Solar Thermal Installers and Technicians


Exploring this Job

Read about news and trends in the solar energy industry and find information about solar energy companies by reading publications such as Solar Industry (https://solarindustrymag.com) and Solar Today (https://www.ases.org/solartoday). Visit the Web site Build It Solar (https://www.builditsolar.com) to find all sorts of links to solar projects, designs, and experiments that you might be interested in doing yourself. Participate in student competitions, such as the Junior Solar Sprint Car Competition (https://www.nrel.gov/about/car-competitions.html), which calls for the construction and racing of solar- and battery-powered cars. Contestants learn about renewable energy technologies and concepts in a fun, challenging, and exciting setting. There is also the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, in which collegiate teams design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive. Visit https://www.solardecathlon.gov for more information. Conduct an informational interview with a solar thermal installer or technician. Ask your school's career services office for help with setting up the interview.

The Job

The most common solar system technology today uses photovoltaic (PV) cells. When a PV cell is directly hit by sunlight, the materials inside it absorb this light. The activity of absorption frees electrons, which then travel through a circuit. Electrons traveling through a circuit produce electricity. Many PV cells can be linked together to produce unlimited amounts of electricity.

The sun’s energy can be collected and converted to heat water for use in homes, commercial and industrial buildings, as well as in schools, hospitals, prisons, and government facilities. This technology can also be used for cooling. Desiccant systems remove moisture from the air, thereby making it more comfortable. Absorption chiller systems are the most common solar cooling systems. These systems produce air-conditioning without using electricity. A building’s design or construction materials can also utilize the sun’s energy to provide the building’s heating and light through passive solar design, water heating, or with electrical PV cells. 

Solar thermal installers and technicians are responsible for installing, testing, and repairing solar energy systems that are used to heat water for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. They install solar energy collection mounting devices onto various types of materials, such as tile, asphalt, shingle, or gravel roofs. They also install copper or plastic plumbing by using pipes and fittings, pipe cutters, acetylene torches, wire brushes, sand cloths, pipe cleaners, plastic glue, and other materials and tools. They make sure solar thermal systems are protected by applying weather sealants to structural devices and roof penetrations.

Installers and technicians install circulating pumps and solar thermal system controllers and sensors. They determine the best locations for solar subsystem components, such as water heaters, piping, and valves. They fill water tanks and check for leaks. Installers and technicians identify safety, environmental, plumbing, or electrical hazards that the solar thermal installations may have and make repairs as needed. They demonstrate the operation of the solar thermal systems to their customers, such as how to start up and shut down the system, as well as maintenance, diagnostic, and safety procedures.

Installers and technicians work independently and in teams. They may work closely with plumbers and electricians, among other contractors. They use a variety of computer software programs to gather and review information and to create proposals and reports. The software most commonly used in this work includes work scheduling software, cost-estimating software, and Microsoft programs for e-mail, spreadsheets, and Word processing.