Internship spotlight: On the job experience in solar

Author: Andrew Cahill, Green Careers Program Officer

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Eleven million people worked in renewable energy in 2018, according to research from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in the Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review. Solar Heating/Cooling is the technology with the largest amount of employed people, with over 800,000 working in the sector last year according to IRENA.

Job opportunities in solar are plentiful, and exposing young people to the different occupations in this sector is important for addressing the shortage of skilled workers in the burgeoning Green Economy. The Green Collar Careers program offers diverse opportunities, including internships for young people to gain relevant work experience in a green job or field that they may pursue as a career. It’s Relay’s goal to show youth the opportunities that exist to having a meaningful career, in which they can help themselves and the planet.

Burhan Khan, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student at Ryerson University, recently completed a week-long solar installation internship through the Green Collar Careers program. Burhan worked with a solar maintenance company on a roof-top 133 kW solar array project in Etobicoke, Ontario.

The importance of internships are invaluable for youth, host companies and future employers. After Burhan graduates he plans to have a career in the sustainability field, such as in solar or HVAC.

“Solar energy is important for electrical generation, because it’s an affordable and simple option. We are utilizing a natural resource that’s available to us worldwide,” said Burhan.

The training occurred on a roof, which required Burhan to complete a one day Working from Heights Training certification. He learned how a commercial solar project operates and gained knowledge on how panels transform solar energy into electricity and learned about the structural design of the system.

The best thing about this internship experience was being able to see how solar panels operate; how they are installed and maintained. This is important for an engineer to understand from a design point of view,” shared Burhan.

The job of a solar installer involves working outdoors the majority of the time. Duties include coordinating material delivery and the installation of a system one step at a time. An engineer is required to design the system, and an electrical engineer determines how to connect panels without overloading the system components. Other jobs that are involved in a solar energy project are a Project Manager, and those who are the point of contact for the building owner or other parties with a stake in the project.

“I’d recommend for anyone thinking of trying out solar installation training to show up prepared, especially by wearing proper clothing and bringing lots of water. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions while on site about anything you see because this is a learning experience from beginning to end.”

During his internship, Burhan learned how to replace optimizers on the solar panels, which required him to learn how solar panels are connected and used specialized tools to disconnect them. Every Photo Voltaic solar panel is attached to an optimizer. Optimizers prevent voltage drops from shading or panel malfunction. Since panels are connected in series, if one panel in a string is broken or has shade/dirt covering it, then all of the voltage from those panels is stopped. With optimizers in place, the optimizer will allow the broken or blocked panel to be skipped and the remainder of the panels will still function properly.

Burhan gained direct job experience during his week long internship, learning valuable knowledge about the way a solar array is designed and operates. While he will be pursuing a career in engineering after her graduates, this internship provided him with a practical front line opportunity to learn more about a sector he may work in.

“I’ve always been passionate about sustainability, and believe it’s what we need to do to have a better future for all of us. I would like to do my part to create a sustainable future for the planet.”

If you or a young person you know is interested in career experiences in the green economy, please contact us here or fill-out the intake form.

Opportunities are available to Canadians between ages of 15-29.