Richard Lawrence, NABCEP

Advancing Certification and Standards for Solar Professionals

A group of dedicated volunteers from the renewable energy industry founded the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) as a nonprofit organization in 2002. NABCEP administers the most well-recognized and respected personnel certifications for renewable energy professionals in North America. The organization launched the first Solar PV Installer certification exam (now called PV Installation Professional) in 2003, the first Solar Heating Installer certification in 2006 and the first PV Technical Sales Professional certification in 2011. NABCEP began its Company Accreditation Program in 2012. In the 13 years since NABCEP recognized the first Certified Solar PV Installers, over 3,850 individuals have achieved NABCEP certification and over 28,500 have taken an entry-level exam.

Richard Lawrence is NABCEP’s executive director. He holds an MS in environmental education from Lesley University, where he focused on renewable energy education, training and workforce development. Lawrence joined NABCEP in 2011 as the director of operations and became the executive director in 2013. Previously, he worked for 10 years as a renewable energy educator and advocate with several nonprofit organizations and community colleges throughout the Northeastern US.

SP: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredits NABCEP’s PV Installation Professional and Solar Heating Installer Certifications. Can you explain what that means and elaborate on what is required to achieve and maintain ANSI accreditation for a personnel certification program?

RL: Being ANSI accredited means that we follow international standards and best practices in the development, maintenance and administration of our certification programs. Since 2007, ANSI accreditation has ensured that the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification is in compliance with the ISO/IEC 17024 standard. Independent ANSI assessors regularly review and audit all our policies and procedures regarding certification to ensure that we continue to operate in accordance with this rigorous international standard. The standard has strong emphasis on impartiality, fairness, security, confidentiality, reliability and validity. Anyone can issue a piece of paper saying that someone is certified; operating a certification program in accordance with ISO/IEC 17024 means that the issuer took all the right steps to obtain industry input and validation of the job task analysis [the information essential for understanding what tasks are required on the job and what knowledge, skills and abilities are necessary to carry out those tasks], certification eligibility criteria, examination method and recertification requirements. Ultimately, it means that the certifications we issue are rigorous and well respected by the industry, consumers and other stakeholders.

SP: What is the role of continuing education within a personnel certification program, and what are NABCEP’s specific continuing education requirements?

RL: Solar professionals should view NABCEP certification as a dynamic and ongoing process. One of the requirements of ANSI accreditation is that the certifying body ensures on a regular basis that those with its certification remain competent at performing the job. Those who achieve our certifications must actively perform the job for which we have certified them, and they must regularly update and refresh their knowledge about the profession through continuing education activities. NABCEP accomplishes this with a recertification procedure every 3 years.

Each of our certifications has slightly different requirements for recertification, but all certificants must complete at least 18 hours of relevant training and demonstrate a decision-making role on a minimum number of completed jobs every 3 years. This essentially amounts to a minimum of 1 day of training per year. While dozens of registered training providers offer continuing education opportunities throughout the year, NABCEP designed its annual Continuing Education Conference to provide all 18 hours over a single 3-day period. We move the conference between locations in the east, west and central parts of the country so that at least once every 3 years we hold the event in regions where we have a lot of certified professionals.

SP: What does NABCEP look for when approving a continuing education provider?

RL: We intend our continuing education to keep our certified professionals up to date on the latest codes and standards, technology and industry best practices. Companies or training institutions offering courses for experienced workers related to one of our certification job task analyses can register them for NABCEP CE credits by completing a simple application. Most NABCEP CE providers are product manufacturers offering technical training sessions on their equipment. Taking these types of courses helps ensure that solar professionals have training that is directly related to the actual equipment they are specifying, installing and maintaining for customers.

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