be an asset because it shows that a person is able to work at heights. A background in construction, electricity or engineering greatly increases the chances of landing a job in the field.

Several colleges in the United States offer photovoltaic or solar energy technology/technician training programs.

Online or distance learning is another option, especially for people who want to focus strictly on installing solar panels. These self-study programs may include a practical component at the end.

"There is more demand for people wanting to take the courses than there are programs," says Robert Hellier. He is the manager of an energy institute. He adds that the demand is matched by the industry's need for skilled photovoltaic installers.

Hellier believes solar panel installation is a great field for entrepreneurs. Considered a green collar job, the career allows a nice mix of indoor and outdoor work.

"You are in the office one day designing the system and outside the next day installing it," he says.

Novice photovoltaic installers typically earn $15 to $20 per hour. After being in the trade for several years, technicians could earn $50,000 per year or more.

Colorado and California are two states with high demand for solar panel installation. California is progressive in that it provides incentives for solar electric power. The initial drawback of solar panels is the set-up cost. Thus governments providing tax credits for solar projects make it easier for individuals and businesses to hook up to the sun. The savings pay off in the end.

Developing countries can benefit from solar energy as well. As a renewable resource, solar energy is a great way for people living in poverty to obtain a power supply that does not rely on expensive fuel.

The opportunities for solar energy are far-reaching. Over the past several years, the solar energy industry has experienced impressive gains. In the next few years, experts expect to see explosive growth in the industry.

The future looks bright for aspiring photovoltaic installers -- so bright, in fact, you may want to pull out your shades.


North American Board of NABCEP Certified Energy Practitioners
NABCEP offers certifications and certificate programs to renewable energy professionals

Solar Energy International
This nonprofit runs a renewable energy education program with workshops and online courses in solar photovoltaic

Red Rocks Community College
Learn more about the renewable energy technology program

SunShot Initiative
Read about the solar energy technologies program from the U.S. Department of Energy

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