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Here’s a question that we get a lot:

After taking your course, will I have enough knowledge to install a complete solar pv system?

It’s one of those questions that is difficult to answer because it’s such a loaded question and there are so many variables.

Here is my response:

It depends.

Here are some things to consider when you’re looking into the installation business. These are relevant whether you’re starting a company, expanding an existing company or if you’re a professional working within a company.

What is your background?

Whether or not our training will prepare you to install a complete solar pv system will depend on your background. What business are you coming from? If you have been a general contractor, electrician or roofer for the past 20 years and now want to do solar, then the answer is most probably yes. It will give you enough information so you’ll know how to design systems. With your background, you’ll most probably have the relationships needed to get subs, pull permits and bid a job. Basically, if you’re coming from the construction business, either residential or commercial, or in a related field, you’re almost 90% there. You just need to learn the solar specific information.

Are you en engineer? Well then the answer is maybe. The course will undoubtedly give you the information needed to design a system, but building a system is a different item. Engineers typically don’t have the hands-on experience nor the licenses to build the permits. However, many engineers have the relationships needed to pull the permit and build the project, so it’s not out of the question. Bottom line, if you’re an engineer, the course will allow you to design a system, and if you also have the relationships, you’ll be able to build the project.

Are you a career changer? If you’re a career change and your past job was nothing related to solar, then most probably not; the training will not give you all the needed information to design and install a system. You probably just don’t have the background. The training will give you a solid foundation, but you’ll need to understand the basics and know what you need to fine tune. Also, don’t get discouraged as a career changer. You probably have skills that are needed in solar as well. That leads to the next point.

What is your goal in solar? There’s more to the project than installation.

It’s important to ask yourself if you’ll actually need to be the one installing the system. There are many jobs that require a solid knowledge of solar pv without actually installing the project. There are project managers, inside sales reps, outside sales people, engineers, marketing, and web designers. All of these tasks are typical in a new, small, medium, or large solar company, and none of them require a person to actually be installing solar. They do, however, all require a knowledge of the technology.

What do you need for Permitting and Incentives?

I published an extensive post on “What You Need to Know about Solar and Geothermal Certifications, Licenses, and Permits” that you should skim over. Here’s a quick review that’s specific to Massachusetts, but if you live elsewhere, you should check up on the details for your state–they vary.

Permitting Needed for Installations

  • CSL license for building
  • Electrician License for all electrical
  • PE Stamps – you’ll need some PE stamps on electrical and structural drawing to pull commercial permits

Some states require you to be an “eligible installer” to get state incentives. Check with your state. Becoming an eligible installer typically requires some combination of showing you have a reputable business and understand solar.

Wait, do you need to be NABCEP certified?

You might be asking, “Let me make sure I’m hearing correctly, I don’t need a NABCEP to pull a permit?” (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners)

Here’s the kicker. Yes, technically all you need to install solar pv in any state is the necessary licenses required to pull the permit. This does not mean you’ll be successful at solar. First, you must be able to receive state incentives in order to make solar economical. However, the better question is whether you are really going to know what you’re doing. Do you know how to sell a job and understand modelling? Have you ever selected an inverter or calculated DC string sizing? If not, that begs the question, “Do you really think you’re going to be able to confidently sell a customer and provide enough support to fix a problem if something goes wrong?”

In the end, the goal of NABCEP is to simply make sure that people are getting quality training to understand the technology behind what people are creating businesses around. Only a couple years ago, the number of people who were educated about solar was really small. NABCEP’s goal was to provide a mechanism to scale the industry and train professionals properly so that the industry could grow.

So, no, it’s not needed to pull permits as of right now, but this is changing–check with your state or on DSIRE.

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