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/