Growing Your Solar Install Business Through Training

This year’s Intersolar North America offers many NABCEP credit opportunities.

There are no clouds to dampen solar this year: Employment opportunities in the U.S. solar industry are experiencing unprecedented growth. In 2013, solar jobs grew 20 percent — 10 times the national job growth average, signaling that the industry is striding toward maturation. According to the Solar Foundation, 77 percent of the industry’s newly created jobs were formed specifically for the solar industry, rather than existing jobs expanding responsibilities to solar-related tasks. In total, 24,000 new solar workers joined the economy in the last year.

Stock - Proper InstallThe solar installation sector has proven to be the most robust across the industry, accounting for 12,500 new workers in 2013. Installation jobs are appealing due to both increasing demand and generous wages — installers are paid an average of $24/hour, an amount closer to that of skilled electricians than to roofers and construction workers. It is also not uncommon to hear solar installers mentioning they enjoy the morale-boosting benefits of being in a sustainable industry.

However, entering the solar installation sector can be challenging. The amount of regulations and certifications needed can confuse and discourage workers from making the jump into this growing field. In addition, for those already in the solar industry, training sessions help attendees stay current in the field to ensure that their businesses thrive. Whether that’s knowing how to design and install battery-based systems (a rapidly expanding niche within the industry), or adding in operations and maintenance as part of a business’ services, or staying on top of performance modeling to better predict returns. More professionals entering the market can also mean an increasingly competitive landscape. Because of these worries common in any maturing industry, installers may wonder in what ways one can prove he or she is qualified to be in the industry and consistently perform top-quality installations?

To address this, organizations such as Solar Energy International (SEI) are bridging the gap to educate future installers by offering specialized classes, business services and hands-on technical training. Other organizations, like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), have helped standardize training by publishing Entry Level Learning Objectives for fundamental PV and solar heating courses, as well as industry-validated Job Task Analysis (JTAs) for PV installation, PV technical sales and solar heating installation, which guide advanced training in these professions. Those who have education, experience and pass an examination can earn professional certification in these fields, which is increasingly being required by employers, incentive programs and consumers.

Getting certified in solar takes time, practice and a bit of upfront investment. For example, the NABCEP certification is the most widely recognized certification system in the United States. This requires installation professionals to complete a minimum of 68 hours of safety classes and training and have a decision-making role on at least three systems before qualifying to take the examination. However, for professionals hoping to distinguish themselves from other installers, obtaining the right credentials with these certifications provides a competitive advantage, expands possible job opportunities and provides assurance to future customers.

This year, Intersolar North America is offering attendees the chance to earn NABCEP continuing education (CE) credits during the event. Taking place in California, the leader in clean energy jobs, Intersolar North America partnered with NABCEP and Solar Energy International to develop a variety of workshops and talks catered to attendees across all levels to take advantage of solar opportunities. Focusing on practical knowledge instead of theory, these workshops are designed to have the attendees leave with new skills and the confidence to navigate in this rapidly evolving industry.

Exhibitor Installation Workshops
NABCEP and Intersolar have selected 12 exhibiting companies to offer in-depth technical training workshops over three days of the conference and exhibition. Attendees will earn three NABCEP CE credits for each half-day workshop. These workshops will keep you up to speed on the latest technologies and best practices for the design, installation and maintenance of code-compliant PV systems.
Sample session topics include:

  • Roofing and Fire Codes
  • PV System Design Strategies
  • Energy Storage for Grid-Connected Systems
  • Inverter Selection and Installation
  • Commissioning and Troubleshooting
  • Microinverters and DC Optimizers

Solar Energy International Training
Solar Energy International will offer advanced training on topics that are quickly becoming the industry standard. Taught by SEI’s experienced instructors, the training is practical and designed for engineers, system designers, installers, EPCs, developers and operations & maintenance providers and highlight best practices in the United States and internationally.

NABCEP CE hours will also be awarded for each session on the following topics:

  • Performance modeling: Learn how to predict and model PV system performance by learning the variables, assumptions, datasets and the tools used to understand them.
  • Operations & maintenance: O&M contract strategies, programs and procedures will be covered, along with remote data analysis and tools and techniques for troubleshooting. The goal is ensuring predictable ROI, PV system longevity and peak productivity.
  • Considerations for commercial PV and solar farms: Understand design and installation considerations for grid-connected PV systems from 100 kW to multi-megawatt. Topics include: pre-project planning; system design and optimization; inverter and transformer selection and interconnection at medium voltage; new 2014 NEC requirements; 1,000-Vdc systems; and installation methods for optimal long-term performance.

CALSEIA Contractor Day
For current solar contractors and those hoping to enter this job market, Intersolar North America and California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) are devoting a day exclusively to sharpening the skills required for this career. On July 8, the Moscone Center West will begin Contractor Day with an industry overview of solar, rooftop solar and efficiency programs, then proceed to dive into more in-depth topics in the afternoon. Afternoon sessions will be catered toward more experienced professionals, focusing on operational efficiency and financing options for distributed commercial and residential projects.

Intersolar North America hopes to provide the most up-to-date information on policy, procedures and tools with the aforementioned programs. Looking forward, Bloomberg predicts that the solar market will grow 20 percent, and both Mercom and IHS research groups predict between 40 and 45 GW of solar power will be installed globally in 2014. With these figures, it seems like this year, installers will be at the top of a rising industry tide.

Markus Elsässer is CEO and founder of Solar Promotion International.

 

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We have a ton video interviews and additional content on our YouTube page. Recently we debuted Power Forward! -- a collaboration with BayWa r.e. to discuss higher level industry topics as well as best practices / trends for running a solar business today.

Our longer running side project is The Pitch -- in which we have awkward discussions with solar manufacturers and suppliers about their new technology and ideas so that you don't have to. We discuss everything from residential rail-less deck attaching and home solar financing to large-scale energy storage value stacking and utility-driven new home solar + storage microgrids.

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