Residential Solar PV Ground Mount System

Starting a Solar PV Installation Company

Like any new adventure, starting a solar PV design and installation company seems simple at first and then as you learn more about it, the more complicated it gets. If you are already a construction contractor, it is a lot easier to see where you are going; if not, it can be a difficult undertaking.

The first major obstacle to overcome is knowledge about the solar PV industry. Most people start by browsing the internet. There is an almost endless abundance of material to be found when you start your search. As with all internet searches, some of the information is good, some bad and some has nothing to do with what you really need to know.

Costs are a major consideration. The initial investments can be high. You must purchase the necessary equipment and tools to get the job done. You will learn which tools are essential when you are taking the training classes. The basic tools can start as low as $1000 and go up considerably depending on the scale of solar PV systems you plan to install.

It isn’t a bad idea to work for someone else for a while so you can learn the ropes under the supervision of someone who has already gone through this process; this is a good idea if you are not already a contractor. Even if you are a licensed contractor, it can be a good idea to sub-contract the first few installations to an experienced solar contractor. You can learn a lot from this method even if you only break even on the jobs.

I recommend finding an accredited school that offers an introductory course to PV design and installation. Some state technical colleges have solar PV included in their electrical programs but most do not. The best source of education in this field is a school that is accredited specifically for the solar PV technology through the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). If the school is not accredited, don’t waste your time with them. Taking this entry level course should provide you with enough information about the industry so you can determine if you want to continue, and in which direction you will want to go next.

Once you have completed the basic solar PV course, the next steps will be more obvious to you. If you are a contractor, you are already registered with the city or county as a contractor. If not, you can get a business license with the city or county where you plan to do business; it is a simple process and the fees are usually nominal. Once you have your business license, you can apply to one of the many distributors who sell all the solar products you will need. Not all distributors require you to have a business license to purchase from them, but the better ones do.

Most states require that you or someone within your company be licensed through the state for the type of work you will be providing to the customer. A licensed general contractor meets the requirements, but you will need to hire a licensed electrical contractor before the installation begins. If the owner of the business is not a licensed contractor, either general or electrical, they must meet the state requirements by hiring a licensed contractor. Most states require this license holder to be a permanent employee, not a subcontractor.

Now that the local and state license requirements have been met, you should consider insurance options and requirements. If you hire employees, worker’s compensation is required by law. If everyone who works in the company is a partner, it is not required. However, if you sub-contract under another contractor, they will require it even if it doesn’t cover you.  Liability insurance is also a good idea and is required by most customers. The amount of liability insurance should be balanced with your actual liability if something should go wrong on one of your jobs. However, some commercial contracts will specify the minimum amount of liability insurance.

If you have gotten this far, you will want to advance your knowledge with solar PV system design. If you are a contractor, you know that there are two ways to learn advanced principles, through formal education and by making mistakes. I recommend formal education to lessen mistakes. There are two primary sources for advanced level training; they include advanced online and hands-on courses offered by IREC accredited schools and manufacturer’s training resources.

Manufacturer’s provide design and installation videos and webinars for their products alone, ignoring other products on the market. They often combine the sales aspect with the technical design during webinars and a lot of their installation videos are very educational but, limited to their own best interests.

The quickest and best way to get comprehensive advanced training of design and installation principles is by taking advanced level courses from an IREC accredited school. The benefit is they are impartial when it comes to the market products, so your education is broader which will build your confidence and abilities for when you are on your own.

Your first installation is the point where the risks jump to a high level so make it easy on yourself and first do an installation on your own property or the property of an associate. You are bound to make a few mistakes with the first few installations, so it is a good idea to keep the stress and liability as low as possible in the very beginning.

In review, first estimate the financial investment to get started, second educate yourself on the basics of solar PV design and installation, third get a local business license, fourth address the state contracting license requirements, fifth secure your insurance needs, sixth get advanced level training and experience on solar PV systems and finally acquire the necessary tools and equipment to properly perform the job.

Kelly Provence
Solairgen School of Solar Technology

 

Jobs in the Solar PV Industry

Image of Solar Installer on Roof of a Virginia HomeThe solar workforce in the U.S. has grown by over 160% since 2010 for a little over 93,000 to well over 250,000. Solar accounts for less than 2% of all electrical energy generation in the U.S. However, the solar industry employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and about the same number as the natural gas industry.

The largest sector of jobs is in installation of the PV equipment and systems at 51%. The second largest sector is in manufacturing of equipment and materials at 16%. Project development is third at 14%, sales and distribution is fourth at 12%, and the remaining jobs are in various sectors at 7%.

These figures indicate that the best job opportunities will be in the installation sector and that would be correct. This will require a certain amount of training to make yourself attractive to an employer and the solar industry in general. The most difficult positions for employers to fill are, (1) Sales Professionals, (2) Electricians and (3) Installers. If it is possible to get retrained to fill the roll of one of these professional groups, your prospects for employment are very good.

It may also be possible that your present skill will be attractive to an employer in this industry. Every solar contractor or developer needs workers who possess a variety of skill sets. Aside from developing skills listed in the previous paragraph, here are some job skills that are always be required by some of the personal within each company:

  1. An understanding of IP and computer communication are necessary skills since all solar electronic equipment is now built to communicate within its own network and with the internet.
  2. A proficient understanding of computer programs and the ability to bridge computational and drawing programs with DOE and Google type programs is essential to most solar companies.
  3. Writing and editing skills are always necessary when communication with other people and groups is common; this is an undervalued skill that can can make a big difference in the success of a company.

The best way to get into this industry as an employee or as a contractor is to first look at the skills you now possess and see where you would fit in. The next step is to get enough training with solar sales and design to get you started and continue training as you move up the ladder to success.

Kelly Provence
IREC Certified Master PV Trainer
NABCEP Certified Professional PV Installer
Master Electrician

Solairgen School of Solar Training

Solar Training Education and Learning Text

Training for Changes in the Solar PV Industry

Why We Keep Up with Industry Changes

There is no argument that the only constant in the world seems to be change. This is even truer for the solar industry as changes in the solar market happen fast. The only constant appears to be the solar resource itself, our sun.

Training courses must be updated regularly to meet those industry changes and to prepare students who are either just entering the solar business or professionals who are currently working in it. Solairgen is constantly editing its courses for these changes. When necessary, we’ve been known to completely rewrite courses to address industry changes due to product innovations, code changes, regulated utility interconnection requirements, and rapid industry growth.

Here are the most recent changes to our training curriculum:

PV301 NABCEP Associate Installer Credential Exam Prep:
Recently we added a NABCEP Associate Credential exam prep course to follow our PV201 Introduction to PV Design and Installation online course.  PV301 is free to our PV201 students and costs just $185 for anyone who has not taken PV201, but has met the training prerequisite to sit for the Associate Credential exam but needs exam prep study material.

PV202 Solar PV Technical Design
Our online PV202 course now focuses on the technical design aspects of residential, commercial and energy storage systems. It is the next step for designers and installers after completing PV201.

PV210 PV Sales and Cost Analysis
We have introduced a new course, PV210 PV Sales and Cost Analysis that focuses on training students to focus on the marketing aspects of solar: identifying the solar customer and their energy needs, system costs and financing methods, the value of the investment, environmental impacts and proposal writing.

PV221 – PV224 Advanced Online Series
The advanced training workshop and advanced online series have been updated to address new solar products and changes to the NEC codes. These courses include PV221 PV System and the NEC, PV222 Interactive PV System Configuration, PV223 PV Maintenance and Troubleshooting and PV224 Energy Storage PV System Configuration.

Solar is growing faster than any other energy industry so change means growth, and we believe you will enjoy being a part of it. The changes happening today are exciting innovations that make the solar industry stronger and our training produces strong professionals in the field.

Kelly Provence
IREC Certified Master PV Trainer
Solairgen School of Solar Training

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About Solairgen

IREC Logo Training ProviderSolairgen was the first privately held solar training class company in the eastern U.S. Our IREC Accredited solar training programs continue to provide students with the highest quality learning experience through state-of-the-art distance learning, classroom and workshops, and equipment used in our training programs. We offer complete, nationally accredited, online training and PV installation workshop programs for solar PV design and installation, as well as IREC Accredited online training for PV Sales and Design (Technical Sales).

Our online classes can be taken anywhere there is internet, but students come from all 50 United States to participate in our hands-on workshop, PV203 System Design and Installation. Many students come from outside the U.S. such as the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Eastern countries including India, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Solairgen prepares you for a career in solar installation, and can lead you to national certification as a PV Installation Professional and/or a PV Technical Sales/Business Professional. Students may begin their training with our online PV201 then advance their training and knowledge with PV203 System Design and Installation, PV-221 Advanced online training, then prepare for industry certification in our NABCEP PV Installer and PV Technical Sales Exam Preparation classes. Please see our Home page for more information about our comprehensive career training classes program – or call if you have any questions. We’ll be happy to talk to you about your career plans: 706-867-0678 or 800-262-7560.