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Becoming A Certified Solar Contractor | What Trainings And Education are Required in 2021

As the world progresses and we become aware of the modern advantages of solar energy, we must also understand the laws that regulate it via proper licensing and certification. These state regulations aim to enable electricians and contractors to adopt ethical practices, as well as protect people from fraudulent and poor work performance.

 

Though certification is usually voluntary, it allows contractors to stand out amongst the competition. It sets an industry standard for many vendors and infuses confidence into potential customers regarding reliability. Therefore, if you're looking to get into the solar contracting business or simply want to certify your current business, you've come to the right place. Continue reading to know how to become a certified solar contractor and its various processes.

Man on roof installing Solar Pool heating system in Orlando

Certification vs Licensing


Before you learn how to become a certified solar contractor, you should first determine whether or not it’s the right decision for you. There are numerous differences between a certificate and a license, and each form of verification has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, in a financial sense, you may prefer certification as it has the advantage of lower installations while providing more consumer choice than required licensing.


On the other hand, state licensing does not transfer outside the state, thus it is geographically restricting.  It works mainly to save customers from potential safety hazards and guarantee that the proper systems and guidelines have been followed. Though licenses and certificates have their disadvantages and benefits, together, they are often considered an industry standard that inevitably leads to higher customer satisfaction.


In the following sections, we talk about the specifics of certification and licensing:


Certification

There are numerous ways to indicate your qualifications as a professional solar contractor. However, the most recognized, by far, is the NABCEP. It is implemented in all workplaces that prioritize quality training and workforce development.


What is NABCEP?

Certification in the United States is run under the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).  It is an independent, nationally renowned, and non-profit certification program for solar heating and photovoltaic installers. Moreover, it is the most widespread form of certification, and acquiring it demands a degree of knowledge and skill.


To receive a NABCEP certificate, practitioners need a certain amount of work experience with documented lessons and installations. There is also a challenging exam that’s followed by an oath to a code of ethics. Lastly, you would also have to continue taking classes to renew your certificate once every three years.

26% Federal Tax Credit on Solar

Licensing

Often more state-mandated than certificates, licensing agreements have been present since the beginning of solar water heating and incentive programs in the 1980s. Over time, more states have pushed for licensing requirements and, currently, a total of 12 states demand licensing from solar contractors.

 

In most states, local governments demand that solar contractors receive a specialized contractor's license, which comes under a general electrical licensing permit. This is because these states categorize solar installation as an added skill for regular contractors, and they consider any licensed contractor to be equipped for a solar specialty license.

 

It's worth noting that this reform can be particularly beneficial for contractors. It allows them to get a solar specialty license and be equipped to install systems without the need for a plumbing or electrical permit. Consequently, contractors who exclusively install solar systems would save a lot on the cost of licensure.

 

State by State Licensing Requirements

Since every state has its respective licensing rules and regulations, the following is a complete rundown of the laws set for most states in America:

  • Alabama: Contractors are required to either have NABCEP certification or SRCC licensing
  • Delaware: A NABCEP license is only needed in rebates
  • Alaska: No requirements for solar contractors
  • Arkansas: No requirements for solar contractors
  • California: You would require the California solar contractors’ license or an A/B general building contractors’ license with an adequate education
  • Arizona: You would need a non-specific agency certification
  • Connecticut: Every business would need at least one licensed contractor with a PV-1 or E-1 license and a NABCEP certification
  • Florida: Only a solar contractor license
  • Georgia:  No state-mandated requirements
  • Idaho: An Idaho photovoltaic license coupled with NABCEP or similar licensing
  • Hawaii:  By obtaining a general contractors’ license, any contractor can also become a solar contractor
  • Indiana: No government-mandated licensing requirement
  • Kansas: No government-mandated licensing requirement
  • Iowa: No government-mandated licensing requirement
  • Massachusetts: Only licensed electricians can become solar contractors
  • Louisiana: Potential licensed contractors must contact the appropriate bodies of power
  • Montana: No government-mandated licensing requirement
  • Michigan: Contractors need to obtain state-specific licensing
  • Nevada: No government-mandated licensing requirement
  • Minnesota: State-mandated licensing requirement
  • Pennsylvania: You would need to receive certification for either IBEW, ISPQ, NECA, NABCEP, or IRED
  • Missouri:  You would require a state license, but certain counties do ask for NABCEP certification
  • New Hampshire: Only licensed electricians are qualified
  • Rhode Island: State-mandated licensing
  • Utah:  You would need a general contractor’s license
  • Wyoming: Only an electrician’s license qualifies
  • New Mexico: A general state-mandated contractor license qualifies
  • Oklahoma: No requirements to become a solar contractor
  • New Jersey: Specifically requires a home improvement license
  • Ohio: Must qualify for an HVAC license or be a state-mandated electrical contractor
  • South Dakota: You need to be a licensed electrician
  • Texas: You need to be a licensed electrician
  • New York: You can get by with either IBEW-NECA training or NABCEP certification
  • Washington: You need to be a licensed electrician
  • Virginia: An alternative energy specialization
Solar paneling in the city

How Do I Become A Solar Contractor?

 

The steps to becoming a solar contractor vary immensely among states. Generally, you'd either need a state-mandated license, some notable form of certification such as the NABCEP, or no specification whatsoever.

 

Complete Guide on How to Become a Certified Solar Installer

 

Now that you know what you may be looking for, you can start learning how to become a certified solar contractor. Next, we cover the various tasks of a certified solar contractor and the general rules you need to be aware of.

 

How to Install a PV Solar System

To install a PV solar system, a contractor must first be able to assess the location of the solar system and determine whether there’s sufficient solar output to harvest energy in the first place.

 

Upon doing so, they would need to get a construction permit, measure, cut, frame, and the type of module required for the home. They would use these to design the layout, with help from knowledge of the house's characteristics and layout features.

 

During installation, contractors should then carry out, with the highest regard to safety regulations, a way to install a solar panel with their given equipment, materials, and knowledge. Within the most solar efficient region on the property, they would install the designated solar panel at a specific angle.

 

Along with this, contractors should determine energy output and input as well. Generally, they need to evaluate the energy consumption for a given home and select the best possible panel accordingly.

 

Maintenance Tasks

For any certified solar contractor, maintenance tasks entail the assembly, implementation, installation, and general servicing for solar arrays. These can be done for all forms of infrastructure, including commercial buildings, schools, homes, or offices.

 

Solar contractors must be aware of wiring, enough to erect the frames that hold the panels at an angle. Though uncommon, by being a certified solar contractor, you may also end up being responsible for megaprojects involving industrial installation.

 

Most importantly, solar contractors uphold maintenance tasks with the utmost responsibility and highest regard for safety. They ensure all installations are done with appropriate grounding while carefully minimizing all possible injuries. Similarly, for more complex projects, they should be willing to work overtime to guarantee a seamless installation.

 

Contractors should pay detailed attention to wiring and have the required experience and knowledge to overcome possible problems. By fulling these requirements, contractors can make sure that homeowners never experience any issues at an installer's expense.

 

Duties of the Solar Photovoltaic Installers

As mentioned earlier, solar installers must possess proper knowledge regarding installation practices, safety regulations, ideal techniques, and current available equipment and products. However, for a more in-depth description, the following are all of the required duties of a Solar Photovoltaic Installer:

  • Undergo frequent maintenance checks
  • Overhead the connections to the electrical grid
  • Be able to install and test the PV system
  • Accurately determine settings based on consumer preferences and environment
  • Overhead the assembly, cutting, and use of appropriate PV paneling
  • Ensure weatherproofing and water sealing on all solar panels and equipment
  • Diligently follow all state rules and regulations involving the installation of solar panels
  • Terminating, labeling, and installing electrical wiring swiftly and efficiently
  • Assess the installation site and determine any potential hazards that could affect the solar system

26% Federal Tax Credit on Solar

How Long Does It Take To Become A Solar Technician?

Depending on the type of training you undergo, it could take you up to a year to be certified, with a one-month minimum duration. Training often includes everything you'd need for the job, such as awareness of safety precautions, on-site maintenance, energy-efficient installment, and similar PV system installment techniques.

 

Where to Get the Training to Become a Licensed or Certified Solar Installer

Now that you know all the different ways you can become a solar contractor and the various tasks you’d have to do, it’s time to cover where you can undergo the required testing or training. However, since every state has respective policies, the requirements can vary immensely.

 

There are multiple paths to becoming a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer, or PV installer. These workers typically need a high school diploma, but some take courses at a technical school or community college; they also receive on-the-job training lasting up to 1 year.

 

Even so, we have provided some information on the certification and licensing programs in the sections below:

 

Training Programs

There are numerous places you can learn how to become a certified contractor. Although, one of the most renowned centers to get training in solar installment is from the Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) funding program.

 

As aptly described on the STEP homepage, “the Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) funding program tackles soft costs by addressing gaps in solar training and energy education, both within the solar workforce and in professionals that play a crucial role in solar deployment.” (Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP), n.d.)

 

They have a vital role in solar deployment, as they encourage all current SunShot training programs such as the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment and Solar Ready Vets.  Their goals include teaching engineering students how to add renewable energy directly to the grid, encouraging solar instructors to work closely with solar employers, and helping veterans stay connected to training institutions.

 

The STEP program helps potential solar contractors become closely tied to indirect and direct fields of interest.  Whether it's finance, real estate, state regulations, or insurance, STEP will guide you through all the required training and resources.

 

Licensing Programs

To become a professional solar contractor in some states, you'd need to take a state-accepted exam to get your license. Depending on the training program you opt for, they would inform you of the exam you'd need to take and any related information, involving practice exams and training.

In-House Training

 

Since several states change their standards regularly or don’t currently require any form of licensing, in-state companies may gladly step up to provide required training instead.  To satisfy their customers, these companies work to personally ensure their quality standard is met by all employees.

 

Ideally, it's perfect for contractors in states with no requirements and serves as a short-term solution to get experience and training. However, it's worth noting that, for future instances, this training may not transfer universally. In these cases, you may choose to get a certificate or license instead.

 

NABCEP Training

Though not mentioned earlier, you can also get training directly from the official NABCEP site. They offer a variety of courses with free training programs for educational purposes. Resultantly, since the NABCEP is a nationally recognized certification, you should ideally begin your training here and then expand outwards, depending on your preference.

How Long Does Solar Energy Technician Training Take?


Training can vary immensely depending on numerous factors. Most importantly, the type of training you undergo determines the timeframe. Following are a few examples of general course timelines to give you a basic idea.


Training Programs by Local Companies

When companies have in-house training programs, the time can vary immensely depending on the company’s preferences and quality standards. However, most likely, they'd want you to start working as quickly as possible. So, they would probably provide a series of advanced but compact courses.

As a result, you could expect your courses to be wrapped up in about two to six weeks. Keep in mind that the training should cover a lot of hands-on training with numerous lessons, readings, exams, and ample preparation time.


General Programs

Various general courses cover solar installation programs. They usually include an array of online lessons, certification programs, and similar training resources.

Generally, they provide a rough idea of the required knowledge and only last about eighteen to twenty-five hours. Since they're conventionally thought of as quick and effective ways to learn the specifics, you can expect extensive studying and shorter class duration in these programs. Ideally, they're the perfect choice if you're on a deadline for a job interview or start date.


Advanced Programs

Most advanced courses are those that include several hours of online training and hands-on experience. Resultantly, you should expect them to last about forty to a hundred hours of online or in-person training, with extensive lessons for an active experience. Coupled with that, you can have about forty hours for advanced contract hours with additional exam preparation time.

Solar Pool heating panels in Orlando

How Do I Become a Solar EPC Contractor?

 

The requirements for becoming a solar EPC contractor can fluctuate depending on the state. Usually, you can expect some form of testing or evaluation; even in states with no requirements, you need to undergo in-house testing and training. But conventionally, employers expect some electrical engineering education with hands-on experience for solar EPC installment.

 

How long is a License Valid?

 

In general, you'd constantly be learning even after becoming a licensed contractor. However, commonly, you'd have to renew your license every three years, but this varies a little depending on the licensed program you studied from.

 

Conclusion

Depending on where you live, you can learn how to become a certified solar contractor in either a couple of weeks or several months. Ultimately, it all comes down to how extensive your certification program is and how much you already know about electrical engineering.

 

Though not required in every state, becoming a certified solar contractor will add to your resume and work experience. Getting a renowned certification such as the NABCEP, whether it's required by the state or not, would help show potential customers that you're committed to the cause and are well-equipped for the job.

 

References

Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP). (n.d.). Retrieved from Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-training-and-education-professionals-step