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Sunday, April 12th, 2009
I am investigating whether or not to pursue a CEM certification. Based on your experience, has it been worthwhile for you? Has it helped in obtaining more business/work?
Any other thoughts you have on the subject would be greatly appreciated.
As you know by now but for the benefit of other readers, the National Association of Energy Engineers has been a long standing national association of professionals in the energy field. Most members started back in the 80’s when there was lots of interest in making buildings more energy efficient, and there was lots of new energy reduction technology coming into the marketplace. Many of us were involved with energy reduction studies for schools, hospitals, and government facilities as there was state and federal matching grants available to pay for this type field investigations.
After most of this funding ended, there was a slow-down in this type energy work, then the rapid rise in oil, natural gas, and electric rates over the past few years resulted in another increase in the demand for this type of engineering work. Mix in the recent interest in solar and there should be even more interest in energy reduction. I am amazed that I can go into a brand new building and see the same low efficiency HVAC systems, appliances, and construction materials that I was recommending for replacement 25 years ago to improve energy performance.
The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) has a great convention each year where you can see all of the latest technology and energy saving ideas, and you do not have to be an engineer to be a member. However, they have several different certification programs that require the completion of all day exams plus proof that your work experience is energy-reduction related, and a technical degree would be helpful unless you have many years of experience already.
As for your own case that will be for you to decide, but most energy related studies and projects that are funded by state or federal funds will require you to have some type of nationally recognized certification. In addition, there are many LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects now being built and this program requires the work to include the services of an energy professional to review the proposed plans and provide construction review related to energy efficiency, which you would qualify to assist. The AEE offers a “Green Building Engineer” certification to go along with their Certified Energy Manager (CEM) and other specialized certifications, and I feel like anything we each do to improve our knowledge and training as we go through our careers can only help.
I had a friend in school who was working on his 4th degree while I was still struggling with one. I asked him why he had so many different degrees and he said, “so when the man asks me can you, I want to be able to say yes”.
Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
I, with my small team, am designing a solar system for our senior engineering project. We are all electrical and electronics major students at Oklahoma Christian University. I was researching online for all the information I could find for the project and I came across your website. I could see you have a lot of experience regarding this topic so I wanted to ask you few questions. My questions are:
1. What are the basic problems that people get into while building a solar system?
2. Since we are doing an engineering project, we don’t want it to be just something we bought the parts for and installed. We want some features and some engineering stuff that other people can see. So, is there anything you can suggest for our team that we can work on as engineers and not just installation guys. May be some common problems people face that we can solve.
3. Also since we have a tight budget, can you give us an idea how we can minimize the budget. I mean is it better to buy all the required parts from a single seller or shop around for cheap parts individually.
Thank you very much for your advice.
Sounds like you guys are moving in the right direction for these changing times.
1. Most newbie installers think this stuff is “plug and play” and many systems are, if you understand wire sizing, the National Electric Code, and a hundred other design issues that can bite you if the selected “plug and play” equipment was not what your design needed. Many things in this life that look easy are usually not as they seem. I see and hear people everyday saying in press releases that solar is easy to install without any special training, and I assure you these are the people who will burn down somebody’s home someday. There are no short cuts, if you want to design and size solar systems, you must learn the basics and the code.
2. The solar industry is still young and there are many new discoveries yet to be made. There are still problems with battery life and battery loss of water; we need solar mounting systems that are easier to install and adjust for different module sizes and roof types; we need field equipment that makes it easy to test a new solar array and related wiring safety and ground faults; and I am sure there are many more. You might send some type of easy to reply to questionnaire to many in the field for their suggestions. I would start with the certified installers, listed with NABCEP.
3. We run into people all the time looking for the lowest prices and buying from different suppliers. But this is not like finding what website has the lowest price. What would a car look like if you ordered all the individual parts from different auto parts stores then tried to put it together? Many of these components are available with different voltage and amp ratings, different style connectors, different control protocols, and different features that do not allow you to just select all these separate parts and plug them together. Buying everything from the same supplier will make it easier for them to match up these features and a larger order size will reduce the total system cost.
Sunday, March 1st, 2009
I am a junior in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kentucky and I am very interested in alternative energy and energy conservation. Do you have any suggestions for pursuing a career in alternative energy? Are there any companies you know of that might be useful for me to intern with in order to learn more about the industry?
I can give you some career advice based on almost 45 years of energy education and work experience, but in the end, of course, you will have to forge your own path.
I see 3 basic career paths for you to head down at this point for you to get more involved with solar energy.
1. Based on your engineering education, you could pass the EIT exams when you graduate, and go to work for an engineering or architectural-engineering firm to get your 4 years of engineering work experience, then pass the PE exams. Hopefully the firm you select already is involved in designing LEEDS certified facilities, low energy facilities, or solar related projects. Of course you will be entry level and may have to work on other projects or parts of projects until you get your PE license, then you can move on to a firm better suited to what you want to do or even start your own design firm.
2. After graduation, you could take the non-professional engineer route and look for a job in technical sales, with a firm that is involved with solar. Since many sales people are non-technical, your knowledge base will be a great asset and since sales positions are paid more on the basis of sales performance, its usually easier to enter this field. After all, no sales, no job. Almost every solar manufacturer I know offers free or very low cost 1 to 3 day courses on their products in hopes of selling more solar hardware to the design and installer community. This would be a target rich environment for someone with your education wanting to enter the solar field, and would be the easiest route if you are good with people skills. As you gain experience you can move into other areas of the solar field that does not involve sales if desired.
3. If you REALLY want to learn everything about solar fast and get into the field, leave your mechanical engineering education behind and go to work for an electrician, solar installer, of electrical contractor at little pay but you will really learn the business. If you can get someone to hire you as a go-fer or anything just to get in the door, brush up on the National Electric Code and get your Journeyman’s electricians license. After about 2 years of installer experience you can apply for NABCEP certification. This is a really hard test, but this will open the doors for you with thousands of installers and solar firms all over the US. From here you could stay in installation but have your own crew, or stay in solar sales, or go into management of a solar firm, the sky’s the limit, but learning electrical design and NEC codes will do more for you than a Mechanical Engineering education. I know, I was a professional licensed mechanical engineer with about 15 years of mechanical design experience, holder of 6 patents, a certified energy manager, and a long list of other certifications. However, until I got my electricians license then passed the NABCEP exams I was still an outsider in the field. Now I work on the projects I choose, with the clients I choose, with the people I choose, and I enjoy it!
Good Luck, and let us know after a few years how things are going for you,
Saturday, December 27th, 2008
How can I become a CEM?
I am particularly interested in the broad area of Sustainable Energy & Refrigerants for Heating, Cooling and Refrigeration. On the Energy side I want to explore the application of Solar Systems to power residential and commercial HVACR appliances. I have been working in the HVACR industry for over 6 years and would like to acquire the specific knowledge and necessary certification in Sustainable Energy to broaden my skillset and marketability in this exciting and developing industry. If you don’t mind I would greatly appreciate your guidance on how to do this and I have the following questions for you:
1. What are the certification requirements to become a Sales Engineer/Marketer of Solar Systems?
2. Where can I access accredited training courses?
3. On completion of the required training & certification which are some of the companies that I could target for business opportunities preferably in Sales, Technical Training, Management Consulting and even starting a Small Business in sales, installations and servicing Solar Systems.
4. On the commercial Refrigeration side I have a solar concept that I would like to explore and am looking for an organization that has the facilitiy, resources and might be interested in working on developing and testing the prototypes that could be taken to a few Commercial clients that would be interested in this type of innovation.
Thanks and looking forward to hear from you.
There are two areas of interest, and both will really pick up after the new solar energy credits take effect after Dec 31, 2008.
If you are interested in Solar hot water heating it sounds like you already have a good background in this field which is more plumbing related. Skills would include all types of plumbing and piping related products for domestic hot water.
Some community trade schools offer adult classes in plumbing and electrical fields, and this may be a good place to start.
If you are interested in solar electric, then I suggest getting in with a local electrician and learning more about wiring by helping out and start studying for the state electricians license.
Regardless of which path you choose, the best certification you can earn in the solar field is to be a NABCEP certified installer, and they offer an entry level certification. This requires both testing and field experience, which you can only get by working under someone who can provide work experience.
Review the NABCEP site for more information.
Saturday, September 20th, 2008
I am really wanting to learn how to install solar power in houses. But it is so hard to find a a place that teaches it besides going to one out of state. Do you know of any in Kentucky?
There are several solar related groups in Kentucky. Follow this link for several solar training programs scheduled for your area during the next several months. (2008)
Monday, September 15th, 2008
A fellow co-worker introduced me to one of your articles. I am totally hooked!
I am an older C.Engr. undergraduate student in Texas.
Qstn 1: Would you have a reading list that you think would be a good start to self-educate myself on solar installations.
Qstn 2: What advice can you give me on how I might connect up with an installer to “hang-out” with them for a Summer? I’d like to be part of a project for hands-on experience.
Thanks for the inspiration!!!
Glad you like the articles. My book is now out of print but you can still find a few copies on Amazon. There are a couple of solar books listed on the Backwoods Home Bookstore that I reviewed for the magazine and can recommend.
There are a few solar installers in Texas you might hook up with. Check the NABCEP website for certified solar installers listed by state. Any NABCEP certified installer has had to have years of experience plus take a very difficult certification test and will really know what they are doing. Learn for the best if you are interested in the field regardless of age.
Saturday, August 2nd, 2008
I’ve been reading Backwoods Home for a while now, and I really dig the information and ideas you guys have for alternative energy. I’ve seen solar energy put to use in war machines over the last few years, and when I’m out of the Army, I’d like to help put alternative energy to some GOOD use.
Where and how does one go about getting himself into the alternative energy industry? What college degree should one pursue? What schools (preferably in Colorado / online) have useful programs?
I’ve got a lot of college cash waiting to be put to good use. I’d sure like to spend it on something besides operating MIL-SPEC spacecraft and fighting wars for non-Libertarian candidates. I’ve done both for my entire adult life, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Thanks for your time,
You are really in luck. Colorado is almost the center of solar research in the US, and has a very strong educational program in solar power. The Solar Energy Research Institute is world known and is located right in Golden Calorado. The state also has a very strong non-profit solar educational group with extensive information and resources you can access here:
Good luck and thanks for your service,
Saturday, July 12th, 2008
I’d like to become a certified PV solar installer. What would you recommend to someone like me who dosen’t have any experience (yet)?
Thanks for the question as I am asked this many times in person. The problem with getting into solar is the many different things you need to learn. For example, you need a good understanding of the sun and its movement through the sky, verses solar system mounting arrangements and shading effects. Estimating system loads requires a good understanding of the specific electric loads in a home or business verses their operating hours. Mounting solar modules requires an understanding of wind loads, structural requirements, and sealing roof penetrations. Sizing electrical wiring requires a very strong understanding of basic electricity and power wiring, and the differences between DC and AC wiring. Finally, to avoid burning down houses or electrocuting the occupants, you should really know the national electric code and how to apply it.
Unfortunately, many electricians have this knowledge and installation skills, but have no interest in getting involved with solar projects. I have met electricians who have never installed a battery bank or wired any DC power equipment in their entire lifetime as an electrician, nor have any desire to start. They also usually work only on utility grid connected power panels and do not usually work on wiring systems with capacity limitations.
However, if you install a grid-tie solar power system and intend to legally sell power back to the utility, you will need a licensed electrician to make the final wiring connections into the main house panel, who will certify in writing that the system meets all codes, and warrants the solar hardware installed meets the IEEE dis-connect requirements. In other words, the best path to being a solar installer is first becoming a licensed electrician, then taking the extra courses to become a NABCEP certified solar installer. The NABCEP certification is not easy, and it requires training in all of the subjects I mentioned above.
There are even a few trade schools and 2-year colleges now offering these programs. Being a NAPCEP certified installer is the highest rating I know of for anyone in this business and is your best way to open doors if you are just getting into this business. However, since full certification requires that you have already installed three complete solar systems, you will need to team up and assist someone already in the busiess as a way to gain this experience after completing the “book learning”.
Here is a link to the NAPCEP web site – check it out for more information: http://www.nabcep.org/