How to get into the Solar Electric Industry in New Mexico

With an excellent career outlook and stable jobs, becoming a solar energy technician is a great option, especially considering how easy it is to become one.
Solar Energy Technicians, or Photovoltaic Installers as they are officially known, are the 4th fastest-growing occupation in the US right now (along with Nurse Practitioners) with a growth rate of 52%. In this article, we will show you what exactly a Solar Energy Technician is, how easy it is to become one in New Mexico, and the best way to go about it. Keep reading to find out more.
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As climate change continues to be one of the world's most pressing issues, developing renewable and green energy is critical. According to a recent International Energy Agency report, renewable energy is expected to grow by 50% between 2019 and 2024, with solar power accounting for 60% of that growth.

Solar power is the most rapidly expanding source of new energy. Solar panels have been around for decades, but it wasn't until the mid-2000s that more affordable panels were developed, allowing this low-carbon, renewable energy from the sun to enter the mainstream. 

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the cost of installing solar has decreased by more than 70% since 2010. Not only have large corporations such as Walmart, Google, Starbucks, Target, and General Motors signed renewable energy contracts, but household adoption is also increasing.

With a median annual wage of $47,670 and a great job outlook through the next decade this is one of the easiest industries to get into. In fact, you don’t even need a degree to break into the industry. With just a High School Diploma (or GED equivalent) and a certificate from a short course, you are ready to start earning.

This article will also frequently refer to solar electric technicians as photovoltaic installers which is usually the official title of employment in the industry.

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Breaking into the solar electric industry in New Mexico

Because of its abundance of sunlight, wind, and geothermal resources, New Mexico is an ideal location for renewable energy production and clean energy jobs. Taken as a whole, New Mexico has the most renewable energy potential of any state.

Indeed, New Mexico is ranked second in the country for potential solar-generated electric power production and tenth for potential wind production. 

The New Mexico State Land Office has approximately nine million acres of land available for lease to renewable energy companies, and it has a proven track record of collaborating with companies to develop successful projects.

Why solar energy is growing so fast in New Mexico

New Mexico is a great place to install solar panels because it has a lot of sunshine and great solar incentives - there's a reason the state flag has a sun on it! 

New Mexico is also a great place for solar because of the many solar incentives and rebates.

  1. Net metering in New Mexico: When you install solar panels on your roof, you want to ensure that you receive credit for the energy your system generates. Fortunately, New Mexico has a net metering policy that credits you for excess electricity generated by your system and allows you to use those credits when your system does not generate enough power (think of it like roll-over minutes).
  1. Solar Market Development Tax Credit in New Mexico: The 2020 New Mexico Legislature passed the "New Mexico Solar Tax Credit," which was signed by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
  • This bill provides a 10% tax credit for solar energy systems, with a savings value of up to $6,000.
  • According to the bill, this non-refundable tax credit is available to businesses and homeowners who purchase and install a solar energy system on or after March 1, 2020.
  • The solar tax credit is limited to a total of $12 million per year. This will go quickly, so don't put off starting your solar project.
  1. Solar property and sales tax exemption: Even though solar increases the value of your home and makes it more marketable, that additional value is exempt from New Mexico property taxes. A property tax exemption makes it more economically feasible for a taxpayer to install a solar system on a residential or commercial property – you get the financial benefits of generating your own power while avoiding a higher tax bill!

Check out: Best Paying Trade Jobs in New Mexico (Salary Insight & Details)

A solar Photovoltaic installer technicians is installing solar panels
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Job outlook for Solar Technicians in New Mexico

Solar Technicians or Solar Photovoltaic Installers' employment is expected to grow 52 percent between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Over the next decade, an average of 2,300 job openings for solar photovoltaic installers are expected. The continued growth and adoption of solar PV systems are expected to create jobs for installation and maintenance. 

As the cost of PV panels and shingles continues to fall, more households are expected to benefit from these systems, increasing the demand for workers who install and maintain them. 

Because homeowners no longer bear the upfront costs of installation, the growing popularity of solar leasing plans—in which homeowners lease rather than purchase systems—should generate additional demand.

If you are in a related field such as being an electrician or into construction, you have a great opportunity to switch to Solar or add it as additional capabilities. This will increase your earning potential.

Related:  Can I use community college to help me change careers?

What is the earning potential for a career as a solar technician?

The median annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers was $47,670, as of May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in a given occupation earned more and half earned less. 

The lowest 10% earned less than $36,320, while the highest 10% earned more than $72,080.

Annual Mean Wage of Solar Photovoltaic installers, by state, May 2021
Annual Mean Wage of Solar Photovoltaic installers by state for May 2021

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment of solar Photovoltaic Installers by state for May 2021
Employment of solar Photovoltaic Installers by state for May 2021

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Table of Hourly and Yearly wages of Solar Photovoltaic installers by state
Table of Hourly and Yearly wages of Solar Photovoltaic installers by state

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Solar energy jobs salary potential in New Mexico

Table of percentile of Salaries of Solar installers for April 2022

Source: salary.com

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Top 10 highest paying cities for Photovoltaic Installers in New Mexico

Table of Top 10 highest paying cities for Photovoltaic Installers in New Mexico
Table of Top 10 highest paying cities for Photovoltaic Installers in New Mexico

Source: salary.com

Requirements to becoming a Photovoltaic Installer in New Mexico

While only a high school diploma is required to become a solar technician, furthering your education can vastly improve your job prospects and career trajectory. Consider getting a certification or a degree, for example. 

There are post-secondary institutions that provide programs that will teach you some basic solar power skills, such as system design and safety principles. As part of your career planning, you can take advantage of various on-campus and online solar technician training courses. 

If you opt for a community college for these courses you have the additional advantage of federal financial aid and easy payment plans.

Related: Do community colleges have payment plans?

Other options for training include on-the-job experiences, apprenticeships, and learning opportunities with manufacturers of solar photovoltaic solutions.

Photo by Hoan Ngọc from Pexels

Four easy steps to getting certified

There are several ways to become a solar technician. However, it is critical to understand that as electronics become more sophisticated and equipment becomes more complex, the level of expertise required rises. 

Technicians must have more knowledge than in the past to obtain entry-level positions. The four most common steps for aspiring solar technicians can be found below.

Step 1: First, get your high school diploma or GED (four years).

Aspiring solar technicians should start taking shop classes and learning how to work with their hands at a young age. Because electronics are becoming an increasingly important component of solar installations, students should also take science, math, computer, and electronics courses.

Students must have a GPA of at least 3.0 and participate in extracurricular activities such as physical education classes, sports clubs and teams, and volunteer work, internships, or part-time jobs for solar or construction companies.

Step 2: Continue your education or training (several months to four years).

Prospective technicians who worked as high school students for solar companies may be able to continue their on-the-job training after graduation. Others may be able to find a company that will hire them without additional formal training.

The length of on-the-job training can range from one month to one year. The use of tools and job safety are frequently emphasized. Beginners seeking more formal training can attend community colleges or trade schools, which typically last one to two years. They may also study system design, depending on their goals and abilities.

People with relevant job experience, for example, as electricians or builders may choose to take online courses or specialized training offered by their professional organizations. Equipment vendors also provide product training. Completion times for any of these are usually only a few months.

Step 3: Earn a graduate degree or certification (timeline varies)

Because solar technology is becoming more sophisticated, so are the regulations that govern it. Technicians with a background in solar technology, systems design, renewable energy, or alternative energy will be in high demand. If not a bachelor's degree, students can still obtain other solar certifications that can get them started in the industry.

We have recommended a few courses in the next section to help you jump start your career.

Related: Can You Get a Bachelor’s Degree at a Community College?

Step 4: Obtain a license (timeline varies)

Licensing is distinct from certification. Most states require contractors (i.e., self-employed solar technicians) to be licensed, and each state and municipality has its own licensing requirements and fees. In some states, a separate and specialized solar permit is required.

Licensing requirements in New Mexico

According to the IREC Solar Licensing Database the following licensing requirements are in place for the state of New Mexico

  • Licensing (General)
  • Solar installations (both PV and solar thermal) are covered by electrical and mechanical permits.
  • To contract for a solar installation, a company must have a Qualifying Party (master electrician or master plumber) of the appropriate trade, and a journeyman license is expected to do the hands-on work.
  • Licensing (PV)
  • All individuals performing electrical wiring must have a journeyman certificate of competence in the appropriate trade classification for the work to be done.
  • An apprentice may work directly under the supervision of a validly certified journeyman who is employed by a validly licensed individual or holder of a valid annual permit.
  • Journeyman certifications must be issued in such a way that they correspond to the electrical license classification scopes.
  • Licensing (Solar thermal)
  • All individuals performing mechanical and plumbing work must have a journeyman certificate of competence in the appropriate trade classification for the work to be performed. 
  • An apprentice may work directly under the supervision of a validly certified journeyman employed by a validly licensed individual or holder of a valid annual permit. 
  • Journeyman certifications must be issued in such a way that they correspond to the mechanical and plumbing license classification scopes.

Recommended certification

We have shortlisted the following courses from accredited community colleges to help you get started in Solar Energy and then build your career moving forward. 

The great thing about these certifications is that you can pace them according to your own time and financial constraints, even opting for night classes if you are challenged with time.

Related: Do community colleges have night classes?

For example you can do the first beginner level certification and immediately start a job. 6 months or a year down the road you can do the intermediate certification and finally when you are ready you can get the final NABCEP certification to become fully certified.

Getting Started in Solar: Beginner Level Certification

Logo of CNM

Central New Mexico Community College: Solar Electric Basics

Course Description: Jump start your career in the solar energy industry.

Solar Electric Basics is an overview of the fundamentals of solar energy. This course is designed for people who are just starting out in the solar industry as well as those who want to learn about the fundamentals of solar energy, specifically photovoltaic principles.

There are numerous job opportunities where basic solar energy knowledge would be advantageous. Photovoltaic knowledge can be applied to: construction trades, engineering, electrical trades, firefighting, code enforcement, manufacturing, city planning, energy efficiency, energy production and distribution and real estate.

Course Fee: $248.75 Total Price (Excluding Tax)

Course Duration: 7 Hours per Week, 3 Estimated Weeks

This course is for aspiring:

  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers
  • Solar Energy Installation Managers
  • Solar Energy Systems Engineers
  • Solar Sales Representatives & Assessors
  • Electricians

After the course you can put the following work activities on your resume:

  1. Examine blueprints or specifications to determine work requirements.
  2. Gather information about project sites.
  3. Gather customer or product information to determine customer needs.
  4. Identify potential customers.
  5. Verify the performance of green technology installations.
  6. Examine electrical or electronic systems for flaws.
  7. To ensure proper operation, test electrical equipment or systems.

Related: How to get hired from a community college

Advancing your career: Intermediate Level Certification

Logo of CNM

Central New Mexico Community College: Solar (PV) and the National Electric Code

Course Description: Solar (PV) & the National Electric Code is a thorough examination of the electrical requirements for photovoltaic system installations with and without battery systems.

The major sections of the National Electric Code (NEC) that apply to PV installations are covered in detail, including General Requirements, Wiring and Protection, Wiring Methods and Equipment Use, PV Equipment Special Conditions, and Utility Interconnection Special Conditions.

This course will benefit anyone involved in photovoltaics or interested in advancing a career in photovoltaics.

This course fulfills some NABCEP CEU requirements and serves as preparation for the NABCEP Photovoltaic System certification exam.

Course Fee: $648.75 Total Price (Excluding Tax)

Course Duration: 10 Hours per Week, 3 Estimated Weeks

This course is for aspiring:

  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers

After the course you can put the following work activities on your resume:

  1. Examine blueprints or specifications to determine work requirements.
  2. Verify the performance of green technology installations.
  3. Examine electrical or electronic systems for flaws.
  4. To ensure proper operation, test electrical equipment or systems.
  5. Determine the best places for operations or installations.
  6. Determine the layouts of construction projects.
  7. Choose building materials.

Become fully certified: Advanced Level Certification

Logo of Central New Mexico

Central New Mexico Community College: Solar NABCEP Associate Exam Prep

Course Description: This course provides an overview of the fundamentals of photovoltaic or solar energy systems. PV market analysis, the solar resource, electrical PV principles, solar module fundamentals, system components, system types, site assessment, system applications, energy production analysis, and best practice code compliant practices such as mounting, wiring, and interconnecting systems to utilities are all covered.

This course is open to anyone interested in learning more about the solar industry or anyone working in fields related to solar energy.

This course meets the prerequisites for taking the NABCEP Photovoltaic Associate Exam. The exam is given by the CNMI's Industry Testing Center. The instructor will provide more information to participants who wish to take the exam. The exam fee is not included in the course fee.

Course Fee: $1,023.75 Total Price (Excluding Tax)

Course Duration: 10 Hours per Week, 6 Estimated Weeks

This course is for aspiring:

  • Solar Thermal Installers & Technicians
  • Solar Energy Systems Engineers
  • Solar Sales Representatives & Assessors
  • Solar Energy Installation Managers
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers

After the course you can put the following work activities on your resume:

  1. Review blueprints or specifications to determine work requirements.
  2. Collect data about project sites.
  3. Gather customer or product information to determine customer needs.
  4. Identify potential customers.
  5. Identify opportunities to improve operational efficiency.
  6. Test green technology installations to verify performance.
  7. Inspect electrical or electronic systems for defects.

Final thoughts

Consider investing in the solar industry if you want to be a part of a booming industry that is poised for explosive growth. Solar energy technician jobs are among the fastest-growing in the United States, and with the recent IPCC report stating that the world must rapidly decarbonize in the next 12 years, you can be confident that solar technicians will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

In this article we talked about how to get into the solar energy business in New Mexico. We showed you that the easiest way was to get certified as a Photovoltic Installer and then work your way up. We hope that this guide proves to be useful for you in order to make informed decisions in your future.

Frequently Asked Questions

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