The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) has become the primary certification entity for the solar industry and they continue to add more certifications. There is continued debate online about the value of the certifications.
Some states are now requiring NABCEP certification, NOT to pull permits, but to apply for incentives that are as critical as permits to completing a project. You can get more information on incentive programs through:
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)
- Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) Solar Licensing Database
Most solar industry professionals who I’ve spoken with have an opinion about NABCEP certification. Here are some of the comments I’ve collected.
First positive response
“So here is my take on certifications, and this is from someone who used to do software development where you often have to get 5 or 6 different individual certifications before you are certified in a particular development environment.
Why get certified? You do not need to get certified to work in solar, with a few very limited exceptions, so why spend the money or time to do it? To me there are a number of good reasons why someone might want to get certified.
1) Just because you want to. Some people, me included, like to get certified in things just as a part of professional development. It’s a personal recognition that I have achieved a level of professional knowledge and experience.
2) Because many clients and employers want to hire someone who is certified over someone who is not. Why would they? Because then they don’t have to know enough about the subject to evaluate if the person they are hiring has the knowledge and experience to do the work, someone else has already done that evaluation. If you are applying for a job and you have the certification, but your competition does not, you are ahead. I have seen many job postings that list certification as a plus to have, and in this job market anything listed as a plus might as well be a requirement.
3) Certification will make you look more professional to your prospective clients. Having certification badges on your website, business cards, etc. can make you stand out from those who don’t.
4) As more people opt to get certified the person who is not will start to stand out more, and not in a good way. So as certification becomes more widespread you have to get certified just to keep up with everyone else.
So, there can be advantages to becoming certified. Which certification you get is another question. There are three major organizations giving out certifications: NABCEP, UL, and one which is so obscure that the certification from them has little value in my opinion. So, which do you choose? When it comes to certifications you want the one that is most often asked for since that will give you the best return on your investment. Right now that is NABCEP, but I would keep an eye on UL to see if they gain speed. The UL certification requires that you already be a licensed electrician, which most solar installers are not, so that is a barrier.
There are also manufacturer certifications on their products you get when you complete their training. How much these are worth again comes down to who is asking for them.
There are private training companies that have their own certifications for completing their courses. While the courses might be good the certifications are not worth too much in my opinion.
Many community colleges have certificate programs. Passing these programs can be a big help in getting that first job in the solar industry or in moving up the career ladder.
Be very glad the solar certifications are not set up the same way they are in the software industry where you might have to get 5 increasingly more specific certifications before you are considered certified in what you want. With each certification costing several hundred dollars to thousands if you take the classes. Some software companies really know how to milk the certification cow.
Disclaimer: I am not NABCEP certified but I do volunteer with NABCEP on occasion. I teach PV at a community college with a PV certificate program. I am somewhere between neutral and a cheerleader for certification.”
Second positive response:
“The solar industry isn’t unique in this regard: People don’t post on electrical forums when things go well, like when they pass a licensing exam or pass an inspection.
There are more than 1,000 NABCEP PV or solar thermal installers; there will be even more when the latest test results are announced. The people who are happy or satisfied have nothing to post about. And the best way to improve NABCEP is to get engaged, like Marvin and other “volunteer heroes.” NABCEP is small non-profit with an important mission, dedicated staff and, most importantly, generous, knowledgeable volunteers. It is not perfect; it has a limited budget; but in the end, it is what the industry makes of it.”
Here are some of the negative responses:
“Worthless. $550 for a 60-question test on safety that’s only available twice a year. Every trade has their certification, but this one was a total waste of my time. Not to mention the way the test is written. It’s intended to confuse you with three right answers and you have to pick the one they want to hear. With that said, I did pass the exam. I just don’t agree with the whole NABCEP organization.”
“NABCEP certification is basically worthless as no AHJ will recognize it. AHJ want things like an Electrical License. You know something that clearly demonstrates you have had a couple of years college credits, 5 to 10 years of documented experience (pay stubs) under apprenticeship of veteran electricians, and pass a state comprehensive exam. Any teenage high school drop out can pass the NABCEP exam by reading the book.”
After looking over these responses, it seems that there are 4 key issues everyone is addressing in different ways in their responses. I think these are useful for individuals and contractors to look into when thinking about applying for the NABCEP.
- Credibility with Clients: Do customers, homeowners, and property owners know about and ask about the NABCEP? Until now, the answer has largely been no. This is mainly attributed to the lack of penetration of the NABCEP. Although there are a thousand or so certified installers, there are plenty of companies and installations happening without the certification. I’d suspect that as the industry gets more mature, customers will become smarter and start to ask about the certification more.
- Pulling Permits: One of the major criticisms of the NABCEP is that is it not technically required or needed to complete a solar job. All you really need is the licenses and proper document to pull a permit. This is true.
- Incentive Programs: While you don’t need the NABCEP to pull permits, there is growing trend that it’s being required to apply for state incentives. As more and more states are creating solar programs they are putting quality control measures into place. They want to make sure that money is being distributed to reputable companies and individuals, and they’re increasingly using the NABCEP as the standard certification.
- Employability: The most positive response for the NABCEP has acknowledge that the general public may not be familiar with the certification but within the industry it is known, trusted, respected, and makes it easier to find employment. If you look at most solar integrators’ job descriptions, you confirm that this is true.
Our take on NABCEP certification is similar to specific products within the solar and geothermal markets, we are agnostic. We follow the market. We will provide what students are asking for and find valuable. When we first started delivering solar training, it was not ISPQ certified for the NABCEP Entry Level Exam. Now it is. Why? Because students were asking about it. If a lot of electricians start asking about the UL Certification, it’s likely we’ll start offering courses toward that as well. In the end, our customers are smart and they’re not going to waste their money. They’re going to invest their money in training and certifications that will help them grow their business.