There are many ways to become a PV system installer, but some are certainly better than others. Regardless of the path you choose, you’ll eventually want to work towards National Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification. The NABCEP is the highest level of certification available in the United States.
Benefits of NABCEP Certification for Installers and Consumers
- Identifies installers as professionals, instilling consumer confidence in their work
- Validates extra resources spent on training and gaining experience
- Allows for installer mobility as the market moves from state to state
- Allows installers to distinguish their skills and experience in the field
- Provides a means to identify qualified installers, promoting confidence in the work performed
- Preserves consumer choice, maintaining access to both certified and uncertified installers
Solar Experience, Education or Both?
To meet NABCEP eligibility requirements, you’ll need a combination of experience and though it’s not required, you’ll likely need some education as well. Paths towards certification vary. For instance, you could get a job at a regional company that installs solar panels and work your way into a “responsible” position (click here for the NABCEP definition of responsible) in the installation process at that company. Or, you can go to school, where during your training, you must install a few solar systems adequately to meet NABCEP eligibility requirements. You can also receive certification from online courses. The NABCEP website states that it will accept online training toward certification, provided it meets the requirements.
Will Your Boss Cover the Costs?
There is one other way you can break into the solar industry and that is by obtaining a job at an established retailer, wholesaler or other like company. Alternative Energy Engineering, a wholesaler based in Redway, CA, offers to pay for some, if not all, of its employees’ training, doubtless because that employee or retailer’s stock instantly skyrockets in the company.
There is also a group called the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality (ISPQ). The ISPQ is a benchmarking organization which assures attendees at renewable energy schools that they are being taught what they need to know, as ISPQ deems fit for the energy career. The guidelines for ISPQ certification seem strict. An overview of their process can be viewed here. Just because a school or workshop is not ISPQ certified does not mean it’s invalid training or unrecognized by NABCEP, but it does mean you should research any organization you are considering paying to train you.
Solar Workshops, Seminars and Online Courses
Hands-On Workshops Across U.S.
Solar Energy International is one of the leading organizations to offer hands-on training in set locations, as well as online classes. This group holds workshops in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Utah, North Carolina, Hawaii and more. Check the course schedule here. I have a friend who took this class and said it was extremely helpful for his job in the solar industry. Book early – the classes fill up fast.
GCI is based in California. They have locations in both San Francisco and Southern California. For CA residents, this is a school that may interest you.
The Solar Living Institute is a company based in Hopland, California (about two and half hours north of San Francisco, near Ukiah). The website says that they are planning to offer online workshops this fall. They currently hold workshops in Ukiah, South San Francisco and a few Northern California locations. These workshops do some hands-on training, which would likely qualify towards NABCEP certification eligibility.
Boots on the Roof’s mission is to train the next wave of Renewable Energy Contractors, Engineers, Architects, Sales Professionals and Business Entrepreneurs. For Contractors, our Solar PV & Solar Thermal Boot Camps cover design & installation topics for residential and small commercial solar electric and solar hot water projects. (Disclosure: CalFinder works with Boots on the Roof in educating new solar pros.)
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago
SolarTraining.com holds seminars that typically focus on Solar Thermal and PV Training. They offer significant group discounts for reservations of four or more.
Colorado residents can also check out the Solar Energy Industry Training Program at Arapahoe Community College Corporate Learning Division. They offer a Photovoltaic (PV) Program and Solar Thermal (Hot Water) Program.
Training4Green.com is an online school accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). They offer online courses, which can be a serious boon to those already working and without time to dedicate towards training for a career change. Plus, they have achieved accreditation as a school and at least some of their courses satisfy NABCEP requirements for education (you’ll still need hands-on installations to sit for the test).
Ontility.com provides online training in accordance with NABCEP and ISPQ standards. This site also claims that some of its courses are eligible for continuing education credits as well.
Green Career Search
Once you reach certification, you may find you’re able to branch out from PV installations since there are so many options in this growing industry. If that’s the case, you can check out Great Green Careers. It’s a nationwide searchable database of green industry jobs. And if you’re definitely becoming a PV installer, browse the website anyway. You may find an area where your skills are in top-dollar demand.
Photo Credits: CSI West,