The New Solar Bottleneck: Labor Shortage

The Solar Power International 2008 exhibit hall has a tradition of showcasing new product launches and the latest in solar technology, and this year was no exception. The hardware represented this year, as well as conversations in the halls and conference sessions, highlighted one notable theme absent from past solar industry conference tradeshows I’ve attended in the US: the PV industry is facing a shortage of qualified installers.
With increasing focus on clean, domestic energy generation and federal ITC support now in place, a lack of qualified technicians and installers presents a potentially serious bottleneck to industry growth. In California alone, if the state is to reach its 1 million solar roofs initiative in 10 years, it will require more than 10,000 additional certified installers. This year’s innovative products on the floor attempted to address the problem by reducing the time and complexity of the installation process.

Product Innovation Focuses on Installation

The expo floor showcased a new breed of simplified panel technologies, including wiring, grounding, and mounting elements incorporated into the module framing systems themselves, and simplified wiring harnesses. Developers of microinverters module-integrated inverter systems also demonstrated powerline communications that promise to virtually eliminate all DC and communications wiring, reducing system design and installation requirements to an absolute minimum.

As competion in solar technology intensifies and matures, margins will be tested throughout the entire value chain. These products represent a focus on reducing the labor cost component of installed solar systems, as well as recognition that for the industry to expand, the base of installers has to grow beyond those with years of PV design and DC wiring experience.
This same focus was reflected in several conference workshops and panel discussions bringing to light the importance of workforce development activities. As the U.S. economy and workforce facing challenging and changing times, the growth of the solar industry and development of integration technologies offers an economic opportunity to a new generation of skilled solar technicians.
The question begs asking: with all the hype around green collar jobs, where are all the green collar workers?

Marc Roper is Vice President, Sales at Tioga Energy. This post is part of a roundtable series on solar power topics from Tioga’s top people. Stay tuned for periodic insight on the latest trends in solar energy, the solar industry and solar financing strategies.
Image credit: utt73

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