From Civil Engineers and Construction Laborers to Welders and Electricians, there is a wide range of trades that play a key role in the Solar industry.
Considering a career in the Solar industry may be a wise move. As the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has highlighted, there will be an increasingly higher demand for Solar workers because it is a sector that has the “potential to make up a larger share of growing US energy needs.”
Meanwhile, though the Solar industry is on a trajectory to reach 400,000 Solar jobs by 2030, employment will need to exceed 900,000 workers by 2035 to reach the 100% clean electricity goal set by President Biden, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The types of jobs available in the Solar sector are many and varied. We’ve provided an overview of various Solar industry careers and the types of crews that operate in the field.
An Overview of Solar Industry Careers
Civil engineers are responsible for designing and supervising the construction of power plants. They also design the related infrastructure, including roadways, foundations, and plumbing systems. Civil engineers have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in civil or structural engineering. Meanwhile, lead engineers on large projects have specialized experience and typically hold a master's degree.
Construction laborers often specialize in one component of construction, such as metalworking, concrete pouring and setting, assembly, or demolition. Laborers also prepare the site for construction by removing trees, for example. In addition, they monitor and repair compressors, pumps, and generators, and erect scaffolding and other support structures.
Construction Equipment Operators
Construction equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, and other heavy materials on site. Many plants require the flat, unobstructed ground to accommodate Solar panels or mirrors, and equipment operators use machinery to clear and grade the land. They may also operate pile-driving machinery, for example, or cranes to position heavy objects, such as photovoltaic arrays, large mirrors, and turbine generators. Equipment operators additionally set up and inspect the equipment, make adjustments, and perform some maintenance and minor repairs.
Depending on the type of Solar plant, welders may be joining structural beams together when constructing buildings, installing structures that support mirrors or joining pipes together. They may also be building Solar panel mounting systems, otherwise known as Solar racking. Welders usually learn via on-the-job training or a formal apprenticeship program. Alternatively, they may attend a formal training program at a trade school or community college.
Structural Iron and Steelworkers
Structural iron and steelworkers use blueprints to install iron or steel girders, columns, and other structures to support power plants. These workers also cut the structures to size, drill bolts for holes, and number them for onsite assembly by construction workers or Solar photovoltaic installers.
Electricians install and maintain electrical equipment and wiring connecting the plant to the electrical grid. Electricians in power plants work with heavy equipment such as generators, inverters, and transformers. They need to be familiar with computer systems that regulate electricity flow, and they must be comfortable with high-voltage systems.
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
These individuals install, maintain, and repair pipe systems. Pipe systems in power plants carry the heat-transfer material—such as synthetic oil or molten salt—throughout the plant and into heat containment units. These workers monitor, regulate, and control the flows through the pipes using automatic controls. They need to be trained on the specific systems on which they work.
Electrical/Electronics Installers and Repairers
These workers use electronic power equipment to operate and control generating plants, substations, and monitoring equipment. They also install, maintain, and repair these complex systems.
Electrical engineers are responsible for the control of the electrical generation and monitoring transmission devices that are used by electric utilities in power plants. They need to be trained on the particular systems they are operating.
Solar Photovoltaic Installers
Solar photovoltaic installers use specialized skills to install residential and commercial Solar projects. Their duties include safely attaching panels to the roofs of houses or other buildings and ensuring the systems work. Solar photovoltaic installers must be comfortable working with power tools and hand tools at great heights and have an in-depth knowledge of electrical wiring as well as basic mathematical skills. When necessary, installers must be problem solvers, able to repair damaged systems or replace malfunctioning components.
Solar commissioners ensure that the Solar panels are safe and have been built correctly. The job involves testing electrical circuits and checking voltage and amperage to ensure the system performs in accordance with expectations. In addition, commissioners check that the racking is safe and ensure the support systems are structurally sound.
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