Many solar professionals worry right now that the Trump administration may impose tariffs on solar panels from China, a move that would increase the costs of doing business in the US and spark layoffs in the industry.
However, if you can get solar smart, you can become recession-proof and boost your income, says Dr. Sean White, instructor of HeatSpring’s Solar PV Installer Camp, 40-Hour Advanced Solar PV Installer Training, and others. He was the 2014 Interstate Renewable Energy Council Trainer of the Year and is an ISPQ Certified Solar PV Master Trainer. He is also the author of several solar energy books.
Getting solar smart is all about becoming educated, and taking NABCEP exams, which are the most respected solar exams internationally. With the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification under your belt, you’re likely to double your income, he says. That’s because you set yourself apart and become more valuable to solar companies, says White, who recently was asked to help NABCEP create the design portion of its resource guide.
“NABCEP is known for being the premiere certification globally. It’s world famous. People in the industry are impressed by the fact you took the class. Within a year of passing the NABCEP exam, most people double their salary,” says White.
The options for educating yourself and taking NABCEP exams include White’s NABCEP 40-hour course, which prepares you for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification exam. In the past, NABCEP offered the exam twice a year, but it’s now possible to take it anytime at the Castle Worldwide Testing Centers in the US and Canada.
For the first time, on Jan. 3, NABCEP will begin offering a PVIP exam that is both based on the 2017 National Electric Code and is computer-based. The paper-and-pencil version of the 2017 NEC-based exam will be available in April.
However, if you are new to the solar industry, you should start with the Solar PV installer Boot Camp course that prepares you to pass the NABCEP PV Associate exam.
Recently, NABCEP began offering the PV Associate exam to students internationally, and one of the first international students to study for it was a student of White’s who took the exam in Columbia.
“Our first may have been the first in the world,” says White.
In the Boot Camp course, you study introductory solar PV installation and design principles and practices that are the focus of the NABCEP PV Associate exam.
You can bundle the Boot Camp and courses and save some money by registering for the 58-hour NABCEP Advanced Solar PV Training Series.
Before you take such courses and their exams, you might be a worker “on the roof with a wrench” installing systems, says White. After you gain NABCEP certification, you’ll likely make the transition from a solar installer to a higher paying job–a system designer, for example, White says.
Many people enter the field as solar installers and fail to educate themselves so they can move up to jobs with higher pay. That’s because the industry is growing so quickly that many don’t take the time to enroll in classes.
“This industry has so many people who are super busy and there’s a shortage of brains,” says White. “To make real money, they need to be able to use their brains. Once they take the time to educate themselves, they can make a whole lot more money.”
People who enroll in White’s courses come from all over the world. They include solar installers, engineers, architects, and electricians.
Electricians take the exam because they want to learn about the latest in solar energy and how it works. “For a lot of people who are electricians and engineers, these types of courses are easy for them, and they move up their game,” says White.
A typical student is a solar project manager from Hawaii who recently took the course. “He has been doing project management, is good at it, and knows how to work the crews. But he wants to up his game and get a raise and support his family better,” White says.
Internationally, the students in this class are often trying to start up solar businesses. They may have business degrees, but want to learn more about solar energy. “They aren’t technical people but want to run a business. They have to understand how this stuff works,” says White.
As an instructor, White helps all these students up their game by ensuring he answers all questions. This is what sets his courses apart from similar courses, he says. He responds to questions quickly, giving a lot of detail.
For example, last month White answered questions from students in Dubai and the Philippines. He also answered numerous questions from an airplane in order to respond quickly, he says. Students may ask National Electric Code questions, or request information about system sizing and design. Those who are preparing to take the exam tend to panic, and he works to assuage their worries and direct them to resources that help them study.
In addition, White personalizes the course. At the beginning of the class, he asks students to introduce themselves and describe what they’d like to learn and ensures his course addresses those requests. If the students in a class as a whole have a unique makeup, he tailors the course to meet their needs and interests. What’s more, he includes information that students don’t need to learn in order to pass the exam, but which will likely interest them. For example, the course includes information on how to model PV systems using various software systems.
Often, students expect that the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification exam will focus heavily on the National Electric Code. But that’s not all it covers, says White. “There are many questions that don’t use the National Electric Code. There can be questions about calculating volumes of concrete and converting different units and dimensions—things that will throw people off if they’re not ready for it,” he says. The NABCEP exam is known for being difficult, but it doesn’t include trick questions, says White.
For many people in the industry, enrolling in solar industry courses and taking NABCEP exams aren’t even on their to-do list. That’s because they think they’re not “technical” people. They tell White they can’t learn some of the more detailed information required to take the exams and move up the ranks. This is especially true of women, says White. Only 11 percent of engineers are women, he notes.
Not only are women missing out, says White. Often the CEOs and salespeople in solar companies don’t understand the basics.
“Everyone who does sales should understand these basics. They say things like ‘I’m not good at that, I don’t have the time.’ But it’s worth it if you want to boost your salary.”