September 28, 2011

by Jeff Spies – Solar Energy International Business Services Manager, President of SolarSpies Consulting and Secretary for NABCEP

7 reasons why quality solar training is key to solar business success

1) Successful PV companies take training seriously

The top solar installation companies have placed a priority on quality training to insure their employees are current on the latest code considerations, product innovations, design intricacies and installation procedures.

2) Technical knowledge required to succeed

PV is a technical field requiring strong knowledge of the electrical and mechanical aspects of PV design and installation.  Capable instructors can impart their wisdom on solar professionals helping them understand not only the theory of how it should be done, but the practicality of how it gets done profitably

3) PV system designs vary from job to job

Solar photovoltaic installation (particularly for residential sector) is inherently a retrofit process.  You need to appreciate how roof obstacles like vent pipes, chimneys, HVAC equipment, and adjoining roof surfaces affect the shading impact of PV productivity.  Equally important is learning the best way to waterproof any penetrations or how to insure that ballasted systems do not abrade that expensive membrane roof.

4) Quality PV training saves money

Quality PV training pays for itself within the first few jobs that you tackle.  While many designers and installers learn by doing, they will pay more in this DIY learning process than if they were to take a quality training class and learn the best practices that increase system and installation efficiency.

5) Solar economics knowledge

Grid tie solar PV is driven by the investment opportunity and a class on solar economics helps in making the case about the financial impact of investing in a solar system to a residential or commercial prospect.  SEI’s PV 206 covers this topic in great detail helping solar business professionals master the calculations that are key to securing the contract with a PV client.

6) Ongoing training

The industry moves at a blistering pace necessitating a continuing education mentality.  New products, code revisions, and incentive changes influence the continuous evolution of training on these topics and designers/installers must keep abreast of these developments if they hope to compete in increasingly competitive environment

7) Safety training MANDATORY

Since PV employs the skill sets of two of the top 10 most deadly professions in the U.S. (roofing and electrical work) training on proper PV and OSHA safety protocols is imperative.  The exemption for fall protection that the roofing industry once enjoyed is now history and OSHA is aggressively targeting PV installation companies for violation of these mandates.  It is incredibly important that your design and installation staff all receive training from instructors that have the experience of working in this dangerous trade to learn the practical tactics key to creating a safe work environment.

Tips for vetting a solar training organization:

In 2006 there were less than 10 recognized PV training programs in existence.  Today, that number has grown to over 300 training programs in the US and Canada.  Some of these new programs are quite good, but many are opportunistically preying on the ignorance of eager green job seekers and contractors hoping to strike solar gold.  Therefore, careful evaluation of any solar training organization is critically important.

  • Get referrals from students
    • Referrals from students are always helpful, but not all referrals are of equal value.  Many times, the referrer has little to no electrical, roofing, or trade experience and their recommendation may be of little to no value.  Therefore, I strongly advise referrals from current solar professionals with more than 2 years industry experience or referrals from electrical contractors that can best judge if the training program employs curriculum and instructors that understand electrical code and roofing best practices.
  • Is the training organization and/or instructor(s) ISPQ accredited?
    • IREC accredits programs and instructors through its Institute for Sustainable Power Quality program. This accreditation is most helpful in identifying instructors with the credentials to properly educate contractors in this dangerous profession.
  • Who developed the curriculum?
    • If the training organization cannot answer this question and provide the credentials of the people that created the training material, you should continue your search.
  • Who is the instructor?
    • If the training organization cannot answer this question and provide the credentials your instructor, you should continue your search.
  • Is the instructor NABCEP certified?
    • While NABCEP certified PV installers may not all be good instructors, the NABCEP certification process helps filter out those that are not technically proficient in system design and installation technology.
  • How many years experience?
    • Since PV is such a dangerous trade (see above) you need to make sure your instructor has worked in this field for several years if they are to have the authority of training others that need to work safely in a very hazardous profession.
  • How many systems (& what size) designed & installed?
    • Your instructor should have dozens (f not hundreds) of systems both designed and installed if they are going to have the knowledge base to teach you the finer points of system design, installation procedures, code compliance, and inspector debating tactics.
  • Is your instructor experienced in battery-based systems?
    • Even if you work exclusively in the grid tie realm, learning about PV battery systems from a knowledgeable instructor helps you when communicating with customers the pros and cons of battery systems.  This training also provides a distinct market advantage and allows your company to tackle the more profitable battery based system projects where the competition is much less fierce.

Solar Energy International is a pioneer of PV training with over 20 years training solar professionals for the rigors of this complex trade. SEI goes through a careful assessment all their instructors to verify they posses the experience necessary to teach this technical trade.

SEI instructors have at least 3 years of full time PV experience designing and  installing PV systems.  They also put a priority on instructors that have experience with residential, commercial, and battery systems.

SEI employs more than 25 NABCEP Certified PV Installers and 17 of these instructors are either ISPQ certified trainers or ISPQ certified master trainers. SEI believes in a quality training experience and provides 2 instructors/class for most classroom workshops.

SEI limits class size to provide a higher level of student-instructor interaction.  In addition to the technical bonifides, SEI instructors are selected on their teaching abilities to insure they will connect with the students and provide a deep and meaningful learning experience.   SEI instructors lead the industry in their technical and teaching skills and they are also entertaining which goes a long way during the often dry topics of code compliance and wire sizing ;)   In short Solar Energy International training is one of the best ways to maximize your potential for solar business success.