Solar contractors

How to become a solar installer: Education, career paths, salary

Over 263,000 people are engaged in American solar in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. That’s not enough though. The solar industry needs to reach more than a million workers by the end of the decade, according to SEIA. Solar rush is giving Americans of all backgrounds the chance to take well-paid jobs. If you consider climbing this career ladder, read our article on how to become a solar installer.

Who are solar installers and what do they do?

Site assessment, designing a system and installation are the main parts of a PV installer's job

Installing solar panels is just a part of the solar installer’s job. They are the ones who plan the systems and make sure that the spot for the installation is chosen correctly. When a brand new solar system is shining in the sun, they watch over it. Here’s a breakdown of what typical days in the life of a solar installer look like.

Site assessment

Before any solar panels are mounted, solar installers conduct thorough site assessments. They evaluate the location’s solar potential by analyzing sun exposure, shading, roof condition, and local weather patterns. This information helps determine the system’s size, orientation, and expected energy production.

System design

Once the site assessment is complete, solar installers work alongside engineers and designers to create a customized solar system. This involves selecting the appropriate solar panels, inverters, and mounting structures for the specific site.

Installation

The core task of a solar installer is installation itself: Mounting the solar panels on rooftops or on the ground, installing inverters, wiring the system, and connecting it to the electrical grid. Before commissioning the system, solar installers rigorously test all components to ensure they are functioning correctly. Once the solar system is installed and tested, solar installers connect it to the grid and ensure it’s generating power as expected.

Maintenance

Solar installers interact with clients even after the system is installed. If you have any problem with your solar system, your solar installer will be the first person you call. Need to add more panels and replace the inverter? Again, we need an installer. In southern states, installers even come and take the panels off the roof before hurricanes, otherwise you won’t get insurance for storm damage.

Where do solar installers work? How much do they earn?

Solar industry is growing at different rates across the United States. What states are solar photovoltaic installers in high demand? Where do they get paid the best? Let’s look at the big picture.

Demand

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The strongest demand for solar energy and the highest employment level in solar are in California with almost 10,000 jobs and Texas with over 8,000 jobs. These states are at the forefront of American switch to clean energy which is why solar photovoltaic installers' occupation is growing there.

The leaders are followed by Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts with over 1,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The difference is clear: If you want more career options, consider working in one of the top solar states.

Salary

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How much do solar panel installers make? Well, they earn a mean hourly wage of around $23, making about $48,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 report. However, the demand for solar installers as well as the wages are not uniform across all states in America.

$48,000

average annual salary of a solar installer across the US

Solar installers earn the most in Michigan, with the average solar installer salary of over $60,000. Michigan is followed by Hawaii, New Jersey, Nevada, and California with over $50,000. Take a look at the map: The darker the color of the state, the higher the wages. Compare it with the map above: While Texas shows a high demand for installers, the wages there leave much to be desired. So when choosing a state to work in, keep both demand and wages in mind.

How do solar installers become solar installers?

If you choose to become a solar panel installer, you’ve got a long road ahead. To be a sought-after professional and earn a good living, you need to get proper education and experience first. So what might your career ladder look like?

Vasilii Smirnov
Solar Installation Expert

You can start as an assistant in a solar installation company. At first, you will hardly be allowed to work on your own, because if something goes wrong, the employer will get in trouble for allowing an unqualified worker on the project. Alternatively, you can work as an independent contractor or start your own company but this will require getting licenses, certifications, and advanced training.

Step 1: College

Before taking on the installation and messing with the electrical systems, you need to learn how to do it the right way. Consider enrolling in a relevant degree program, such as electrical or electrical and mechanical engineering or renewable energy technology, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the principles behind solar technology.

40% of installers only have a high school diploma

What education do solar installers have? A college degree is not mandatory. Statistics show that 40% of installers have a high school diploma, while only 20% earn a Bachelor’s Degree and 18% an Associate Degree. However, installers with a college degree earn 7% higher wages than those without education. They are also more attractive to employers and can engage in more challenging and interesting projects.

Step 2: Experience 

Much of the essential training for solar installers occurs on the job. After completing your education, you’ll likely work as an apprentice or entry-level installer under the guidance of experienced professionals. On-the-job training helps you learn the industry best practices, refine your skills, and gives you valuable insights into the real-world challenges and intricacies of solar panel installations. Many solar companies offer entry-level positions that may become the first step in your career ladder.

Step 3: Licensing 

To work as an independent solar installer, you need to obtain an electrical license and a general contractor license. The requirements differ from state to state. 

In some places, you may need to get a certain amount of experience in the field to get a license. Many areas require candidates to complete specific education and training programs. Be prepared to pay the necessary fees and provide all required documentation. Licenses typically have expiration dates and require periodic renewal. Learn more in our article on how to get certified to install solar panels.

Vasilii Smirnov
Solar Installation Expert

Some states recognize only their own licenses and you may have trouble working in one state with a license issued in a different state. I had trouble working in New Jersey with a license from Nevada. If you plan to work on projects across the whole United States, check the local requirements ahead. 

Step 4: Extra training 

Once you get your license, you can start working as a solar panel installer. But to climb up the career ladder, you need advanced training. These training programs or courses are inexpensive and can be both online, for instance, Udemi, Сoursera, or 360training, and offline offered by your local colleges and schools. 

The courses typically cover topics such as solar panel installation, electrical systems, safety protocols, industry regulations, and equipment handling. Apart from theoretical knowledge, these programs also provide practical experience in solar panel installation and maintenance. 

Step 5: Certification

While not always mandatory, industry-recognized certifications enhance your prospects in this field. Certifications such as the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) showcase your skills and knowledge, making you more attractive to employers and customers.

Each of NABCEP’s Board Certifications have different professional experience and training requirements, for instance, hours of advanced training, number of projects completed, proof of your decision-making role. Once you have earned all the required points, you can apply for the certificate.

Some solar manufacturers offer their own certification for installers — for example REC or LG. The certification either allows you to work with the company's products or increases warranties. You can obtain some of the papers online and this will also boost your resume. 

What are career opportunities for solar installers?

Putting solar panels on the roof is not the only job that the solar industry offers. Let’s explore what career options you have.

Fond of being at heights? – Installation!

Let’s start with what most people start with – solar panel installation. Installers work on home projects, installing solar panels on rooftops and ensuring that they are properly connected to the house electric system. They also handle maintenance and repairs.

Working on larger projects may become the next step in your career. Commercial solar installers focus on installations for businesses, industrial facilities, and government buildings. These projects often require more complex planning and installation.

Love working with people and being creative? – Sales and Marketing!

If you have good communication skills, you can pursue a career in sales. Someone has to tell people about how solar panels save you money and help the planet! Solar sales representatives explain the basics of solar technology to customers, navigate them through the boundless solar market, and help them choose the best possible options.

Alternatively, you can make a career in marketing. Promote solar energy solutions, products, and technologies to potential customers. Conduct market research to understand their needs and develop marketing campaigns. Make content such as blog posts, articles, social media updates, videos, and infographics that educate and engage audiences about solar. Gather and analyze customer feedback to address any problems with solar products and services and improve marketing strategies.

Adore intricate plans? – Design!

Solar design engineers create detailed plans and layouts for solar energy systems They design the system to meet the energy needs and budget constraints of the customers. They select the solar panels, inverters, mounting systems, and other necessary components. They create 3D models or renderings of the solar installation to provide visual representations of how the system will appear on the roof or ground.

Engineers also ensure that the solar installation design complies with local building codes, regulations, and permit requirements. And, of course, they prepare detailed cost estimates which include equipment costs, labor costs, permitting fees, and any additional expenses to help customers understand the financial aspects of the project.

Enjoy being in charge? – Project Management! 

Solar project managers oversee all aspects of solar installation projects, from planning to commissioning. They coordinate with teams and customers, manage budgets, monitor progress to keep the project on track, and ensure it meets the deadlines, quality standards, and customer’s expectations.

Project managers select and manage suppliers, subcontractors, and vendors, negotiate contracts and oversee procurement processes. They also need to identify potential risks and challenges that could impact the project’s success, and develop risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans to address issues as they arise.

Want to reach out a helping hand? – Technical Support!

Technical support specialists provide support to customers, answering phone calls, emails, or chat inquiries. They diagnose and troubleshoot technical issues related to solar panels, inverters, and other components of the solar installation, identify the root causes of problems and work toward solutions. Techsupport may work remotely or schedule on-site visits.

Like having everything under control? – QA inspection!

Quality assurance inspectors watch over products or services at various stages of production or delivery. They also assess completed solar installations to ensure they meet specified quality standards and adhere to established regulations. They verify system performance and safety, and check for defects. 

Inspectors also maintain records of what they find, including photographs and written reports. They have the power to approve and reject products and services or halt production and delivery if the inspection shows that product does not meet quality standards.

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Years of experience in translation and a love of nature help Julia find the right words to encourage going solar. She joined the team in 2023 and is happy to make her contribution to a greener future.

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