1. What do you want to do in the solar industry?
If you’re a small or mid-sized business owner running a solar company, you need to know everything, and it’s very likely you’re going to be wearing many hats, similar to any small business. You’ll need to be an incentive expert, understand sales and permitting, and know how to select proper partners for your solar business.
If your goal is to become a project manager, you will probably not be dealing with sales and incentives, but you will need to be familiar with solar code (section 609 NEC), roofing and structural loading of the building, and DC wiring.
If your goal is to use your license to become an installer, you’ll need to be very familiar with solar code and best practices but will never be touching incentives, sales, roof or structural issues.
Understanding what your specific goals are in solar will be critical to making the right decisions about training you will need, and identifying what aspects of the solar industry you lack and need to research.
For the sake of this article, I will be as thorough as possible and will write for those who plan on starting a business or expanding a business into solar as it is the most extensive list.
2. What Electricians Know and Lack about Solar
What electricians know well:
AC Wiring: The one thing that all electricians in the USA are very familiar with is AC wiring. This means that you’ll be very familiar with everything from the inverter into the existing service.
What you’ll need to brush up on:
Structural: The main issue that solar companies need to deal with, that an electrical contractor would not normally have to deal with, is structural loading issues. Other than financing, structural issues with the roof are the main obstacles that stop small and light commercial projects from getting permitted. On occasion, there are residential roofs that will need some reinforcing as well to meet code. If you want to get into solar, you need to find a good structural engineer to work with.
DC Wiring: It is likely you will not be as familiar with DC wiring, particularly with DC combiner boxes and disconnects. There is no specific training to take, and it is something that is typically picked up on the first couple of jobs.
Sales: The main difference between solar and electrical work is that in solar you need to convince the customer to go solar and pick your contracting company. When submitting bids to wire a house, the homeowner will be getting electricity–they just need to pick the contractor they wish to work with. This means that you bid on the job and wait, no real sales skills required. With solar, you must convince the customer to go solar and pick you. This requires more sales skills because typically you need to find customers, visit them, show them the economic value and put a fire in them that makes them want solar.
Incentives Paperwork: Aside from structural and sales, incentives are the third element that sets solar apart from the typical electrical contracting business. Be prepared to become a solar incentive master. You’ll not only need to understand this to sell the job but also to apply for interconnection with the local utility and make sure that you get paid.