The failure rate among new solar installation companies seems to be rivaling that of restaurant startups, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Quality solar training can change this trend, and one of the major lessons I have learned in my 20 years in sales, marketing, and technical training is the pot quality training can have on business success in the technical arena.

First, some history. Prior to entering the solar industry, I had a successful career working in the field of industrial automation. My background included a degree in mechanical engineering, 19 years in technical sales and marketing of electrical/mechanical motion control systems, and significant experience creating and producing technical training events for thousands of engineers, technicians, and business owners in the U.S. and overseas.

I started to transition into solar in late 2006.  My first exposure to the PV industry was attending the largest industry tradeshow in San Jose, California. (Solar Power 2006).I figured the best way to gain an advantage was getting some guidance from the numerous solar pros staffing the tradeshow booths.  When I asked their advice of what I could do to prepare myself for successful entry into the PV sector, the overwhelming response was “Take your training from Solar Energy International.” Fortunately, I listened to this advice and enrolled in SEI’s beginning and advanced PV workshops and was amazed at the quality of the curriculum and the teaching ability of SEI instructors. This training was indeed one of the most important elements of my solar success.

Shortly after completing my Advanced PV class in mid-2007, the second largest wholesale PV distributor (AEE Solar) hired me as Training Manager and I was immediately challenged with the task of developing a PV dealer-training program from scratch.  While I possessed considerable technical and training knowledge, I lacked the PV design/installation experience necessary to adequately educate PV designers and installers in the important elements of system design, installation procedures, code compliance, and inspector debating tactics.

Since PV employs the skill sets of two of the top 10 most deadly professions in the U.S. (roofing and electrical work) I felt it was important to insure that our training program would be responsible, comprehensive and respected.  My solution was to hire SEI to conduct the PV design and installation workshops for AEE Solar dealers.

Over the next three years, I produced 27 of these one-week solar PV training workshops for entry-level solar dealers.  These trainings were incredibly valuable to the development of our dealer base and were one of the key factors to AEE Solar’s training website achieving the No. 1 ranking on Google for the search term “solar training,” a position we held from late 2007 into 2010.  SEI’s brand of top quality non-biased solar PV education was a major key to the success AEE Solar achieved in those fast-paced, rapid-growth years.

In mid-2010, I stepped down from my position of Director of Training and Tradeshows at AEE Solar to pursue my own solar training consulting business and immediately started work with SEI to develop new solar business curricula and contract-training services for solar manufacturers, distributors, and installation companies.

Over the past 12 months, SEI has seen a tremendous reception for our expanded contract training offerings including programs ranging from classroom training on system design, code compliance, interconnection standards, and safety protocols to rooftop installation workshops where participants get real-world, hands-on experience installing and producing PV systems in lab facilities designed to optimize the learning experience.

One of our most exciting new programs launched in mid-2011 is SEI’s two-day PV108: Solar Business and Technical Overview class.  This powerful solar biz-tech course helps electrical, roofing, and general contractors quickly decipher the complexities of the incredibly dynamic PV industry, understand the key elements of PV business success, and give them the roadmap critical to helping their solar business expansion plans succeed while avoiding the potholes that swallow most solar newcomers alive.

The other major benefit to the PV108 program is it provides a solution to PV distributors and manufactures that want to offer top- quality training to dealers without the considerable expense and complexity that come with developing a new training program and recruiting top quality instructors. By integrating in branding and product-specific training elements to this course, solar PV companies can rapidly bring a quality PV training program into existence that they can be proud of.

The feedback from attendees of our PV108 class has been overwhelmingly positive and we continue to expand our client base for this valuable program. Training programs like SEI’s PV108 helps create successful PV businesses benefits both customers and suppliers, and helps build a robust sustainable PV industry.  With the advent of PV108 and SEI’s other contract training services, SEI is helping reverse the trend of solar business failures.

To learn more about Solar Energy International’s contract training services, contact Kathy Swartz at (970) 527-7657 x207 or email her at