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How to Become a Solar Panel Installer

As companies become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and look towards incorporating sustainability into their business practice and operations, it opens many doors into various sustainability careers. Vera Marie Reed discusses the career of a solar panel technician in her blog below. 

With the perceived vulnerability of the traditional power grid and the increasing cost of heating and cooling homes, alternative power sources are becoming more and more popular.
The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has, since it came in force in 2006, given the sector stability as well as growth. In fact, the industry, over the last 10 years, has achieved a compound yearly growth rate of just south of 60%. Also, consider that close to 209,000 Americans are employed in the solar sector, which more than doubles the number reported in 2010. That figure, meanwhile, is projected to double to north of 420,000 workers by 2020.
One of the jobs in the sector that is experiencing plenty of growth is that of solar panel installer. Read on for a look at the industry, the job duties, and the education and skill requirements.
Solar Industry
The U.S. solar market is set to grow by 119% this year, says GTM Research in its latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report 2015 Year in Review, published in conjunction with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Elsewhere, SEIA says that the expenses involved in installing solar has declined in excess of 70% over the last decade, which has allowed the sector to expand into further markets and to install thousands of systems across the country.
The SEIA adds that California has traditionally accounted for the bulk of the solar market in the U.S. -- with a market share of 44% last year -- but that other states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Texas are starting to experience more growth -- not only from residential customers, but also from commercial customers. The organization further notes that falling costs, more competition, better consumer awareness, and a wider array of financing options to help people and companies get solar panels installed are helping to fuel growth.
What all of this means is that there are opportunities in the solar panels market as well as in other eco-friendly niches that offer greener options.
Day to Day Responsibilities
Solar panel installers are tasked with installing panels onto the roofs of homes, condominiums, and commercial properties. These professionals might have to install either photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that turn the sun's rays into electricity or solar thermal panels that store the sun's rays so that they can use used for heating applications.
Problem solving skills are needed because installers must consider the best location for the panels -- which necessitates figuring out if the surface selected has, firstly, enough space for the required number of panels and, secondly, enough durability to accommodate the weight of the panels.
When installing PV solar panels, the installer needs to connect the panels to the right wires and then connect the wires properly to an inverter box, which will change the energy produced by the solar cells into what is called an alternating current of electricity that people can use for their power requirements. The wiring portion of the job must be completed by a licensed electrician, so installers that have such a designation will be ahead of the game.
While a post-secondary degree and certification aren't necessarily required as far as starting a career in solar panel installation, people who want to get into the industry will increase their odds of success if they seek out relevant education and certification. JobMonkey notes that the hourly wage can be in the $15 to $20 range. However, people who take a relevant course and pursue certification can make more than this range.
Having a construction, electrician, or mechanics background will definitely prove useful for those desiring to get into solar panel installation. In fact, JobMonkey notes that those with construction skills, specifically in the roofing segment, will have a bit of an advantage since the job often requires installing panels on rooftops. JobMonkey adds that candidates who have an electrical work degree will also open up career advancement opportunities for themselves.
Even though some previous experience in construction or other trades can be beneficial, much of what the job of solar panel installer entails can be learned on the job -- and some of those skills are relatively easy to learn. For instance, those in the industry need to know how to use hand tools and power tools, have basic math skills, have some electrical knowledge, and be capable of lifting at least 30 pounds and 40 pounds -- the weight of many solar panel brands.

As the alternative energy industry experiences ongoing growth, there will undoubtedly be job opportunities for those prepared to take advantage of them. The position of solar panel installer is but one of the many job types available, and the demand for such services means that people considering a career as a solar power installer can potentially benefit from some job security.
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"Green Innovations and Eco Friendly Businesses." Earn My Degree. N.p., 2016. Web.
"Raising standards. Promoting confidence." NABCEP | North American Board of Certified
Energy Practitioners. N.p., n.d. Web. Dec. 2016.
"Solar Industry Facts and Figures." SEIA. N.p., n.d.
"Solar Panel Installation Jobs - Pay, Job Outlook, and Solar Job Guide." JobMonkey. N.p., n.d.
Web. Dec. 2016.
"US Solar Market Set to Grow 119% in 2016, Installations to Reach 16 GW." SEIA. N.p., March
9 2016.

Vera Marie Reed is a freelance writer living in Glendale, California. This mother of two specializes in education and parenting content. When she's not delivering expert advice, you can find her reading, writing, arts, going to museums, and doing craft projects with her children.
Thank you Vera for contributing your article! You may also learn about other various careers in the energy industry on the NEED website at

Training for the Future

By Caryn Turrel

Whenever energy prices go up, or a new major climatology study is published, the Negative Nellies have their way. Our energy source supply won't last forever! Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, which is killing the planet! We're literally killing ourselves! Don't be a Negative Nellie! The future isn't as bleak as some would have us believe; in fact, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about our nation's energy future.
One of the more encouraging developments in energy production is the increased installation and use of renewable energy technology. While no single technology is the “silver bullet” that will solve our long-term energy needs, it is safe to say that increased use of renewables will only help to keep our energy sources secure and the electrons flowing into our many devices. As the demand for renewable electricity increases so does the demand for workers skilled in the installation and maintenance of the specialized equipment that generates that electricity.
In Alsip, Illinois, the IBEW-NECA Technical Institute (IN-TECH) has opened a 120,000 square foot facility dedicated to training electrical journeyman wiremen in the function, installation, and maintenance of solar PV, wind, and electric vehicle equipment. The facility opened in September, 2015, and provides evening classes for already-certified journeymen. Additionally, any journeyman apprentices in their fourth year at IN-TECH receive about 20 hours of instruction in renewable energy technology.
The facility has a wide variety of technology available to help journeymen become familiar with all of the types of equipment they might encounter at a jobsite. One of the most prominent features of the center is a 60-foot climbing tower that replicates the interior of a utility-scale wind turbine. Trainees are taught to climb safely while carrying equipment up these enormous structures, and are also taught how to safely assist a colleague down the tower if an injury should occur. A 5 kW hydraulically-lifted wind turbine on site provides experience in maintenance, and classes in wind energy will begin this fall. 
Current classes in solar PV technology utilize a 45 kW ground mounted utility-scale system, in three rows of 15 kW each. The panels are each 250 Watt modules manufactured by Sharp, and one row of the panels is installed and disassembled by each class to provide experience with utility-scale installation. There is also a 3 kW dual-axis tracking system that monitors the sun's position and adjusts the tilt of the panel every few minutes to maximize its power output. Dual-axis systems are much more complex but are also 40% more efficient at producing electricity because it is always adjusting for the angle and rotation of the earth relative to the sun.

Because many solar PV systems being installed are roof-mounted residential and commercial systems, the facility also provides two types of roof-mounted racking systems on two different types of roofing materials.  Having to navigate both asphalt shingles as well as a metal roof system provides valuable experience and safety training on different surfaces in all kinds of weather – and in Chicago, all kinds of weather are possible! Journeymen attending the classes train in all kinds of weather except during storms with lightning, so they receive experience under all conditions.
Installers are taught how to connect a panel to a racking system, connect the panels together, properly ground the system, connect it to the inverter or set of microinverters, and tie into a smart grid, standard metering, and/or battery system. They are also taught to properly site and orient the modules using a device called a solar pathfinder. This specialized visualizing system gives a “fish-eye” type view of all objects that might obstruct a solar PV system, and has markings indicating the sun's position at various times of the day throughout the year. Each pathfinder has a chart that is specific to the latitude in which the installation will take place, and installers mark on the chart the outlines of any objects which might block sunlight. The chart shows how much of an obstruction each object might present throughout the year. Too many obstructions will indicate that the panel should be installed elsewhere.

A third system installed at the facility is an 18 kW solar-powered carport with four different electric vehicle charging systems.  The facility has a Chevy Volt on site which is charged entirely with solar energy.  Nearly every plug-in electric vehicle manufactured today, with one exception, can utilize any of the four charging systems.  By providing all of the systems to its students, IN-TECH is ensuring that their workers are prepared for any installation or maintenance situation at any location.

In order to qualify for training in renewable energy technology, a person must already be certified as a journeyman, and training for this position is a four-year apprenticeship program.  Applicants to the Electrical Apprenticeship Program must have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, passed one year of high school algebra with a grade of C or better, and be able to pass basic physical ability and drug tests.  The number of applicants accepted into the program is dependent upon how well the economy is doing overall; in times of economic downturn, fewer journeymen are needed; and in times of economic prosperity, more are brought into the program to fill the increased demand. If you or your students are interested in learning more, you can visit IN-TECH's website at
As with any emerging technology, the job market for people who know how to install new technology will be wide open. The apprentices and journeymen being trained on renewable energy systems are gaining experience in all kinds of systems utilizing all kinds of technology and installation techniques. Isn't it comforting to know that as technology changes, industry training programs are changing with it? When it comes to the future of our energy needs, we can all be Positive Penelopes.

Read Across America Day 2016

Written by Sue Parrent, Kentucky NEED Coordinator and elementary educator extraordinaire
“I do not like green eggs and ham I do not like them Sam I am.” Everyone remembers listening to and reading a Dr. Seuss book while growing up. March 2nd is a day in which we honor Dr. Seuss with Read Across America Day. Many schools will spend their day celebrating by holding reading marathons and engaging in fun reading activities. NEED curriculum can help you plan for this day, AND incorporate some science into the Dr. Seuss fun. Below are just two examples of Dr. Seuss books and NEED activities that will make a fun learning connection to a book. However, the possibilities are endless my dears; the ideas are piling up to our ears!
Oh the Places You'll Go – Use Pretzel Power found in NEED's Oil, Gas, and Their Energy Guide on page 35. In this fun activity, students will recognize the energy efficiency of different vehicles and benefits of carpooling.
Horton Hears a Who - Try out Exploring Sound in NEED'S Energy Works Student Guide, pages 55-59. Choose one of the Sound Modules and allow students to explore more about this form of kinetic energy.
Many of NEED's partners participate in Read Across America Day. Phillips 66 volunteers spent the morning reading with young students at Walnut Bend Elementary. Phillips 66 is committed to promoting literacy and inspiring the potential with future generations.

We hope you enjoy Read Across America Day this year, we certainly do. NEED is so lucky to have friends who are teachers like you!



Kentucky Green Schools Coalition

Kentucky NEED continues to be seen as the leader in energy education in Kentucky, having successfully completed 16 educator workshops during the fall of 2015, reaching 457 K-12 teachers.  We currently have over 75 active student energy teams (SET) across the Commonwealth.  Partnering with district energy managers, these students are facilitating activities that produce improved energy behaviors in their schools.

To this end, NEED has been invited to be a founding member of the Kentucky Green Schools Coalition, a new strategic alliance leading educational, environmental and health organizations to advance the vision that all children will attend a green school within a generation. The mission of the coalition is to bring together the Commonwealth's strongest supporters by creating a statewide infrastructure of green schools that are healthy, high-performing educational institutions (pre-K through postsecondary). The coalition is committed to inspiring the next generation to establish environmentally sustainable, resilient communities and educational institutions while saving energy, resources, and money.
A green school is resource efficient, reducing negative environmental impacts and costs while improving the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff. It engages students of all ages in sustainability and environmental education. Student engagement occurs via a multi-disciplinary and hands-on learning approach, using the entire building and grounds as a living laboratory to complement curricula that facilitates civic engagement, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. Green schools also develop and provide a solid foundation in STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, agriculture, mathematics) and green career pathways.
The efforts of this coalition will align around the globally accepted three pillars of a green school: 1) reducing environmental impact and cost, 2) improving occupant health and wellness and 3) providing effective environmental education. Kentucky already encourages schools to pursue progress toward these pillars through voluntary participation in the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools Award. In fact, in Kentucky, nine K-12 schools and one university have received this national distinction over the past four years. Home to the nation's first net zero school, Kentucky also is a national leader in ENERGY STAR designated facilities, with over 300 certified educational institutions.
By working together to encourage the design, construction and operation of healthier educational facilities, this coalition can make an immediate impact on student health and productivity, school budgets, teacher retention and the environment. In that regard, the Kentucky Green Schools Coalition will promote conversations about healthy, high performance educational institutions by:

  • Supporting the establishment of a green school in every county by 2030.
  • Connecting organizations and establishing synergy around collaborative opportunities to reduce silo, competitive, or duplicative programming; sharing best practices; and leveraging resources.
  • Enhancing communication regarding public policy of interest to each organization; educating members regarding legislation, policies, procedures, and their potential impact on each organization.
  • Educating local, state, and national leaders – elected and non-elected – about green schools, sustainability, and environmental education. 

This alliance will create opportunities to further build our relationship with other organizations in the state and help us to coordinate efforts, generate ideas, develop new resources and tools and take action to support initiatives that promote green schools. Future discussion topics will include opportunities to increase school and district access for free resources that can help save money, improve health and provide experiential learning opportunities that provide Kentucky's students with skills needed for the 21st century economy.

Designing for the Future

By Caryn Turrel, NEED Staff and Mother of a Future Architect
If you've ever had the opportunity to build a new home, whether a custom home or with a builder in a planned development, there are many things to think about. How large will the home be? Will it be two stories or one? What kind of foundation will support the house? There are choices to make at every turn, and a lot of thought goes into each one.  Granite counter tops? Painted or stained cabinets? Wall colors? Brick, stone, siding, or stucco exterior? Fireplace? To wallpaper or not to wallpaper? (My suggestion is don't do it. In a few years you'll regret it. TRUST me.)
How much thought should we give to lighting? We shop for light fixtures, but do we think much about the placement of those fixtures, or the types of bulbs they will need? NEED's materials talk a lot about the kind of lighting that is in our schools and homes, and how changing the light bulbs we use can save energy. But rarely do we discuss retrofitting these spaces with new fixtures. Energy use should be a major factor in choosing the fixtures we install.
When it comes to commercial buildings, however, it's not as easy as just going to the lighting store and choosing our fixtures, or reaching for a particular light bulb on the shelf at our home improvement warehouse.  Architects designing commercial buildings have to take into account a number of factors, such as the size of the space, the reflectivity of the surfaces within that space, how the spaces inside will be used, and how the use of the building might change in the future.  Students at Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) are taught to consider all of these factors when deciding the number, type, and placement of light fixtures in a commercial space.
However, Ball State CAP students are taught more than that.  Sustainability is becoming an important component of architecture programs across the country, and is a major component of the BSU CAP program. Several courses focus on sustainability and energy use and a student organization, Ball State Energy Action Team (BEAT), is tasked with promoting energy awareness and showcasing opportunities for reducing energy use on campus.  Third-year students in a course entitled Environmental Systems 2 were assigned to develop a plan for upgrading the lights in the CAP building studio spaces as part of BSU's overall plan to remodel the current Architecture Building to be more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint.
To successfully complete the assignment, the students needed to make a number of calculations.  One was the proportion of the room above the light fixture, below the work surfaces, and between the work surface and light fixture. This assists in choosing an appropriately bright light that will illuminate the workspace adequately.  Another was a calculation of the number of lumens per Watt the existing lights were producing, with the intent of increasing this ratio with the new light system.  Knowing the lumens per Watt provides the lighting density in lumens per square foot, which determines whether the brightness of the light source is sufficient for the tasks being performed in the space.
Light “temperature” was an important factor as well.  The temperature of light is a reference to the colors, or wavelengths, of light being produced, and is expressed in Kelvins.  Warm white light is the lowest temperature, rated below 3000K.  Cool white is between 3100 and 4500K, and daylight is 4600 to 6500K.  Having the right temperature of light is important; while we don't consciously react one way or another to a particular color of light, it has great influence on our mood and productivity.  The warmer the light (lower Kelvin rating), the more calm and soothing the light is.  The higher the color temperature, the more energized and alert we feel.  Consider the bright lights of an airport vs. the warmer lights in a hotel room. Airports are bright, lively, alert spaces, while hotel rooms are usually calm, soothing, relaxing environments.  Bathroom lighting is cooler while bedroom lighting is warmer. Thus, the students needed to choose lighting in a temperature range that would encourage productivity for their work space.
In developing a plan for the studio lighting, students needed to also consider aesthetics and feasibility.  If a calculation determined 14.5 fixtures met the requirements, at least 15 fixtures would need to be installed.  However, 15 might not work well in terms of wiring and the overall look of the space.  Further considerations included justification as to how the fixtures selected and the number needed, would make for a truly green retrofit and meet the overall requirements for decreasing the building's environmental impact. Fortunately for the students, there are now many commercially available light fixtures that use significantly less energy than fluorescent tube lights, produce an appropriate light temperature, and are aesthetically pleasing as well. Most of these are light-emitting diode, or LED, lights, and as LED technology continues to improve, they will continue to be installed in more commercial applications.
Turning on the lights in a classroom is something we don't think much about; it's a good thing someone else has thought about it.  The architects of today and tomorrow are planning to make existing and future buildings much more energy efficient while keeping the lights on.

Have a Ball in 2016!

By Caryn Turrel, NEED Curriculum and Program Associate
In the Turrel house, if someone goes to bed a little earlier than usual on a regular day, the standard line is, “But you promised to stay up and watch the ball drop with me!”  When the kids were younger, they would all object to this joke and say it wasn't even New Year's Eve yet. And then we would all laugh and say good night. So, really, will you promise to stay up and watch the ball drop with me?
What is it about that ball? Why are we so intrigued by it? It's nearly impossible to take my eyes off of its glittering, flashing progression while we count down to midnight. The first ball, introduced in 1907, was made of iron and wood, weighed 700 pounds, and was covered with 100 light bulbs. The construction has changed to all iron, then aluminum with 180 light bulbs. The 1995 New Year's Eve Ball had an aluminum skin, rhinestones, and computer controls. To usher in the new millennium, the ball was clad in crystal, and in 2007 the light bulbs were changed to energy-efficient LEDs.
Owned and maintained by the Times Square Alliance, the Ball has a total of 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel light-emitting diodes (LEDs) – 8,064 each of red, green, blue, and white. The LEDS are wired into 672 modules each containing 12 red, 12 blue, 12 green, and 12 white for a total of 48 LEDs on each module. The LED modules sit behind 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles, which sparkle and gleam as the LEDS change colors. The LED modules are capable of producing more than 16 million colors in dozens and dozens of vibrant, dazzling patterns.
In proper Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon fashion, we want to give you the Pros and Cons of the New Year's Eve Ball.

Pro Con
The Ball was given energy-efficient LEDS in 2007
Nobody can tell the joke, “How many ____ does it take to change a light bulb on the New Year's Eve Ball?” anymore.
The Ball contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and has sparkled over Times Square year-round since 2008.
So many pigeons, so little window cleaner.
The Ball is capable of producing 16 million different colors.
Somewhere, a physics teacher is devising a lab for measuring each individual color.
Each LED module has 12 red, 12 blue, 12 green, and 12 white LEDs.
Art teachers must once again explain the difference between mixing pigments and mixing light to obtain different colors. Thanks a lot, science!
The Ball is 12 feet (3.66 m) in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds (5386.4 kg). It descends 43 meters in 60 seconds.
Using the Ball in Station One of Science of Energy is nearly impossible, but we can still calculate its potential and kinetic energy as it falls.

There are lots of really interesting facts surrounding the entire New Year's Eve celebration planned for 2016 in Times Square.  For example, some of the confetti dropped contains wishes sent in by people from around the world. You can submit your wish, too! At NEED, we love not just the twinkling energy-efficient lights, but also the way we come together to celebrate a new year.

Whatever you're doing, wherever you happen to be as we roll into another new year, all of us here at NEED hope you and those most special to you have a happy, healthy, prosperous new year. Without you, NEED just wouldn't have the energy we require. Thank you, and we hope to see you in 2016!

New Castle Energy Team Gets a Light Bulb Moment

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2015 State of the Geothermal Industry Briefing

The EVs are Coming! The EVs are Coming!