I’m thinking about a career as a solar installer or technician. Where can I go to get training?
Despite a sluggish economy and a serious slow-down in the construction industry, solar installers and technicians are in short supply in some regions. This is a great career choice!
Some states have particular licensing requirements, such as participating in a solar apprenticeship program, so you should start by checking out what’s required in your state. It’s possible to get into the industry simply by working with an established solar energy installer, but you can make your application more attractive to potential employers by acquiring a basic education in solar energy.
A number of renewable energy training programs have recently sprung up across the country in the private sector, and at universities and community colleges as well. While many excellent programs are available, two are noteworthy because they have been around for more than a decade, successfully training many of the renewable energy entrepreneurs in business today. These two successful models should be the standard against which you compare any other solar education programs you’re considering closer to home.
Solar Energy International (SEI) has been teaching the basics of solar energy since 1991 through hands-on and online workshops held year-round nationally and internationally. You can find a list of these workshops on SEI’s website. SEI’s workshops provide the basic training you will need to take the entry-level exam in solar electricity offered by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
The key advantage to SEI’s respected programs is that you can fast-track your career by taking as little as two weeks of intense workshops — sort of a crash course in solar energy, which is best followed by some supervised hands-on experience.
San Juan College, located in Farmington, N.M., has been offering a solar energy curriculum since 1999. Currently, its programs include a one-year certificate in photovoltaic and solar thermal systems, or a two-year program that includes general education courses for an associate of applied science (AAS) degree. The in-depth and more structured program prepares graduates to work as “photovoltaic installers, system designers, or in technical sales and support roles,” and eventually start a business. (Editor's Note: San Juan College has raised the cost of tuition since the time this article was written. Please contact the college for current tuition rates.)
Graduates of San Juan College are sought-after in the industry, and the program is a real bargain when it comes to cost. Out-of-state tuition at this community college is only $480 per semester, and you can receive federal financial aid if you qualify. While the program takes a little longer to complete, you will emerge with lots of hands-on experience and a solid foundation of technical knowledge, including how to comply with the National Electrical Code and how to install the most up-to-date equipment.
Job boards all across the country are advertising for quality applicants in solar energy. Start your search now by visiting Great Green Careers, a new green jobs website hosted by MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
— Linda Pinkham, renewable energy expert