Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis (right) at a booth visit during the Solar Power International '09 expo, speaking with Jeffery Wolfe, CEO of gro Solar (left) and Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Photo credit: George Zebrowski/Plumbing & Mechanical

There is a critical shortage of solar thermal installers and plumbing/hydronic heating contractors are positioned well to fill that void, according toRhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (

In an interview withPlumbing & Mechanicalat the Solar Power International ’09 conference and expo, Resch said there are currently only about 2,200 solar thermal installers in the country. The industry could use 20,000.

Because solar thermal is such a natural extension of plumbing and hydronic heating work, those plumbing and hydronic heating contractors who haven’t installed a solar thermal job as yet would find it an easy learning curve, according to Resch.

Resch indicated there are conservatively about 60,000 workers in the combined photovoltaic and solar thermal sides of the industry. The PV side accounts for a significantly greater portion since utilities and investors see such a huge upside to generating power using the sun.

This year’s conference and expo attracted a record of approximately 27,000 attendees. At last year’s expo in San Diego there were 425 exhibitors; this year in Anaheim that number rose to 925. This was the first year solar thermal exhibitors were located in the same area of the show floor.