Distributed Renewable Solar Energy Technician

Recognized Skill Standards
May 12, 2009


According to the State Energy Conservation Office website, the Texas legislature established its Renewable Portfolio Standards in 1999, (Senate Bill 7), which mandated the development of certain amounts of renewable energy and prompted the renewable energy industry to rapidly accelerate its production. The 2005 Texas Legislature (Senate Bill 20) increased the state’s total renewable energy mandate to 5880 MW by 2015 and a target of 10,000 MW by 2025, with a requirement that the state meet 500 MW of the 2025 target with non-wind renewable generation – a provision that indirectly promotes solar power. Such incentives create a workforce demand that must be met with trained technicians.

As these efforts create results over time, demand for qualified technicians to install, maintain, and repair solar energy systems can be expected to grow steadily. This occupational area is still so new that neither the Bureau of Labor Statistics nor the Texas Workforce Commission collects data on employment in solar energy; however, the American Solar Energy Society estimates that in 2006, there were 7,600 jobs in the solar photovoltaic (electricity generation) and solar thermal energy (hot water generation) industries nationally. Most of these workers were solar photovoltaic (PV) installers. Workers enter the solar energy field from a variety of backgrounds but most workers have construction, electrician, and plumbing experience. Most recently, a new report by CleanEdge, a clean technology market publication, indicates that, combined, PV and wind power provided more than 600,000 jobs globally in 2008 and are expected to generate 2.7 million jobs by 2018.

Texas Workforce Commission data indicate that electricians in Texas earn an average hourly wage of $18.64, and plumbers earn an average hourly wage of $19.58, so it could be speculated that solar photovoltaic installers and solar thermal installers, respectively, potentially earn similar wages.

Project Goals

The project goals were:

  • Identify voluntary skill standards for the solar energy systems technician occupational area to serve as benchmark for entry into this occupational area and to serve as guides for curriculum development of community and technical college programs of study that will effectively meet the needs of both the newly graduated entry-level worker and the seasoned professional returning to education to upgrade his or her workplace skills.
  • Publish and promote the results and support the use of skill standards by educators, businesses, unions, students, workers, and government agencies.

Development and Validation Methods

A job analysis was conducted in November, 2008, which resulted in the creation of a DACUM chart of duties, tasks, skills, and tools. The skill standards developed in this project used the 2008 DACUM as the job analysis method, as suggested in the Guidelines for Development, Recognition, and Usage of Skill Standards.

Duties and tasks were transcribed from the DACUM as Critical Work Functions (CWFs) and Key Activities (KAs) respectively. A group of subject matter experts (SMEs), all of whom participated in the original DACUM development session validated that the DACUM elements were transcribed accurately and, where it was necessary, aggregated appropriately into CWFs and KAs. During the session, a discussion was facilitated between the SMEs to develop and define consensus-based performance criteria for each of the KAs.

Following the development session, SMEs were asked to respond to surveys in order to define consensus-based knowledge, skills, and conditions (tools) for each of the Key Activities (KAs). Those knowledge, skills, and conditions that 50% or greater of the respondents indicated as necessary to each KA were included in the skill standards.

An additional survey asked SME respondents to rate the complexity of each of seventeen academic and employability knowledge and skill areas. Respondents rated complexity on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 indicating low complexity, and 5 indicating high complexity) and the average of the responses was used to indicate the complexity level the CWF required of each knowledge or skill area. Where the average indicated a fraction, the survey criteria indicated that the nearest whole number would be used.

Finally, SMEs reviewed hard copy compilation of the skill standards elements defined in the teleconference (Critical Work Functions, Key Activities, Performance Criteria) and resulting from the surveys (Knowledge, Skills, and Conditions; and Academic and Employability Knowledge and Skills ratings.) They were asked to verify that all elements were captured and documented as discussed in the teleconference, to review and comment on proposed statements of assessment, and to indicate their validation by signing-off on the document.

The Distributed Renewable Solar Energy Technician skill standards contain five critical work functions in the areas of site assessment, system design, resource coordination, system installation, and system maintenance.