Solar Photovoltaic


Mar 02, 2006 Print Article

Key Performance Indicators

  • Recommendation: This topic is recommended for continued tracking. Public policy at the state and local level directly influence market demand for PV systems and, therefore, influence demand for PV installers.
  • Jobs: Approximately 361 PV installation jobs are expected in Texas by 2015.
  • Trends: Installed solar capacity is projected to increase from 340MW to 9,600MW by 2015. Texas is projected to capture 13% of solar manufacturing job market.
  • Timing: Advances in solar technology to reduce cost and increase efficiency may generate renewed interest in solar, thereby increasing employment opportunities.
  • Relevance: Austin Community College began offering this program in January 2006. TSTC Waco discontinued a similar program in the 1980s.
  • Transportability: Closely related to electrical wiring with familiarity with principles of construction.

According to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) photovoltaic technology is best understood in the following way:

Electricity can be produced from sunlight through the process of Photovoltaics (PV). Photo refers to light, and voltaic refers to voltage. Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. When sunlight strikes PV cells, electrons are released and then gathered to create an electrical current. A thin silicon cell, four inches across, can produce about one watt of direct current electrical power in full sunlight. Solar electric systems can be connected to local utility grids in urban areas to reduce costs, and many states offer consumers credit for excess power produced by the system. PV technologies touch our lives in many diverse ways: water pumps, highway signs, communications equipment, satellites, wrist watches, calculators, mobile homes, medical purposes (to power medical equipment, water purifiers, and refrigerators holding vaccines), navigation buoys, streetlights and even for lighting homes and running appliances.1

Employability

By 2015, Texas is expected to create only 361 PV installation jobs, which is relatively high nationally, but well below California’s anticipated 3,578 PV installation jobs. The estimated wages for solar technicians is $15 to $20 per hour and $20 to $25 per hour for solar technician foreman.

Industry analysis of job creation related to these capacity targets focuses on PV manufacturing. However, the reality is that U.S. manufacturers have lost their leadership position in photovoltaic manufacturing while Japanese and European manufacturers enjoy 40% or better annual growth rates. For this reason, this job summary focuses on the job opportunities in the installation of PV systems regardless of where those systems are produced.

The Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP) published a January 2005 report that analyzed the potential impact of achieving SEIA’s targets on jobs and investment growth on a state-by-state basis.2 According to REPP, Texas will capture more than 13% of all new jobs created and more than 13% of all new investments. However, most of this growth is predicted to be in manufacturing. Given the erosion of U.S. PV manufacturing over the last several years, we believe these estimates exaggerate the impact of PV manufacturing on economic growth and job creation in Texas.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) republished job placement advertisements in their 2004 report on job profiles in the solar industry:3

  • Solar Photovoltaic (Electric) Installer. The ideal candidate will have some construction experience, especially knowledge of basic electrical wiring. Experience as a solar electric installer is desirable but not required. Familiarity with tools and their use is a must (tools provided for installers). You must be comfortable working on roofs and not have a fear of heights. Competitive wages start at $15 per hour and are based on your experience. Four-day, 40-hour work weeks (Monday through Thursday) with Fridays off. One-hundred percent paid medical coverage for employees with available dependent coverage at additional cost.4
  • Lead PV Installer. Person to lead installation teams on residential and commercial PV systems. Working installer role, with some office planning time. The lead installer is responsible for leading teams in system installation, commissioning, troubleshooting and repair. Typically working consistently with one team, but ability to lead multiple teams is an asset. Full-time position with full benefits including vehicle use. The lead installer provides field leadership to achieve these goals.
  • Solar Electric Systems Install Tech. Seeking a qualified PV installer with at least one to two years experience installing solar electric systems and electrical wiring in residential or commercial applications. This is not an entry-level position. Seventy percent of the screening process will encompass technical questions. Applicants with heavy electrical backgrounds are preferred.

Skill Sets

In order to meet the anticipated demand for PV installers, the industry has worked to create accreditation and certification standards. One such standard is the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality Standard (ISPQ 01021). The Interstate Renewable Energy Council provides third-party assessment of workforce training programs such as the ISQP 01021 North American licensee including: accreditation for training programs; accreditation for continuing education providers; certification for independent master trainers; certifications for affiliated master trainers; and certification for instructors.

On the basis of an industry-supported PV installer task analysis4 the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners developed a practitioner certification program along with study guides and exams. NABCEP curriculum components include:5

  • Working safely with photovoltaic systems. OSHA Regulations; safety in attics; working space for electrical systems; how photovoltaic systems work, and associated safety and testing issues.
  • Conducting a site assessment. Shading; array orientation; array location; array mounting methods; locations.
  • Selecting a system design.
  • Adapting the mechanical design.
  • Adapting the electrical design. Wire, fuse, circuit breaker, and disconnect sizing; temperature and conduit fill corrections for ampacity of conductors; voltage drop for circuits; charge controllers and linear current boosters; batteries and battery wiring; inverters; point-of-utility connection; optional standby system panels; grounding generators.
  • Installing subsystems and components.
  • Performing a system checkout and inspection.
  • Maintaining and troubleshooting.

Trends

In 2004, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) published a PV roadmap for taking the country from 340MW of installed solar capacity to 9600MW by 2015.6 This increase would require annual growth rates of 35%, which is aggressive but in line with growth rates achieved since the late 1990s. In February 2006, the Department of Energy announced its Solar America Initiative, the goal of which is to deploy 5000-10,000MW of photovoltaic capacity by 2015. Federal, state and local renewable portfolio standards and consumer incentives play critical roles in creating market demand for commercial and residential photovoltaic systems.

Due to high levels of solar radiation and supportive policy environments at state and local levels, Texas is expected to be a major portion of the PV market. Texas energy policy also supports increased demand photovoltaics. In July 2005, the Texas legislature revised the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The new goal is to obtain 5,880MW of the state’s electricity from renewable energy by 2015, and 500MW of this new capacity must come from non-wind renewable sources.

Timing

There is little historic PV installer job market information; however, recent growth in residential solar (PV and thermal) installations point to a growing demand.

Figure 1. Residential Solar Applications

Source: http://forpros.lowes.com/articles/0213elect_understand.cfm

According to the Energy Information Administration, it is difficult to quantify the specific impact of State renewable programs because not all installed capacity is reported and new capacity is not necessarily added in response to State renewable energy programs.7

The EIA report also states that “research is continuing on a number of solar technologies—both direct conversion and thermal conversion—that could substantially improve the efficiency or reduce the cost of producing electricity from sunlight.” “Given the wide variety of potential technologies and uncertainty as to the success of any particular one,” the EIA report bases its referenced projections on current technology which has proven to be too expensive in current energy markets in the absence of adequate State renewable programs and subsidies. They do state, with “optimistic assumptions,” that solar PV systems could “generate more than three times as much electricity” as in the reference case.8

Figure 2. Buildings sector electricity generation from advanced technologies in two alternative cases, 2030 (percent change from reference case)

Source: EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2006

Relevance

There are a number of community and technical colleges that offer education in photovoltaic design and installation. Some of these colleges initiated their programs in tandem with large PV demonstration project installations at the colleges.

NABCED’s entry-level certification program is offered through 13 community colleges. The only one in Texas is offered through Austin Community College. ACC’s program is a 48-hour course being offered for the first time in January 2006. The course was oversubscribed and will be repeated in Fall 2006. The course description is:

The study of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, modules, electrical circuits and systems; sizing and designing for usage in homes and commercial businesses: Solar electric products, applications and the market place; and understanding energy conversion from sunlight to electricity and working with solar conversion equipment. The 48-hour course is designed for students to be eligible to obtain the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Photovoltaic (PV) Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge.

Other community college PV offerings vary widely in intensity and focus. A sampling of these offerings is provided below.

  • Hudson Valley Community College opened a solar laboratory in November 2005 to give photovoltaic installers hands-on experience. The lab is funded through a $148,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Hudson Valley is in the process of developing a certification program.
  • Lane Community College offers a two-year degree program for renewable energy technicians which includes one year of study of photovoltaic design and installation.
  • Santa Fe Community College offers a renewable energy certificate program which includes photovoltaic system design and installation components.
  • Cape Cod Community College offers photovoltaic courses for students in their electrician programs.
  • Owens Community College inaugurated a photovoltaic apprentice training program in March 2005.

A number of additional community colleges and other institutions throughout the nation offer instruction approved for the entry-level NABCEP certificate like the program offered at Austin Community College.

  1.  www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_pv.htm
  2. Sterzinger, George and Matt Svrek. 2005. Solar PV Development: Location of Economic Activity. Washington DC: Renewable Energy Policy Project. www.repp.org/articles/static/1/binaries/SolarLocator.pdf
  3.  Weissman, Jane. 2004. Working Memo on Workforce Development: Occupational Profiles for the Solar Industry. Latham NY: Interstate Renewable Energy Council. www.irecusa.org/articles/static/1/binaries/OccupationalProfilesJuly04.pdf
  4.  Objectives and Task Analysis for the Solar Photovoltaic System Installer. 2002. Malta NY: North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. www.nabcep.org/pdf/resources/SolarPVTaskAnalysis.pdf
  5.  Study Guide for Photovoltaic System Installers and Sample Examination Questions. 2005. Malta NY: North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. www.nabcep.org/documents/NABCEP%20Study%20Guide-Revised%20Version%203%20-%2008_05-FINAL.pdf
  6. Our Solar Power Future: The U.S. Photovoltaics Industry Roadmap through 2030 and Beyond. 2004. Washington DC: Solar Energy Industry Association. www.seia.org/roadmap.pdf
  7.  EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2006
  8. EIA, op. cit.
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