Richard Lawrence, NABCEP: Page 2 of 3

Advancing Certification and Standards for Solar Professionals

SP: NABCEP is holding its fifth annual Continuing Education Conference in San Diego April 4–6, 2016. Do you have to be NABCEP Certified to attend this event?

RL: While the primary purpose of the conference is to provide current NABCEP-certified professionals with an opportunity to get all of the training they need to recertify, the annual NABCEP Continuing Education Conference is also a great event for skilled PV professionals who are not yet certified. All the sessions are geared for people who have significant PV experience, so we do have some requirements for who can attend. The majority of attendees are NABCEP certified, and this creates a unique and much anticipated event for those working every day designing, selling, installing and maintaining PV systems. Attendees enjoy networking with others like them who eat, sleep and breathe PV, and they appreciate the attention the organizers, exhibitors and speakers give to ensure that the activities and content are as relevant as possible to them.

SP: What are some of the new training sessions this year’s event will offer?

RL: The first 2 days of the conference are split between exhibitor technical training sessions in the morning and in-depth special topic panel sessions in the afternoon. The third day has a few all-day options available for really diving into a topic. As always, a select group of exhibitors will be updating participants on their latest products through 90-minute technical sessions. The sessions keep the sales pitch to a minimum and give attendees the opportunity to engage with high-level technical staff. We have a great lineup covering all the major components of residential- and commercial-scale systems, with and without storage.

SP: How are the panel sessions shaping up and what are some of the highlights?

RL: Each year we engage a diverse group of industry experts on a conference planning committee. The main objective is to come up with a short list of the most relevant and interesting topics for the 2-hour panel sessions. Using their input and feedback from last year’s attendees, we’ve arranged 16 of the most timely and focused presentations for PV sales and installation professionals. This year, we’ve focused more on energy storage, larger-scale systems and technical sales, while keeping important sessions on technical challenges and installation best practices.

SP: Is NABCEP getting a good response from vendors for participation in the equipment and services expo?

RL: Yes! We have sold out exhibit space every year so far and fully expect to sell out again. Exhibitor interest is very strong in this event because we put exhibitors in front of the most active, knowledgeable and experienced professionals in the country. Many exhibitors comment on how much more valuable this event is to them than the bigger trade shows are, because everyone they talk with is actually buying and installing product.

SP: According to GTM Research, the two largest national integration firms—SolarCity and Vivint Solar—accounted for 46% of the US residential solar market in the first half of 2015. How does the trend toward increasingly large installation companies impact national certification efforts?

RL: We originally intended the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification for the one person a customer worked with to design, install and maintain a system. As companies grow larger, there’s a natural progression toward more specialization of the workforce. As such, it can now take quite a bit longer for an employee in a larger company to master the breadth of tasks covered in NABCEP’s job task analysis. Those who are able to achieve certification are held in higher regard within these companies and quickly move up the ranks. The needs of the industry have always guided NABCEP’s programs. As the industry evolves, we continue to adjust our programs and develop new credentials to meet stakeholder needs.

SP: Is NABCEP working on any new projects or certifications?

RL: We have a lot of new and exciting initiatives in 2016. First, the board has approved a major update to the NABCEP Entry Level Program. Tens of thousands of people have taken this exam over the past 10 years. It serves to identify those who have mastered the fundamentals of the technology and is a great tool for employers to use in hiring and promoting staff in a wide variety of positions. We will be rebranding the program as the NABCEP Associate, and a new experience-based pathway will allow anyone with 6 months of relevant work experience to qualify for the credential.

We are also just about to launch two new credentials targeting system inspectors, one for PV and one for solar heating. Reports from companies hired to perform comprehensive post-installation system inspections have found that most systems installed today still have code violations after the AHJ has approved them. We hope that these new credentials encourage code officials across the country to learn more about solar and what to look out for when inspecting these systems.

Finally, we will be conducting a major update and revision to the PV Installation Professional job task analysis this year. During this update, we will identify the knowledge and skills associated with the major divisions of system design, installation and maintenance that we see workers specializing in. Doing so will pave the way toward developing new credentials for people performing a portion of the overall job task analysis.

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