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Does Certified Solar Training Make Cents

Does certified solar training make “cents” for solar PV design and installation companies? Spending money on training may seem questionable since there is so much free information on the internet these days. If you have the time, you can find just about anything you want or want to know about through the internet. The biggest problem with that approach is qualifying the accuracy of the information. A PV design and installation company that decides to self educate usually misses some key information. The cost for missing this information to save on quality training is usually much higher in the long run.

What are the training options?

  • If you are dead-set on getting free online training, be sure that the information is from a professional source such as IREC, NABCEP, NREL, FSEC or an accredited school. There are a lot of internet videos that show only part of the process and they leave a lot out. You have to ask yourself, “Would I trust my car repair to someone whose knowledge and skills came from an internet video? “
  • Researching and reading volumes of information and then sorting it out, is a very laborious job. There are few people have the time to do this effectively, and I do respect their effort and dedication. However when I hear someone say that they are self-taught, I have three thoughts: (1) This person must be very tenacious to have done it the hard way, (2) Is this person a maverick that may not know what he/she does not know? (3) Does this person take this approach with everything they do?
  • On the job training (OJT) is the most sought-after source; it is also the most difficult to find. Without good formal training, a person is going to make mistakes; it is unavoidable. Mistakes cost money and are great teachers, especially when the money is your own, but most companies realize that a new untrained employee will not effectively contribute to the profitability of the company for the first few months. The cost to the employer is greater than the cost of training.
  • Online training from accredited schools is a good place to start. The real benefit to taking online training is that you don’t have to take time off work and pay for lodging during the training. Another benefit of online training is that the cost is lower than in-the-seat training.
  • In-the-seat training is the best format for training as long as the class size is not too large. If there are more than 20 students in the class, the one-on-one contact time is almost nonexistent. Small classes of 10 people or less is the best learning format for any class, especially for hands-on training classes.

What is the true value of attaining certified training?

  • The most important value is the accurate knowledge that you attain. Along with the knowledge, the training school usually provides continued support to its students; they are usually glad to answer questions from their former students.
  • In order to be successful in any industry it is important to have regular correspondence with every sector of your industry that can make you more successful. Maintaining a relationship with a good training source will help keep you and your company in front of changes in the industry.
  • Hiring trained personnel and maintaining appropriate training levels with your personnel will save you a lot more than the training will cost.
  • Organizations that offer nationally recognized certifications in the PV industry, such as NABCEP, require the applicant to have certified training from an accredited school.
  • Whether you are talking with colleagues, associates or customers, formal training is the only training that will earn their respect.

Does certified training cost more than the benefit? The answer is no; if you are part of the front line of the solar design and installation industry, good quality training will not only save money it will provide a strong foundation of knowledge and the clarity necessary to ensure better job performance. Making certified solar training a part of the business model is essential to building a successful solar company; not only does it make sense, it makes “cents”.

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Solar PV Training and Employment

Solar PV Training and Employment

It would seem logical to assume that since the Solar PV industry is growing at such a robust pace, there should be plenty of jobs available. That is a correct assumption, but there is a gap between the need for workers and the need for a well-trained work force. The old adage is; you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get experience without a job.

Fortunately, almost all prospective PV employers understand that in this industry, the training comes first, and it’s usually enough to get you started.

There is one sure way to bridge the gap between experience and employment: training and networking.

The first step is to get training from a recognized and competent solar training company. Be sure that it is an accredited solar training program that will be recognized throughout the country. The second step is to get experience, and there is more than one way to get it.

  1. Find out where the solar PV contractors gather; associations are the best place to look. The American Solar Energy Society has state chapters all across the country, and most have regular meetings every month or two. It is very affordable to join an association, and the meetings are a perfect place to get to know the solar contractors and business leaders. Take the time to get your foot in the door and be willing to be time-flexible when someone approaches you about working together – because someone probably will.
  2. If you are already in the construction industry, it is a short segue into the PV industry with proper training, and you can expand your business quickly, and with relatively little financial investment.
  3. Start your own company.  Starting any business is easier said than done, but many people do it quite successfully. If you have an entrepreneur’s spirit and the determination to get a company rolling, this is a good choice. Check the laws in your state to determine if you need to have licensing prior to installing PV systems.
  4. The “hybrid” start.  Many people intend to start their own installation companies, but want an installation or two under their belts before doing so. Working with an existing company on a project-by-project basis can help you get a little experience before you go out on your own.
  5. Install a system on your own house (or a relative’s).  You will learn just as much about installation, and you have your own PV system and some experience at the end of it.

One of the best ways to become valuable for a long-term career is to attain an industry certification. NABCEP has several certification programs; Solar PV Certified Installer, Solar Thermal Certified Installer, and Technical Sales Certification. Each of these certifications requires experience that can be obtained by either working as a self-employed, or working for a solar contractor.  Familiarize yourself with NABCEP at www.nabcep.org.

You can’t get NABCEP Certification without meeting their criteria, and no training company can certify you. The industry leaders know this, and are willing to help you on your path to Certification. After all, with a few exceptions, they pretty much had to get their certification the same way you will. They can work with you on a “project-by-project” basis, or hire you full-time or part-time.  Each company is different, but almost all are dedicated to the industry, have high standards, and are willing to help new installers learn.

Beware of training organizations who sell up their “Job Programs” or placement assistance. It sounds great to you before you pay your training tuition, but it’s mostly talk with very few programs actually putting people to work in the solar industry. If you find work through them, it will usually be an unpaid position as an apprentice. Don’t be sucked in to “We help you find a job.” Training companies can point you in the right direction and have contacts in the industry, but they aren’t job placement organizations.

The truth is that it takes time and dedication to retrain yourself into any industry where you are readily employable. If you want in the solar industry then be persistent and you’ll get in. Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Important links for more information:

www.nabcep.org
North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (to determine eligibility requirements for NABCEP Certification)

www.irecusa.org
Interstate Renewable Energy Council (to verify accredited training programs)

www.ases.org
American Solar Energy Society (to find a chapter to join nearest you)

 

Kelly Provence
IREC/ISPQ Certified Master PV Trainer
Solairgen
www.solairgen.com
706-867-0678

Solar PV Panels on Cedar Home

Grid-tie Inverters and Generators

Grid-Tied PV Systems and Generators

The question keeps coming up; “Will a generator keep the grid interactive, non-battery based PV array operating during utility power
outages?” In theory, it seems like a logical idea since the generator operates at 240 volt 60 Hz and this is what the inverter is looking for in order to
continue operating.

The problem is, the generator cannot absorb the excess energy from the PV inverter output, nor can the generator react quickly enough
to the fluctuating output of the PV inverter. With a grid connection there is a certain amount of buoyancy or capacitance in the grid to allow for varying electrical energy.

A second problem is how the generator will react to another AC source; it may shut down or it may be damaged by the other AC source.

The solution is the same as it has been since the start of PV energy systems, battery storage. There are many new product advancements in
battery storage or energy storage and the future looks bright. For now, the best solution for backup power during a utility outage is one of two options:

  1. An AC generator can be set up as backup power with a transfer switch that senses the loss of utility  power. If a grid interactive, non-battery based PV array is operating when utility power is down, it will go into a standby status until the utility power returns to normal.
  2. Another option is to use a battery based, grid interactive PV system that can provide backup power during utility outages; a generator can be tied in with the battery-based inverter to help charge the batteries during extended cloud cover and rainy conditions.

If option #2 is your preference, you will find that battery based inverters are quite different from utility interactive inverters. If you presently have an SMA utility interactive inverter, you can add the SMA Island battery based inverter to the system and have the best of both worlds.

For other utility, non-battery based interactive inverters, you either need to change out the inverter to one that is battery based with the utility interactive feature or just use the generator as the backup.

Kelly Provence
IREC/ISPQ Certified Master PV Trainer
Solairgen
http://www.solairgen.com/
706-867-0678

Master PV Trainer Logo

Multi-Credentialed Solar Installer-Trainer

Solar Panel InstallationSolairgen’s Kelly Provence: Multi-credentialed installer/trainer talks with IREC’s ISPQ about the value of credentials

By Jane Pulaski
September 15, 2011

What do you say about someone who was the first PV trainer in the U.S. to hold four credentials (IREC ISPQ Master PV and three NABCEP certifications)? An overachiever? Staying ahead of the competition?  Hip to the importance of credentials to maintain integrity in the solar profession?  All of the above?
Achieving any one of these credentials is an ambitious goal, but four?  I wanted to know what (or who) is behind Kelly’s drive to be multi-credentialed.  Here’s our conversation.

IREC:  Kelly, I’m going to get right to it:  what inspired you to attain so many credentials?
KP:  I was at a dealer conference at the Florida Solar Energy Center in 2003, when I became aware of NABCEP and the importance of certification. It became apparent to me that in order for the solar industry to maintain a high level of installation integrity, there needed to be a national standard to measure professionalism; NABCEP was doing that with their certification program. In 2006 I earned the PV Installer Certification and in 2007 earned the Solar Thermal Certification; these credentials demonstrated my experience and commitment to my customers, as well as support for a national standard.

IREC:  NABCEP awarded its first PV certificants in November 2003. So if you were hearing about it then, you were tuned in to the value of credentials at the very beginning.  The NABCEP credential must have resonated with you.
KP:   It did. I knew that this industry needed to maintain high standards to succeed and time has proven this to be true.  At Georgia Solar Energy Association meetings and in my own work, I supported NABCEP certification as the industry standard we should, and do, support.  I started the Solairgen training program with two goals in mind: to help students enter the market with a high level of competency and guide them toward certification.

IREC:  Before you discovered NABCEP, what kept you busy? Was solar part of your life then?
KP:  Before Solairgen, I owned and operated an electrical contracting company, Provence Electric, from 1995 to 2008. Solar installations were always a part of the business model. In 2002, Solairgen was formed at which time PV and Solar Thermal design and installations became my single focus. I later became involved with the development of Georgia Solar Energy Association (GSEA.)  It was while serving as an officer with GSEA that I saw the need for solar training in Georgia. It was then I moved from design and installation and shifted focus solely to PV and ST training.

IREC:  Since you recognized the value of an installation credential, when did you recognize the value of the IREC ISPQ credential?
KP: Soon after I designed and implemented our training program, I realized that IREC ISPQ accreditation and trainer certification is just as important to the training sector as NABCEP is to the installation sector of the solar industry. Having the IREC ISPQ credential allows a potential student to make a better decision when selecting a training course – it assures them of the quality of the program they’ve selected – and provides the national training standard they want and need. Moreover, the entire solar industry benefits by having a high national standard of quality and professionalism. We all win.

IREC:  Most definitely.  I’m curious…what was the order in which you went for the IREC ISPQ credential? Was it program accreditation first, then trainer certification, or was it trainer certification first, then program accreditation?
KP:  Program certification came first. The value of accreditation was most important to the company, which of course was important to me.  I had several years of installation experience in PV and ST to draw from in teaching, and two NABCEP certifications, but the class syllabus itself needed the “Gold Seal.” After that, Master PV Trainer certification became my goal.  Solairgen offers both an accredited class, and a certified instructor.  That assures potential students that Solairgen has met the highest quality standards for installation and design training, and keeps us competitive.

IREC:  Having an accredited program and certified instructor does ensure the highest quality teaching/learning experience possible.  I’m wondering what kind of students you’re seeing in your classroom.  Is it a wide range of skills and experience?
KP:   The  students’ varying backgrounds keep my job interesting and challenging.  We offer different classes and each one has its own dynamic. The 40-hour entry level class is usually full each month and consists of electricians, electrical engineers, builders, finance and marketing professionals, with motivated entrepreneurs from unrelated fields. My students are always interesting, and it’s enjoyable to see the high-level of enthusiasm they all show with the opportunity to enter this field.  I’m always impressed by the commitment and hard work the candidates in my NABCEP Exam Prep classes demonstrate to become nationally recognized and proficient in the industry. About half of the exam prep students are electricians, some are engineers with the balance being solar contractors and integrators. Many started out taking my PV-203 class. There’s a lot of combined experience in the classroom. It isn’t uncommon for me to learn something from them in the course of a class.

IREC:  With such a wide range of skills and experience, it must be a continuous challenge to make sure everyone’s needs and expectations are being met.   How do you tackle that?
KP:    My first priority is to teach the design and installation of PV equipment and systems with a high level of competency. Everyone comes into my class with strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important that I “level the information field” as soon as possible by bringing all the students to a common level of understanding. This is something I enjoy and do well.  It’s rewarding to see so many of my PV-203 students pass the NABCEP Entry Level Exam and then see them go on to rewarding careers in the field – then NABCEP Certification. After each of my exam prep classes and the NABCEP certification exam, I start checking the NABCEP site regularly for new certification awardees.  I get a tremendous sense of pride when I see my students who have come through Solairgen classes earn NABCEP certification.  Another challenge I face with my students is to stay current with technology and the industry in general, revising my classes as I do.  Students are more informed and sophisticated than ever, so I consistently “re-educate” myself so that I deliver up-to-date industry and technological information to my students.  If I’m informed, so are they.

solar-panel-installation-trainingIREC:  That’s the sign of an exemplary teacher, and students know one when they find one.  Not surprisingly, the converse is also true.  So in your experience, and if you can narrow it down, what would you say is your biggest success…or successes?
KP:   Without Solairgen’s credentials, we would have a hard time competing in an increasingly competitive solar training industry.  Bringing my wife, Leigh, into the company is one of my successes.  She was instrumental in getting our PV-203 class IREC/ISPQ accredited, and subsequently my IREC/ISPQ Affiliated Master PV Trainer Certification.  Having Leigh focus on the marketing and administrative demands of a growing company allowed me the opportunity to put all of my energy into designing classes and teaching.  She also encouraged me to get the NABCEP PV Technical Sales certification in their inaugural round of testing. I was the first PV trainer in the U.S. to hold all four credentials: IREC ISPQ Master PV Trainer, with three NABCEP certifications.  Of course other top trainers in the industry were right behind me and earned the same credentials, but it was nice to be the first and only, even if it was only for a short time.

IREC:   Oh…now I understand who’s the boss.  Sounds like a great team.  Does Leigh have other certifications in mind for you?
KP:  I actually had her believing I was the boss during the first month we started working together. We may have other programs developing so I’m sure I’ll get a nudge in that direction when the time comes. But for now I intend to pursue advanced OSHA training certification, and would also like to become involved in code development. But if I can find the time, which is a luxury, I’ll go back to college to study physics and chemistry. There are many areas of energy conversion that are yet to be discovered and developed.

IREC:  Physics and chemistry?  I’m so glad there are people like you. I’m a recovering English major, so if you ever need any help spelling ‘physics’ or ‘chemistry,’ or with diagramming sentences, I’m your go-to.  I know you’re always looking ahead…what do you see in the queue?
KP:  Gaining momentum for Solairgen’s advanced class to teach PV system designers and installers how to analyze system performance is in the immediate queue. I believe this is critical information installers and designers need for their increasingly knowledgeable customers who have expectations of return on investment. Getting this training out to everyone who could benefit is the challenge we are working on now.   Long-range goals may involve helping technical colleges develop and implement their solar programs, both PV and solar thermal. I have had several technical college trainers and professors come though our training prior to implementing solar into their own programs. That’s a training venue we’re eager to develop. We’re also in the early development stages of a program that, if it works out, will enable students to receive installation credits toward qualifying for the NABCEP Installer Certification exam.  It isn’t in place yet, and there are many logistics to be worked out, but that’s next on our expansion agenda.

IREC:  If past performance is any indication of future results, I’d expect to see this as part of Solairgen’s offerings soon (unless you’ve signed up for physics and chemistry classes).  Besides your work, which obviously motivates and energizes you, what inspires you?
KP:    Wilderness inspires me. The times I feel I have achieved the most, professionally and personally, is when I hike.  The reason I entered into the renewable energy industry was to contribute to a sustainable energy balance, lessening the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels. I am inspired when I think that it is possible. When I’m hiking, I imagine that it is.

IREC:   So does Leigh have plans for you to get your hiking certification?  Your work and commitment are inspiring, Kelly.  Thanks a million for your time.

You can reach Kelly directly at koprovence@solairgen.com, or visit Solairgen’s website at www.solairgen.com for information about training classes.

Kelly Provence_Solairgen

NABCEP Profile Interview

Kelly Provence is one of a very small number of people who holds three NABCEP Certifications: PV Solar Installer, Solar Thermal Installer and PV Technical Sales. Kelly is the owner of Solairgen School of Solar Technology located in Dahlonega, Georgia. Solairgen is a training company which offers a complete program for electric solar panel installers and PV technical salespeople. Kelly is also an IREC/ISPQ Certified Master Trainer and a licensed master electrician.

In a personal interview, Kelly said, “I have always been an environmentalist, so in the late 1990s I felt it was time to take a serious look at my own ecological values, so I began incorporating PV installations into my electrical business.

“In 2002, I began focusing my efforts solely on PV, installing mainly off-grid and battery back-up systems. I branched out into solar thermal installations from there and sought certification in that area. Getting my NABCEP PV and Solar Thermal Installer certifications definitely opened doors for me; I received multiple job offers because of my NABCEP Certifications.

“After three years volunteering as a Director with the Georgia Solar Energy Association (GSEA), lobbying state and federal politicians on environmental issues, I realized there was a need for competent installation training, and there was no training facility in Georgia.

“It became clear that the solar installation industry needed a way to recognize experienced installers, and I shared NABCEP’s core purpose of maintaining high industry standards. I sat for my first certification, NABCEP PV Installer exam, and since then I have consistently advocated for NABCEP Certifications to all my students.

“In 2005 I transitioned the company to solar training exclusively, and it’s now my full time occupation. Approximately 50% of the people installing in the state have taken Solairgen training, and many of them have gone on to become NABCEP certified professionals. Today, many entities in the state, such as Georgia Electrical Membership Companies (EMCs), recommend or require installations to be performed by NABCEP certified contractors.

“My NABCEP Certifications tell customers I have achieved high-level skills, and lets them know I didn’t get into this yesterday. NABCEP Certification distinguishes individuals within the industry.

“I went for the PV Technical Sales Rep certification because students needed to be confident I have expertise in the subject I’m teaching, and I needed to know what the test was like.

“My customers respond positively because they understand NABCEP is the best example of self-regulation within the industry. I support it 100%. My students know what NABCEP Certification means to their careers; most are on track to become NABCEP Certified Installers or PV Technical Sales Reps.

“I will definitely be re-certifying when the time to do so comes up.”

 

Solar power plant - Clean energy in Spain

Solairgen Announces PV-221 Advanced Design and Analysis Training


Solairgen, a leading national solar PV installation training organization is pleased to announce its new solar training class, PV-221 Online Advanced Design and Analysis.

Dahlonega, Georgia (Vocus/PRWEB)February 04, 2011 — Solairgen’s Online PV-221 Advanced installer training class covers PV system performance analysis, in-depth troubleshooting, and system integration. It provides the student with a thorough understanding of advanced PV system technology, giving the PV designer an understanding of all parameters affecting a system’s performance. The class provides its students with the ability to design larger arrays, or commercial systems, with competence.

Mr. Kelly Provence, Solairgen’s CEO, said, “We are excited about offering PV-221 online. Our goal is not just to bring skilled career individuals into the solar market through our introductory training class, PV201 Online Design and Installation. We saw a gap in training, between introductory classes and those individuals who want to include solar installations in their long-term career path. We bridge that gap by providing students with superior skills as PV system designers. Our students get in the industry, stay in the industry, and achieve a greater degree of expertise for larger, more complex commercial system design and installation.”

About Solairgen:
Solairgen provides photovoltaic (PV) panel installation training classes for the solar energy industry through a complete program of NABCEP approved installation training courses, beginning with its IREC/ISPQ Accredited PV-201 Online Design and Installation training. Next, Solairgen’s PV-203 is an advanced, forty hour solar training class covering advanced topics of solar installation.  Additional classes offered by Solairgen are PV-311, NABCEP Exam Prep – an intensive study class to help students pass the NABCEP Certification Exams. Solairgen is also an approved provider of the NABCEP Entry Level Achievement Exam, and provides NABCEP approved classes that meet NABCEP’s training requirements for the PV Technical Sales Exam and the Certified PV Installer Exam.

Taking Solairgen’s full program, PV-203 System Design and Installation, PV-221 Advanced Design and Analysis and PV-311 NABCEP Exam Prep prepares students to pass the NABCEP Certified PV Installer or PV Technical Sales Certification exams – and to excel in the solar industry.

Please check Solairgen’s website for training class dates and times by following the link: Solar Training Classes

Tiles photovoltaic installation

Five Things You Should Look For In A Solar Training Course

As time goes on, more and more people are starting to look for alternative means of power for their homes. Some consumers are simply tired of the rising costs of energy, some are driven by a desire to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet – almost all are motivated by both reasons.

Solar panel installation is growing in popularity as a career and the job market for technicians with solar training certification is growing along with it. So, the proper training, from introductory classes to advanced education and career preparation is critical for a successful career. Does anyone really want an installer without the best training and expertise to tie new technology into their home’s power grid without specialized training?

Since now is a great time to get into the Solar Energy market, here are the minimum criteria to look for from a training provider to get the best possible training in the industry:

1. Research the training provider and their classes. All Solar Training courses should be fully accredited by IREC/ISPQ.

2. The class you choose should provide students with hands-on training at an IREC accredited training facility.

3. The instructors should have many years of experience in Solar Panel Installation, and be NABCEP Certified Installers themselves.

4. The training company should have a good reputation. If possible, get references from those who took their classes and have “made it” in the solar energy industry.

5. The company should have a long history of training technicians and installers, and be well known within the solar training industry.

If they meet all five tests, then you will have found a Solar Training provider that you can trust.

You should check your state’s laws for contractors’ requirements. Some states have specific laws or certification requirements for solar power installers to meet. Most states require the participation of a fully licensed electrician during the installation process.

Woman Installing

NABCEP and IREC

What are NABCEP and IREC?

IREC Logo Training Provider-smIf you have been looking into Solar Panel Installation Training, then you have probably heard of NABCEP and IREC, but have no idea who they are, or what they mean to your training. Essentially, they are the regulatory bodies who make sure solar power technicians, and solar training companies, have received the certification or accreditation they need to provide their customers with quality installation service and expert training.

NABCEP Entry Level Exam Final 8 24 09NABCEP – the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners – sets the skill level and background experience a technician will need in order to receive national certification in Solar Panel Installation. The certifications offered are for solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels and wind energy installers. To receive Solar Training Certification, you must attend Solar Classes provided by an accredited Solar Training Provider. It involves a minimum number of training hours and course work in your chosen solar installation field, and you must pass the Solar Training Certification Exam provided by NABCEP. Once you have that you are ready to start your career at the highest level – a NABCEP Certified Installation technician or Certified PV Technical Sales professional.

Master PV Trainer LogoIREC stands for Interstate Renewable Energy Council and is similar to NABCEP, but where NABCEP sets the standards for individual technicians, IREC sets the standards for Solar Training companies. ISPQ is the nation’s highest accreditation for renewable energy training providers and it is awarded through IREC. IREC sends their auditors to the facilities that provide solar classes and solar training in order to observe and approve everything about the company and the training program – from a company’s financial fitness, to the quality of their curriculum. They also ensure that the teachers have the knowledge and experience they need to provide state-of-the-art training. Once the IREC auditors have completed the quality assessments, they submit their reports to the ISPQ board for approval. Accreditation is awarded when the ISPQ board approves the reports.

NABCEP LogoNABCEP and IREC were formed to make sure the solar classes and solar training offered to the public are of the highest national quality. If you are about to start your training for a career in solar power then you should be aware of these two organizations.  Make sure any Solar Classes you take are offered by a provider with IREC Accreditation. Any Solar Training you receive should be approved by NABCEP to qualify you to take the Solar Training Certification exam. Once solar power becomes more widespread, national certification will be even more important to your career. Consumers are rapidly becoming knowledgeable about solar energy and will want technicians with a nationally recognized Solar Training Certification.

This article was written by Tom Johnson with Click Ready Marketing on the behalf of Solairgen.

Visit Solairgen and learn more about solar energy training by following the link: SOLAR CLASSES