Chad W. Sanders, 34, Lakewood, Colorado
What I do:
I work for Metro Solar, a solar thermal and photovoltaic installation and service company. We specialize in solar thermal heating and high efficiency boiler systems, but also install PV (photovoltaics). Since we are one of the few companies that service old systems, the majority of the work I do is in this area. There were many solar thermal systems installed in the Denver area back in the ‘80s and Metro Solar has stayed in business maintaining these systems during the last three decades. Now that there is a renewed interested in solar we are starting to install new systems.
How It helps the environment:
When speaking of solar most people think “solar electric” or photovoltaics – what we call the “sexy solar.” However, there are other forms of solar, such as passive solar (gaining heat directly from the sun) and solar thermal (heating water with the sun). These forms of obtaining energy from the sun can be much more effective and cost efficient for the consumer. While passive solar can be as simple as placing a window on the south side of your home, at just the right height to allow the sun to heat a room in the winter, but not in the summer, solar thermal is much more complex. A basic solar thermal system can be just a single collector, or solar panel, used to heat the domestic water needed in a residence. A more complex system can involve multiple collectors and can be used to heat the entire residence year round. All solar applications are beneficial to the consumer and the environment by reducing energy consumption and therefore reducing the amount of money spent on fossil fuels.
How I got here:
My interest in working in the solar industry came from having a desire to make a real difference in the world on a micro level. While working with the Texas Campaign for the Environment I was exposed to many different aspects of the “green” industries. My prior experience as a plumber and tradesman and my enjoyment of working with my hands led me to seek a career in solar. With little opportunity for employment or education in this field offered in the Dallas area, I relocated to Denver. Here I was fortunate enough to find work in the field and I am making plans to attend classes on solar thermal design and installation at the local community college.
Where I’m going:
With the education I can receive I could go on to design and engineer solar systems. Because solar has become so “sexy” in recent years, everyone expects the job to be glamorous. However, at times it can be very difficult both mentally and physically. All you really need to get involved is a willingness to do the work, no fear of heights; and have a good head on your shoulders.
How I’m doing:
Since I just started work and have related but no direct experience in solar, I am earning $15 an hour. I have the potential of making up to $30/hour as an installer/service technician. Training classes and college course can help to boost one’s knowledge of the systems. However, hands-on experience is the best way to see what really goes on. I believe the industry should set up an apprenticeship program similar to that in the plumbing and electrical fields.
To anyone seeking a career as a solar installer, I would say don’t be afraid of hard work – there is plenty of it. Also, look for courses you can take while you work. There are online courses and workshops (Solar Energy International) and some community colleges offer night classes (like Red Rock Community College). And don’t forget to enjoy the view. A majority of the work done is on rooftops and you are almost always working on the sunny side of the house.
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