The State of the Solar Industry: Page 5 of 9
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North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP at nabcep.org)
Rebekah Hren, NABCEP Board of Directors
Since its founding in 2012, NABCEP has developed and administered the most widely known and respected personnel certifications for the solar and small wind industries. Rebekah Hren started her solar career as a “wrench,” an electrician installing solar. She is a licensed electrical contractor, as well as an instructor and curriculum developer for Solar Energy International (SEI) and a technical consultant for SEI Professional Services. In December 2015, NABCEP appointed Hren to its board of directors.
From your perspective, what were the most notable developments in 2016?
As reported by The Solar Foundation in its 2015 National Solar Jobs Census, the solar industry is already three times larger than the coal mining industry. A development related to solar jobs growth is an increase in training programs targeted specifically to veterans transitioning to careers in the solar industry. For example, the DOE launched the Solar Ready Vets program as a pilot program in 2014, and The Solar Foundation took over the administration of this program in 2016, under the Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) funding program. As a separate initiative, Solar Energy International (SEI) and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), both nonprofit training organizations, received US Department of Veterans Affairs approval for training courses in 2016. Both organizations now offer solar training to transitioning vets through the use of GI Bill education benefits and are actively recruiting vets for solar training.
What initiative is NABCEP prioritizing as we move into 2017?
NABCEP is developing PV Specialty credentials—sometimes called micro-credentials—in design, installation, and commissioning and maintenance. NABCEP has also developed a PV System Inspector credential intended for individuals performing system inspections for AHJs, utilities, incentive programs, investors or others responsible for photovoltaic quality assurance and code compliance.
In May 2016, the US DOE SunShot Initiative awarded NABCEP a $1.1 million cooperative agreement. As one of the DOE STEP awardees, NABCEP has been updating and expanding upon its personnel certification programs to address the changing needs of solar professionals and their employers and stakeholders.
As the industry scales, is the role of certification and training more or less important?
The days of the solar generalist are drawing to a close, and the days of the solar specialist are here. Solar specialists have particular skill sets: financial analysis, sales, legal, PV system design and engineering, construction and project management, performance modeling and analysis, or O&M. However, every solar specialist needs a base upon which to stand, and that base is solid training in PV fundamentals. Certification allows employers to hire educated generalists and confidently invest in more-specialized training and advanced certifications. This is why NABCEP is rolling out specialty credentials, including one for the quickly growing field of solar O&M.
Do you have any advice on how students can qualify training providers, whether to meet NABCEP continuing education requirements or to improve job prospects?
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) sets the bar for accreditation for solar training providers. Always look for IREC-accredited training providers and certified instructors when choosing solar training. Each year, NABCEP holds an industry-leading continuing education conference targeted towards certified PV Installation Professionals. The next conference is scheduled for March 21–23 in Dallas, Texas, and will consist of an excellent mix of industry expert panels, equipment-manufacturer technical trainings and day-long in-depth seminars.