Making career change---solar?

PlowmanPlowman Solar Expert Posts: 203 ✭✭✭✭✭
I've decided to make a career change. Been doing horticultural work for years, don't see much of a future in the field, so have decided to apply for some inside electrician (industrial-commercial) apprenticeships.

I've really enjoyed building my little solar electric system, which got me thinking about becoming an electrician. Might also apply for HVAC, low voltage, and/or Renewable Energy Technician apprenticeships, but electrician is my preference.

My ideal would be to work primarily with solar electric, but it seems like a volatile industry that's heavily dependent on government tax policy. If I ended up in HVAC, I'd be interested in solar thermal and/or energy efficiency.

Any advice? Is the electrician field the best route or is there something else I should consider? I'm fit and healthy and I'm not afraid of roof work, but I'm not getting any younger (41) and can't see myself doing that full-time into my 50s and 60s.

Schooling isn't really an option. I've already got degrees in horticulture and history (AAS and MA respectively), but can't afford much more school. Might be able to swing another associate's, but it'll take a few years since I need to work full-time. If I did another associate's, what would be a good major?

Comments

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,005 admin
    Re: Making career change---solar?

    I don't know about electricians... But many trades you start as a "helper"--Friend of a friend who was still in his mid-late 30's (as I recall), wanted to get into sheet-metal--And as a helper, all the lugging stuff around and crawling on his knees was just beyond his abilities after a few months.

    Sad to hear that horticultural work does not have a bright outlook--With limited land, water, sustainability issues, and moving away from heavy insecticide use--I would have hoped that you would have a pretty interesting career into the future.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • PlowmanPlowman Solar Expert Posts: 203 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Making career change---solar?

    There will always be horticultural work, I was just saying there isn't much of a future in it for me. I've been vegetable farming the last few years, just don't like it any more and the pay is crap. Also have an arboriculture background, I like tree work more than veg farming but the main jobs available are tree climbers and spray jockeys, neither of which I want to do for the rest of my working life. Max wage for most climbers is ~$20/hr (for extremely hard, extremely dangerous work), spray jockeys make maybe $15/hr (spraying pesticides all day, every day).

    Electricians around here get paid $30-40/hr.
  • jebattyjebatty Solar Expert Posts: 56
    Re: Making career change---solar?

    I think most of the trades can provide excellent work and a good income, but similarly all can involve some very hard, physical work that really wears on a person with age. My experience with solar PV is limited to watching several installs (including my own) by an electrician, the solar design consultant, and helpers, all involving the same electrician. Besides knowledgeable and skilled regular electrician work, it seems the keys here are 1) knowing well the local utility requirements on a grid-tied system and have a good working relationship with the utility, 2) skilled at related work and needed subcontractors, like for footings and racking for ground mount, similarly for roof mount -- all potentially straining physical work, 3) having a good consultant(s) to do the design, siting analysis, and specs and sources for the components, 4) and being very competent with quality work, excellent skills in communication with the new owners of the system, dependable, reliable, and timely in doing the work. Certainly the electrician conceivably could have all of these skills, but a good team with persons who specialize in the various parts likely is better.

    Another key is having a critical mass of solar work, if that is what you want to do, and getting that solar mass of work in many areas could be difficult. Without the solar mass, you would have to do other areas of electrician work, in which you may or may not be interested.

    as with biomass fired and solar hot water heating systems
  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: Making career change---solar?
    Plowman wrote: »
    I've decided to make a career change. Been doing horticultural work for years, don't see much of a future in the field, so have decided to apply for some inside electrician (industrial-commercial) apprenticeships.

    I've really enjoyed building my little solar electric system, which got me thinking about becoming an electrician. Might also apply for HVAC, low voltage, and/or Renewable Energy Technician apprenticeships, but electrician is my preference.

    My ideal would be to work primarily with solar electric, but it seems like a volatile industry that's heavily dependent on government tax policy. If I ended up in HVAC, I'd be interested in solar thermal and/or energy efficiency.

    Any advice? Is the electrician field the best route or is there something else I should consider? I'm fit and healthy and I'm not afraid of roof work, but I'm not getting any younger (41) and can't see myself doing that full-time into my 50s and 60s.

    Schooling isn't really an option. I've already got degrees in horticulture and history (AAS and MA respectively), but can't afford much more school. Might be able to swing another associate's, but it'll take a few years since I need to work full-time. If I did another associate's, what would be a good major?

    I am an electrical engineer, and when the semiconductor business kicked me to the curb in 2008 I made the jump to solar. I started out as an intern with a local company doing rooftop residential installs the summer before my 60th birthday. It was tough but I survived. :D
  • PlowmanPlowman Solar Expert Posts: 203 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Making career change---solar?
    ggunn wrote: »
    I am an electrical engineer, and when the semiconductor business kicked me to the curb in 2008 I made the jump to solar. I started out as an intern with a local company doing rooftop residential installs the summer before my 60th birthday. It was tough but I survived. :D

    I read a post you made about this, gave me a bit of hope. Of course, I don't have a EE degree, but I am a fair bit younger and have been doing outdoor work for some years. I think I have a few years of roof work in me, but not something I'd want to do long term, at least not full time.

    I'm looking at the local community college's electronic engineering technology AAS degree. It would take me a few years and suck up a good chunk of my surplus time and income, but something I've been considering. Think it'd be useful? They have specializations in renewable energy, mechantronics/robotics/automation, and communications.

    I'm going to do my best to get into an electrician apprenticeship regardless of whether or not I can focus on solar, just thought I'd see if folks here thought that a solar specialty might make sense. There are a few solar jobs currently being advertised in my region for licensed electricians, but lots more regular commercial/industrial jobs.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,005 admin
    Re: Making career change---solar?

    All it takes if your local utility to change their rate plans and they could kill GT Installs to near zero in a minute.

    I always like the idea of being versatile--But reality may be--You get a good paying job now and go to school at night/off shift the next few years.

    I had an older classmate that took something like 12 years to get his engineering degree. Back then, the Internet and online schooling did not exist--But our school had a lot of older students and teachers that worked in industry--So there where many engineering course offered after 6pm.

    Today, with online classes and even many source of online computer based self paced training (Khan Academy on Youtube; simple lab equipment and supplies not very expensive, electronic kits for programming/hardware training, etc.).

    Learning about digital controls (designing, installing, programming, debugging) for any sort of process (HVAC to chemical/cooking/etc.) -- Could also be very interesting and give you some more job/contracting options.

    You have a lot of choices that did not even exist 10 years ago. And, very likely, we will see a collapse is the present high cost college degree environment. It is already happening with Law.

    A degree may become less important vs a portfolio/work history... Lots of changes going on. Stay flexible.

    Best wishes!
    -Bill

    College text books are another scam... My daughter has taken some "freshman computer courses" and some other courses (Calculus, Psychology, etc.). The books at $100-$150 were terrible. Lots of filler, confusing illustration of educational points, etc.

    Not worth the paper they were printed on -- Some of the classes were Pre-Req for technical degrees--But were just surveys and lists of random facts (memory work). The online homework/auto grading was also a joke in many cases (lots of bugs in the software, and even wrong answers--Teachers just shrugged their shoulders, publisher's problem).
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
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