Sean White promises that studying for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional (PVIP) exam with his “40-hour Advanced Solar PV Training” course won’t be tedious or boring.

“When I’m talking to the class, I try to make it like it’s in a classroom–not just stiff and formal and boring,” says White. He tells jokes and throws in entertaining facts to keep people awake.

“My class requires 100 milligrams less caffeine than other online classes,” says White, a solar book author who was the 2014 Interstate Renewable Energy Council Trainer of the Year.

What’s more, he says, the 40-hour course will prepare students for new NABCEP exams that are subsets of the “gold standard” PVIP exam. The course also provides continuing education for NABCEP.

The PVIP is the Top Credential, but New Certificates Now Available

“I think the PVIP is the gold standard, a harder exam, everyone knows about it. That’s the top credential,” he says.

The just-released certification options were prompted by requests from solar industry members. The options include certifications for PV design specialists, PV installer specialists, PV commissioning and maintenance specialists, and PV systems inspectors, he says.

“The 40-hour class would prepare students for all these exams,” White says, noting that the new certification options are expected to be available this month. (The Inspector Certification is already available and you can take the exam at home).

All the new certification options are good news for the industry, he says. NABCEP’s new director created these certificates in response to requests from industry members.

“People want this and he’s giving it to them,” says White. In addition to the new certificate options, NABCEP is offering the PV Associate exam outside the US.

“The new director comes from a background that’s more focused on credentials and certification. He’s not just a solar guy diving into NABCEP,” says White.

Why Take One of the New Exams?

But why take one of the new exams instead of the PVIP exam?

“Someone who is time constrained and is doing a very specific job should take one of these exams,” says White.

However, the best way to study for these exams is to study for the PVIP exam, he says.

“You can go back and make sure you understand design questions. You could study more in a certain area, but it’s hard to separate out these questions. To do maintenance, you need to understand design.”

Whether you’re interested in one of the new NABCEP exams or the PVIP exam, you’ll likely need to study the National Electrical Code (NEC). White’s 40-hour course focuses quite a bit on the NEC, which is published every three years by the National Fire Protection Association.

States implement changes to the NEC at different times; generally only about two states adopt changes as soon as the NEC is published. The solar industry is most active in states operating about three years behind in the code, White says.

NABCEP generally adopts new codes for spring or fall exams following the year that the NEC is released. It’s important to check with NABCEP to see which code you need to become familiar with, he says. For instance, the first 2014 NEC exam was given in October of 2015. The first 2017 NEC exam was given January 2018. This January switch to the 2017 NEC was a first and took everyone by surprise.

When you take the exam, you are given a paperback copy of the NEC code book, so there’s no need to memorize it, White notes. “Computer-based testing centers use electronic versions of the NEC that our students have complained were difficult to navigate,” White says.

The NEC includes sections on wiring and protection, wiring methods and materials, equipment for general use, special occupancies, special equipment—including PV—special conditions, and communications systems.

Sleeping with the NEC Code Book

It’s common for worried students to go as far as sleeping with the NEC code book the night before the exam, says White. That’s fine, if it’s a confidence-booster, but it’s not okay to cram the night before. That can be too stressful and hurt your performance on the exam, White says.

In addition to the NEC, the course covers design, installation, and sales.

Whether he’s covering the NEC, PV design software, or design, White’s favorite students have a sense of humor, take part in discussions, and are excited about the topic, he says.

Sometimes White is surprised and pleased by a student who offers networking opportunities. For example, he recently fielded a question from a student in the Arctic, and White said he’d like to work in Antarctica.

The student said he might be able to provide some “cool introductions.”

Networking During Class

“I enjoy students who are willing to network, and stay in touch,” White says.

White also enjoys the fact that students actively participate in the discussion forum.

“The discussion forum is very active in my classes. Some people interact with one another on the discussion forum, and that’s a good thing,” White says.

“We try to have fun and good banter. I had a person leave a comment, yesterday that he really enjoyed my online class. He said he didn’t like online classes in general because he gets bored and falls asleep. But he said that he really likes this class. It’s fun, and we go back and forth, it’s as close to a real classroom as you possibly can get.”

That’s just what White hopes to hear.

The 40-hour course goes beyond the typical NABCEP course, says White. For example, it includes information on some PV design software.

White, who works from his home powered by 53 modules of solar in the Bay area, is an IREC Certified Solar PV Master Trainer and has written several books on solar energy. He travels frequently and contributed to the development of the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Job Task Analysis and has been a member of the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Technical Committee. Hundreds of his students are employed by both startup and leading solar companies.