Solar workers demand stronger technology – pv magazine USA

As demand for solar power grows, connected, robust technology helps today’s limited solar workforce operate in all conditions by helping to expand renewable energy infrastructure.

Industry experts predict that in the next five years the solar industry will grow 5 times what it is today, possibly reaching 700 GW of capacity by 2033. However, only 255,500 Americans work in the solar industry. And the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) reports that 89% of solar companies are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill positions. The solar workforce will need to more than double over the next 10 years to meet the federal goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.

To meet this demand, the utility industry must maximize its current solar deployment and support workforce and open its doors to new talent in a way that is simple, affordable and financially viable. Providing technology that meets the unique needs of the solar industry and makes work easier for utility workers is essential to attracting new talent.

With the right mobile technology, any utility worker—from new hire to seasoned professional—can communicate with their team, troubleshoot and repair infrastructure, and work in any environment to drive growth and meet customer demands.

Distance computing technology

Utility workers and contractors in the solar industry perform tasks in challenging environments every day. Whether they’re adding solar panels to a residential roof or setting up a solar farm in a remote location, these workers must do their jobs in a variety of conditions and situations.

For residential solar projects, workers and utility contractors must assess the home and roof, collect and track permits and documentation, order equipment, install panels, and test system performance before final deployment.

When on a roof, checking for structural requirements or installing panels, utility workers and contractors need a technology solution that can quickly download drawings, contracts or heavy graphics such as geographic information systems (GIS) or CAD drawings that require an advanced GPU and CPU integration. They cannot risk their computing device becoming unusable when exposed to sunlight, dropped or contaminated. They also don’t have time to remove protective leather gloves to use the touchscreen or stylus or wait for a document or image to load.

When servicing utility-scale solar installations, workers often find themselves in remote locations with limited connectivity. The average solar farm is over 40 acres (about twice the size of Chicago’s Millennium Park). From one end of the farm to the other, workers need continuous access to critical information and a means of communicating with their team.

Without the right technology, they could find themselves in the middle of the solar farm, unable to see recent reports or contact another team member about a complex service question. These types of challenges waste time, and with a limited workforce, time is already in short supply.

Sustainable computing

Consumer-grade technology rarely meets the unique challenges facing a utility worker in the solar industry. These devices can work well for personal use and traditional office work. But for workers in harsh and unpredictable environments, consumer-grade devices rarely get the job done. Imagine sitting at your desk with your laptop.

Now you have to take your laptop and drive to a field several hours away from the nearest big city. Now you are in the middle of the field and having trouble viewing a user device screen in sunlight. Your phone’s hotspot isn’t working, your device’s apps are hard to use, and your battery needs to be recharged. Your laptop overheats, can’t connect to the internet, and now you’ve lost valuable time in your day to get your work done. This is what it’s like for a utility worker without sound technological solutions.

Rugged solutions provide more than just a sturdy exterior or hard shell. They offer uncompromising connectivity, multi-port and keyboard adaptability, optimized thermal management, hot-swappable batteries and advanced processing power for working in a mobile office environment.

With robust technology, utility workers and contractors can track, monitor and support solar projects from the office and in the field. Investing in necessary mobile technology solutions not only gives today’s limited workforce the tools they need to work quickly and efficiently, but also prepares the industry for what’s ahead: a technology-driven energy infrastructure that depends on workers , who can stay constantly connected, adaptable and ready to engage anytime, anywhere.

Chad Hall is strategic account manager of Enterprise Mobility Solutions, Panasonic Connect North America.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the pv magazine.

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