Correct Role for National PV Installer Certification

From its inception in 2001, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) has consistently stated that its certification programs are voluntary. However, several state or utility rebate programs (and at least one licensing program) have identified NABCEP certification as an eligibility requirement. According to the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE; dsireusa.org): “For solar installations to be eligible for state rebate funds in Maine, Minnesota or Wisconsin, the PV systems must be installed by a NABCEP certified professional. California, Delaware and Massachusetts prefer or recommend that NABCEP certified professionals install systems receiving rebates. In Utah, NABCEP certification is a prerequisite for qualifying for a state solar contractor license.”

NABCEP performs a valuable role in increasing system integrators’ qualifications, skills and professionalism, while increasing consumer confidence. However, compared to the burgeoning US PV market, the number of NABCEP certified PV installers is still small—912 at press time. There are signs of increasing push back from licensed independent and union electricians who cannot seamlessly participate in incentive markets that require what NABCEP intends to be a voluntary certification. What is the best path forward for NABCEP?

Certification Is Not the Same as Licensure

Jeff Wolfe/ groSolar / White River Junction, VT / groSolar.com

In addition to being the CEO and cofounder of groSolar, I am the photovoltaic division chair at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). SEIA has long recognized the dual roles of industry licensure and certification. These are two separate and important elements of providing safe, quality installations.

Industry certification, be it from NABCEP or other groups, is an important step toward securing the public’s faith in the burgeoning PV industry. It acknowledges those who have sought out and achieved leading skill levels. But certification does not take the place of licensing.

The role of licensure is to enforce regulatory compliance for safety purposes. Qualified installers, for example, may not be bonded and insured, whereas these are common licensing requirements. Licensure balances the needs of the public with the right of the state to impose regulation on all businesspeople.

Lawmakers may make the assumption that certification is interchangeable with licensure. This can lead to poor legislative or administrative requirements, such as preventing trained and licensed personnel who lack certification from installing systems. The solar industry must work with labor representatives and legislative leaders to provide lawmakers with an easily adoptable solution that will ensure safety while simultaneously facilitating the full-scale deployment of solar.

In the interest of expediency, the creation of a specialty license is more appropriate than relying on certification from a single third party. Such specialty licenses, such as the California C-46 license, already exist. These specialty licenses ensure that PV installers are properly trained, while providing multiple pathways to licensure.

NABCEP needs to focus on protecting its trademark by consistently and forcefully fighting any regulation or law that requires NABCEP certification. Its independence coupled with its proven ability to create standards-based testing makes it a clear leader in this area. More tests in more discrete areas of solar will help bring in more specialists. More certifications will help clarify that NABCEP is a certifying, not licensing, body.

Incentive Programs Should Encourage Certification

Steve Wiese / Clean Energy Associates / Austin, TX / cleanenergyassociates.com

Clean Energy Associates is a consulting firm providing services in renewable energy, clean energy policy development and rebate program management. As the founder and principal of the company, I designed and now manage the solar incentive programs offered by six investor-owned electric utilities in Texas. Together these offer approximately $19 million in incentives for PV installations. Previously, I managed New Jersey’s innovative SREC-Only Pilot Program, that state’s principal vehicle for the development of commercial scale solar projects.

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