It’s About the Jobs
To the passerby, the Whole Foods Market in Sudbury, MA looks like a typical suburban grocery store.
But to electrical apprentice Raul Urzua, looking at this particular grocery store elicits a feeling of pride. Not because of what’s inside the store, but because of what’s on top of it. Urzua is one member of the CTEC Solar crew installing a 220 kW solar system on the roof of the Whole Foods Market. He’s a former chef and brings the attention to detail he learned in the kitchen to his work in solar.
“When a project is finished and the solar panels all line up, it’s beautiful and something to be proud of,” said Urzua. “It’s nice to know that I was part of a project that will be there for a long time.”
Urzua is right: the solar panels he’s installing have a lifetime of thirty years. Urzua, however, will move on to the next solar installation site, where he is just one of many people taking advantage of the solar boom by joining the fastest growing occupation in America.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment as a solar PV installer is expected to grow by 105% from 2016 to 2026. The outlook is especially bright for those who have training in electrical work or a certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). In Massachusetts, solar PV installers earn an average salary of $54,330, one of the highest in the nation.
Urzua is new to an occupation that’s filled with newcomers. He’s been working in solar for a year and a half but has already seen how much the industry is growing. Josh Ferguson, Commercial Project Manager, NABCEP PVIP, has seen even more changes over the course of his sixteen years in the solar industry.
“Sixteen years is ancient for solar,” Ferguson said. “the modules have changed, safety has increased, and the ease of installation has improved.”
What hasn’t changed is the impact that solar projects have on local communities. The impact isn’t just measured in energy savings or carbon reduced; it can also be measured in quality job-years added. Matthew Chapman, a third-year electrical apprentice working on the Whole Foods Market project, knows this better than anyone. He left a stable job in middle management at a shipping company to become an electrician.
“My previous job was all a numbers game, pushing out as many packages as possible,” said Chapman. “Here, I get to see a project from start to finish and that project makes the world a better place.”
In addition to gaining experience in electrical work, solar PV installers get a unique perspective on energy.
“One thing that a lot of electricians don’t get to see is how energy is produced rather than just used,” said Chapman. “Many of my fellow apprentices don’t have that knowledge set.”
For Ferguson, each solar project he works on also reminds him how much energy it takes to power a building. Looking out at a sea of black solar panels, he said “it can be difficult to grasp how much energy we use. There are so many empty roofs not being used, and we clearly need the power.”
Max Wagner is an Investment Associate at Sunwealth and a senior at Northeastern University. He is a renewable energy advocate and believes that harnessing solar energy is key to combatting climate change and building an inclusive energy future.