Australia is home to more than 200 solar farms, and that number could more than double if all projects in the pipeline come through. Building all these solar farms will call for experienced workers over the next decade.
A team of engineers, lawyers, finance managers, and other professionals will drive the initial work of a solar project’s design, the site selection, environmental and other analysis on the site, obtaining approvals and planning authorisations, and securing finance.
The solar farm is then built by several hundred workers over 6 to 12 months. The site for the solar farm may need to be levelled. Access roads are built, fences and other secure infrastructure are erected. There is logistical work in purchasing and transporting the equipment. The supporting structures are mounted at the site and then the solar panels and inverters are installed for connection and commissioning. A lot of the cabling is underground. Where there is dual use of the site (link to agrisolar report) additional work might need to be completed to accommodate the complementary purpose.
A large contingent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers are involved in this construction and assembly stage, and machine operators and labourers transport panels and trackers, dig trenches, drive piles into the ground and assemble the non-electrical framework.
There are also skilled roles. Solar farm technicians come from either an electrical or mechanical trade background, although electricians are more difficult to source. The solar farm electrical technicians are responsible for key tasks of the solar installation where an electrical license is required, plus preventative, corrective, re-active maintenance and operations on the site. HV operators are also needed for high voltage switching. Mechanical technicians are responsible for non-electrical installation, operation and maintenance on the site. The trade assistant role offers an entry into the work environment for young, technically minded workers that are wanting to understand the work setting before embarking on a career pathway.
Once the solar farm is operational it is managed by just one or two technicians, depending on the size of the site.
The construction and operation of solar farms includes highly skilled but also less skilled opportunities for people wanting a steppingstone into the industry.
Work in the construction of a solar farm is generally regional, in sunny parts of Australia. There may be shift work involved. The types of tasks vary with the stage of the project but in most cases the work is time-limited as one project phase ends and the next one begins.
Electrical technicians are always the most sought after on solar farms. Any experience in electricity supply or relevant industries would be beneficial, as would experience from such sectors as rail, road tunnelling or water industries.
For the mechanical roles, trade assistants, and even for the assembly and general labourers, previous experience on a solar farm is always well regarded. Some of these less skilled roles can provide opportunities for young people looking to try a career in renewable energy, for someone who might have been long-term unemployed and looking for ways to ease into the job market.