April 10, 2009

Certification is not mandatory

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , — nabcep @ 10:37 am

Last month, I learned that another major incentive program for solar electric installations had included language that required NABCEP certification to be able to participate in the program. While it is always flattering to have the NABCEP installer certification program receive a strong and visible vote of confidence from program planners, requiring NABCEP certification also poses some real and significant issues.  To articulate but a few questions, which arise when NABCEP certification is made mandatory, I pose the following: are there sufficient NABCEP certified installers in the state to handle the volume of work? Are there other qualified individuals who should be allowed to participate in the program?

It is admirable that program planners charged with dispersing public funds seek to apply the consumer protection offered by an industry recognized professional standard. However, it is not necessary to mandate a requirement for certification – a voluntary program that promoted the benefits of choosing certified installers and perhaps even paid a higher incentive for system installed by certificants would achieve the desired ends without constraining the growth of the installer base.

It is unfortunate when incentive program language highlights NABCEP certification, but leaves out wording which states the obvious–that all program participants will have to comply with all applicable requirements and standards pertaining to individual and business licensure, trade qualification and permitting. NABCEP is not meant to be a “pass” around any other existing standards and should never be used in a PV or solar thermal incentive program as a “short cut” to trades of licensure qualification.

When NABCEP certification is made mandatory, it generates some confusion about the extent and purpose of the certification. I have been fortunate to be involved with NABCEP from its inception and can speak with confidence in saying that the NABCEP Board has never considered its certification programs a substitute or alternative to licensure and trade qualifications. We do, however, recognize that standards and requirements vary greatly from state to state and even within states. NABCEP serves a unique purpose in that it offers a national standard of competency measurement that can be overlaid on any jurisdictional model as a means of identifying individuals with specialized knowledge in a solar discipline.

One of the great things about NABCEP certifications is the fact that the task analysis, which drives each exam, covers skills and knowledge that span a multitude of traditional trades. A solar installer is routinely called upon to perform work that goes beyond general electrical or plumbing trades, like roofing, carpentry, metal work.  These and other tasks are an everyday part of many installer’s jobs.

To reiterate: NABCEP certification is a means of identifying individuals who have met experience and education requirements necessary to sit for and pass a rigorous examination which is professionally designed to asses specific solar thermal or solar electric knowledge of the candidate. It does not replace or supplant any other trade or professional qualification, nor does it intend to supersede any such qualification in any jurisdiction where other professional qualifications are required.

In closing, I want to turn to an entirely different matter.  Recently, the NABCEP Sponsorship Program was recently rolled out in an email to most readers. NABCEP really does need the financial support of those who see the certifications and programs we offer as valuable and important to our growing industry. I urge all business owners who employ NABCEP certified installers to become sponsors of NABCEP. Please visit our website for more information on how you or your business can participate in and benefit from the various levels of NABCEP sponsorship opportunities.

March 24, 2009

We Energies Supports NABCEP with Financial Contribution

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 1:01 pm

Malta, NY, March 24, 2009– The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) announced today that We Energies has become its first corporate supporter, by making a generous contribution of $15,000.  We Energies, a utility company that provides electric and natural gas service to customers in Wisconsin and Michigan, provided the support to enhance NABCEP’s ability to thrive in a rapidly changing renewable energy market.

“NABCEP is very pleased that We Energies has offered this support,” said Rebecca Eaton, Executive Director of NABCEP.  “We Energies recognizes that renewable energy will play an increasing role in meeting our country’s energy needs, and that NABCEP provides an important service to this rapidly growing industry.”

Since 2003, NABCEP has been awarding professional credentials to installers of renewable energy generation systems.  The organization provides independent, third party training and testing, and its rigorous competency standards for certification send a clear message to consumers, installers, investors, and public officials that the industry stresses quality, safe and ethical business practices, and strong workmanship standards.

For more information on NABCEP, or how you or your company can become a NABCEP sponsor, please visit our website at www.nabcep.org or contact us at (800) 654-0021.

 

NABCEP’s mission is to develop and implement quality credentialing and certification programs for renewable energy practitioners, in an effort to increase the production of renewable energy and create a well-trained, competitive workforce. NABCEP certification provides credibility to renewable energy practitioners and protection to consumers.

February 20, 2009

Proposals & Presentations Accepted for 5th Annual Small Wind Conference June 16-17, 2009

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 1:08 pm

smallwindsponsorsweb100Mick Sagrillo, organizer of the 5th Annual Small Wind Conference on June 16-17, 2009 in Stevens Point, WI, is now accepting proposals and presentations for it.  Sagrillo says presentations should be limited to no more than 15 minutes, with an additional five minutes for Q&A.  “We’d like to see three presentations/hour,” says Sagrillo.  Small wind is defined as 1 kW up to 100 kW.

Presentation categories are not yet finalized.  However, presentations being considered include the following areas:

  • Manufacturer updates: what’s working, what’s not, what is being encountered in the field and how is it being resolved;
  • Turbine testing and results, including measurement and verification programs;
  • Resource monitoring and siting lessons;
  • Installer issues, including successful and problem installations, barriers encountered (interconnection, insurance, zoning) and how resolved; and
  • Anything else that might be of value to small wind installers, manufacturers, dealers, public benefits programs, or owners.

The preference is for ‘experience-based’ presentations.  Experience with data is preferred.

Please submit proposals to Mick Sagrillo at msagrillo@wizunwired.net by March 7th.  “We will get the proposals out to the advisory committee for discussion and decision.  We’ll get back on accepted presentations in a few weeks so presenters have adequate time to prepare their presentations,” says Sagrillo.

Presentations for or pending for AWEA or ASES conferences are also acceptable.

Anyone interested in exhibiting at the Small Wind Conference should contact Kirsten at the MREA for details at kirsten@the-mrea.org

For more information, contact Mick Sagrillo at msagrillo@wizunwired.net, or by phone at
(920) 837-7523

February 17, 2009

A Conversation with Board Member, Bob-O Schultze

Filed under: News — Tags: , — nabcep @ 12:22 am

Bob-O and cement pal in Chinatown

Bob-O Schultz has been working in the solar industry for more than 20 years.  A licensed electrician in both California and Oregon, Bob-O  is the owner of Electron Connection, a renewable energy design and installation company located in Northern California. Bob-O is NABCEP certified, sits on the board of NABCEP, and is Vice-President of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association chapter.  And in his spare time, he’s a regular contributor to Home Power magazine.

Who better to talk about NABCEP and the future of solar than Bob-O?  Here’s our conversation:

NABCEP:  Bob-O, I think of you as a solar elder (no offense); one of those remarkable people who’ve been in the business long before it was fashionable, trendy or timely.  You’ve seen lots of changes, and I’m curious to know what you think have been some of the biggest, more dramatic changes in the solar industry.

BS: By far and away, the increase of on grid PV.   Really, until the last seven or eight years, it was ALL offgrid, except for a very few Y2K systems.

NABCEP:  Since solar is more prevalent today than ever, and since NABCEP has been around since 2003, do you think consumer awareness of the technology has increased as well?

BO:  The installer awareness has risen for sure. If you aren’t doing on-grid PV, you’re probably a very small shop who lives in a very rural place, and you’re probably unlicensed.  Consumer awareness about grid-connected PV increases almost daily, but even the simplest understanding of how it works or is interconnected is still a reach for most people.  For an installer, explaining the “nuts and bolts” of PV in terms the average consumer can understand is the system designer/installer’s first priority.

NABCEP:  As a NABCEP board member, you’ve watched the installer base grow.  What do you think are some of the biggest challenges ahead for NABCEP?

BO:  Without a doubt, increasing the certified installer base in a way that does not lessen our high standards to meet the growing need.  That needs to be a combined effort between NABCEP and the educator community.

NABCEP:  2009 is already starting out with a bang with the eight-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is surely going to accelerate the industry.  What’s on the top of your ‘to do’ list for 2009?

BO:  Clearly an increase in the number of installed systems in our area will necessitate training and hiring more certified installers.   And with the number of institutions and organizations that are offering NABCEP’s Entry Level Certificate Program (we’re now at 80 providers), those numbers of certified installers will increase.  At 61, I feel like I’m getting towards the end of my useful “wrenching” career.  I’ve been spending more time teaching each year, and I see that as a way to continue my renewable energy work  beyond the point when I can no longer pull wire and lug PVs up onto the roof!

NABCEP:  Good thing you’re teaching, Bob-O.  We’d hate to not take advantage of all that institutional memory.  Perhaps you’re considering becoming an ISPQ Master Trainer?  Thanks for all that you’ve done, and continue to do, Bob-O.

February 16, 2009

A Conversation with Andrew Truitt, Standard Solar

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 10:46 pm
Andrew Truitt

Andrew Truitt, Standard Solar

Say you’ve gotten your BS in Physics with an anthropology minor at UC/Santa Cruz, and your senior thesis was something like ‘b (quark) → u vs. b → c transitions at the Z boson resonance energy.’   After that, you decide to go for a Master of Science in renewable energy systems technology at Loughborough University in the UK where you defended a comparison of US and UK standards for energy efficiency in buildings.  Then you volunteer for a non-profit in San Francisco called Grid Alternatives that installs PV systems on Habitat for Humanity homes, and tutor adult students in math and science for their GED or associates degree.  Makes perfect sense that you might find yourself in the solar business, right?

Meet Andrew Truitt, Director of Residential Construction for Standard Solar in the Washington, D.C. metro area where he manages a crew of ten installers, schedules and oversees all residential jobs, and interfaces with customers, inspectors and utility officials.  “Yeah, I’m busy,” he demurs, “but I love my work!”

I met Andrew in San Diego last October at the NABCEP Board meeting. We chatted briefly over lunch, but I knew then I wanted more time to learn about his work.   Recently, I caught up with him. Here’s our conversation:

NABCEP:  Andrew, your resume is remarkable.  From quarks to the UK to math and science tutor…

AT:  While I was driving a taxi cab in Santa Cruz, CA in 2002, a friend started working at a company called Eco-Energies over in Sunnyvale.  After talking to him about solar, I decided I wanted to work in the industry so I started looking at masters degree programs in solar.  After looking into the offerings state-side, I decided to pursue a Masters of Science in Renewable Energy Systems Technology from Loughborough University in the U.K..  The program explored solar, wind, biomass and hydro-power; mostly focusing on the underlying physics of the technologies.

After graduating, I became an installer at Sun, Light and Power in Berkeley, CA in October 2004, which is where I met my wife who was in sales at the company.  After spending a year at SLP and a year bouncing around the Bay Area, we moved to Washington D.C. where I started at Standard Solar in August 2006.  Incidentally, my wife, Sarah, now works for Sentech Inc. as a contractor to the Department of Energy focusing on the Solar America Cities program.  Yes, the shop talk at home is abundant.

NABCEP:  I was just going to ask about conversation around the supper table. When did you become NABCEP-certified, and are other Standard Solar installers certified?

AT:   I was certified in March of 2007.  Lee Bristol, our Chief Technology Officer, was also NABCEP-certified for PV installation at that exam.  All four of our crew leaders will be sitting for either the March or September certification exams.  If the Entry Level certification exam were available locally or on-line we would have all of our installers certified to at least that level.

NABCEP:  So you and Standard Solar feel strongly that NABCEP certification has value to your work?

AT:  For me, NABCEP is a vital tool for 3 reasons:

  • The NABCEP certification shows customers that we are not new to PV.  It’s becoming increasingly recognized as the standard in solar certification for everyone from 2kW residential customers to megawatt-level commercial behemoths;
  • The continuing education requirement motivates me to keep attending trainings to learn new skills and stay current with my existing knowledge; and
  • The process of studying for the exam helped me to fill in any gaps in my knowledge and confirm the most up to date best practices of PV system installation.

Our solar mission is to perform 30-year, no leak installations that blend aesthetically with the system environment with an emphasis on safety, power production and customer service, and I think that NABCEP reflects and helps us to achieve those goals.

NABCEP:  I’m guessing you’re enormously busy, but I’m wondering if the economic downturn has had an impact on your work.

AT:  We are extremely busy.  The increase in the Maryland grant program this summer really jump started our business.  When the cap was removed from the 30% federal tax credit at the end of last year, that also helped and now the latest incarnation of the D.C. grant program is getting underway.  We have also been fortunate enough to have attracted some significant investment which has allowed us to develop a marketing department and even an actual advertising campaign.

NABCEP:  As busy as you are, you must have encountered some hurdles along the way.

AT:  Coming to the Metro D.C. area I had to spend a lot of time and energy educating permitting officials, inspectors and utilities about how solar works and what things to look for in a high quality PV installation.  That can be a double-edge sword: on the one hand, it’s an opportunity to set a standard for installations that complies with current best practices, but at the same time some officials unfamiliar with a new technology can be rather obstinate about their views, even when presented with strong contradictory evidence.  That being said, we have had great success working with the local utilities and AHJs and feel that everyone is starting to operate on the same page.

NABCEP:  Has the outreach been worth the effort?  Do you have more support today than when you started?

AT:    Absolutely.  Everyone is getting excited about solar these days.  One needs look no further than the last election for proof that once-progressive ideas like renewable energy are now main-stream.  We still regularly get building or electrical inspectors that have never heard the word “photovoltaic” when they arrive at the job site but leave saying “I need that on my house!”  The key is establishing a reputation as a firm that meets or exceeds the code in all facets of the installation and handles business in a professional manner.  If you perform well the powers that be go out of their way to support you!

NABCEP:  What’s surprised you about your work?

AT:  Installing in the snow threw me for a bit of a loop.

NABCEP:  In the snow?  Were you on a steeply-pitched roof?
AT:     Flat roof with 4′ parapet walls, ballasted system, and extreme care taken to keep all electrical connections dry.  I did mention I’m NABCEP certified, right?

NABCEP:  Sounds like you know your safety rules.  So what’s on the horizon for you?

AT:  I’m really excited to be at Standard Solar.  When I started, we were a company of six and now we’re over 50 and growing.  I hope to stay here for at least a few more years and help us become the premier installer of the Mid-Atlantic region.  By that time the “wintry mix” that we tend to get between November and March might be getting a little old – after all, if I’ve learned anything in this field its that a sunny day is never a bad thing!

You can reach Andrew at andrew.truitt@standardsolar.com

From the Chair: Does a qualified tradesperson make a qualified PV installer?

HVCCConfLogoI am going to focus this column on the PV Installers Certification and I want to be clear that the views I express are my own.

One of the biggest issues facing NABCEP today is also a real blessing for the solar industry. Qualified trades people are taking notice of the amount of work there is in the PV industry and seeking PV Installer Certification. All of the entry paths to sit for the PV Installer exam require on-the-job experience as the person responsible for the installation. Many of these otherwise qualified trades people are seeking to sit for the exam before they actually ever install a PV system on a job site.

I’ve been involved with NABCEP from the very beginning and, for me, one of the “best features” of the Certifications we have developed is the multiple paths different individuals can take establish eligibility to take the exam. It was very important to the Board that we create a Certification that was inclusive of all qualified installers and relevant to the industry of the day. While I never thought I’d call the early part of the 21st century “history,” the PV industry has grown at such an amazing pace that virtually everything has changed since the Board first sat down to craft a set of fair test prerequisite conditions. We did a good job then, and the time has come to open the conditions for review.

The issue at hand is “does a qualified trades person – a journeyman electrician in this case – necessarily make a qualified PV Installer.”  The obvious short answer is “no.”

There are special skills and knowledge outside the scope of every-day electrical work that a PV Installer needs to do their job. Unfortunately, the world is not such a simple place and the long answer is more complex.  Journeyman electricians have thousands of hours of training on the job and in a classroom environment as part of their apprenticeship process. While extensive the additional skills and knowledge that these individuals need to learn is generally within the scope of their professional training and experience, there is no real reason that the unique parts of the solar electric installation trade can’t be taught to journeyman electricians.

The question is: How do you assess the installation part of a training program? All of the current entry paths to NABCEP Certification rely on the permitting and inspection process of real-world electrical installation. At the time, successfully obtaining an electrical permit for a solar electrical system and getting the system through to a signed off “Inspection Complete” status was as good as it got for validating that the person sitting for the exam actually did the work and pass a written exam.

Today, there are dozens of well-equipped solar electric training labs across the country and a similar number of extensive and thorough training programs aimed specifically at electrical trades people.  Heck – we even have real textbooks now!  Graduates of these programs are knocking at NABCEP’s door at a time when our industry is undergoing strong demands for an expanding work force.

At our October meeting, the NABCEP Board formed a committee to look for a way to define standards for “hands on installation training experience” that would serve as alternative to on-the-job experience for journeyman electricians. This committee has been hard at work, but like many things “volunteer,” it is moving more slowly than we originally anticipated.

The committee continues to wrestle with vexing questions such as:

  • how many students should be able to get “alternative experience credit” from a single installation;
  • what sort of equipment should be installed:  should it all work out-of-the-box, how complex should the installation be, what type of roofing and racking system should be used;
  • what is an appropriate student to teacher ratio; and
  • how shall the student’s success be evaluated.

As always, we are fortunate to have the caliber of volunteers we do at NABCEP and the group working on developing the new qualifying path standard is made up of some of the more notable names in the solar electric training industry, representing the wide range of stakeholder groups who offer comprehensive solar electric training programs.

I look forward to being able to present the recommendations of this committee to the Board this spring. It will be a good thing for NABCEP and the PV industry to find a way to open their doors to greater numbers of qualified and specially trained electricians.

February 14, 2009

Small Wind Certification Comes to NABCEP

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 7:11 pm

NABCEP is in the process of launching its new Small Wind Certification!

A group of small wind experts comprised of educators, installers, and other experienced wind energy leaders have been working diligently for two years to develop NABCEP’s new Small Wind Task Analysis, which will serve as the foundation for the materials addressed in the NABCEP Small Wind Certification examination.  The Task Analysis has now been submitted for stakeholder comment and fully approved by the Board.  While NABCEP will work towards administering its first exam in September, it may be pushed back until March 2010, depending on high quickly we can convene wind energy installers and other experts to develop and test examination questions and Study Guide materials.

We need your help!  If you are a small wind installer or possess significant small wind energy expertise and would like to volunteer to help develop the new NABCEP Small Wind Certification Examination or Study Guide, please contact us at info@nabcep.org.  Please note that members of the Examination Committee are not able to take the Certification examination for two years after leaving the Committee.

January 22, 2009

Interview with Craig Stager, SPG Solar

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 11:21 am

Craig Stager is the Design & Compliance Manager for SPG Solar, responsible for all projects designed, with a focus on enforcing the standards of system compliance and performance. For the past six years, Craig has overseen the engineering, design, and permitting of more than 1,200 projects, ranging from smaller residential to large scale projects such as megawatt single axis solar PV trackers. Craig became NABCEP-certified in April, 2005, and is on NABCEP”s Ethics Committee, and is also a Certified General Electrician (California). In between travel and meetings, Craig was kind enough to talk to me about his work and his involvement with NABCEP. Here’s our conversation.

IREC: Hi Craig. So as SPG’s Design and Compliance Manager, how exactly do you spend your days?

CS: I currently manage approximately sixteen project designers in various regions, as well as sustain professional relationships with several outside engineers. I am involved in the planning, design, and approval stages of project integration, and have gained experience with obtaining approvals from many agencies including The Division of the State Architects, Airport Land Use Agencies, Coastal Commissions, Department of Interior, State Dam Regulatory Agency, Army Corps of Engineering – involving wet land delineation, and several others. There is a true art in negotiation and coordinating for a timely project approval.

As a manager, I strive to develop my project designers to obtain higher levels of professionalism in their ability to coordinate and design code compliant and high performing PV systems. Currently my project designers perform everything from on-site analysis, to providing and coordinating the delivery of a full set of plans to include architectural, structural, civil and electrical aspects of the project. A large set of plans may include up to 30 sheets. We currently operate with the latest AUTOCAD design software, using 2009 MEP as our foundation. We incorporate three dimensional models allowing for finer precision.

Our larger ground mounted systems bring in the land development software, Civil 3D, as we incorporate field survey techniques using our Trimble robotic total station used for capturing elevations for generating topographic ground conditions for producing grading plans and site layouts. The results are more detailed oriented drawings with higher levels of quality that truly exceed the standards for PV design. Some ask if so much detail in our drawings is important. I say yes. You have to take it beyond what is just required, push the envelope of this cutting edge industry, and pay attention to the details in order to really ensure success. It takes a good design and plan to support a quality, code compliant PV system.

IREC: How long have you been involved with solar? Do you love what you do?

CS: I’ve been involved with solar for over six years. Interestingly, prior to my start in this industry, I had no real exposure to PV. I brought other skills and attributes to this work, such as permitting and an understanding of AutoCAD, as well as leadership and hands-on field electrical work, gained from my military experience as an Artillery Officer and Q36 radar technician in the California Army National Guard. I was quickly drawn to the code and the desire to raise the bar of knowledge within this great emerging industry.

SPG Solar, Inc. was founded in 2001, by Dan Thompson, our founder, president, & CEO. His initial vision and active leadership and participation in this PV industry, as well as his innovative approaches, have made our efforts more meaningful as we work within this great environment allowing us to excel and professionally grow. I love this job; it’s challenging and rewarding. I am doing something I can be very proud of, and I can get out of bed everyday, motivated to go to work. The days go by fast as we ride the cutting edge wave of the emerging renewable energy industry. It is great to work in an industry with many motivated and forward thinking professionals.

IREC: If everyone at SPG Solar is as enthusiastic as you, business must be booming.

CS: Actually, SPG Solar has had tremendous amounts of growth. SPG Solar started with a handful of employees in 2001, and today we have about 160 employees with nine facilities in California and now serve the western states, including Oregon and Arizona. We continue to grow our operations and staff to meet our customer’s needs. We have expanded our headquarters five times since the company was founded, from a 1,000 sq. foot office in San Rafael, to our new 30,000 sq. foot campus in Novato. Our revenues have kept pace with our physical expansion – $1.5 million in 2001 to $ 56 million in 2007. We project revenues of $90 million for 2008.

In 2005, our installation methods proved so successful, we spun-off a sister company, Thompson Technology Industries, Inc. (TTI) to develop and manufacture best-of-breed solar products that minimize labor time and maximize system performance.

IREC: Wow. No wonder you love going to work every day. But what obstacles have you encountered along the way?

CS: Other than sustaining qualified designers to support the speedy integration of these projects, in a fast growing company, gaining planning approval from the Administrative Hearings Judge (AHJ) or other outside agency has been the greatest challenge. The building side of the house seems straight forward; design code compliant and safe systems will get the approval, unless we’re educators of the code in a new region or adjust to accommodate their own special preferences or interpretations.

The requirements of the planning side of the house can be debatable, especially if you have to go before a public hearing, go through the process of a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (CEQA) or work with a federal outside agency. These processes can take a long time, and time is something that we generally do not have much of in this industry given the short construction time frames needed to maximize the rebates and tax incentives that may be available for our clients.

IREC: So it really requires you to know your stuff and be ready to respond quickly to the situation. Have you found your NABCEP certification to be a plus for you in your work? Do you find people know about NABCEP, or do you have to educate them?

CS: Yes, NABCEP has been a plus, more for boosting my confidence and providing a national recognition for my knowledge and experience. People in the industry seem to understand what NABCEP symbolizes, yet most hardly know what is means. I must admit that saying the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners is a mouth full. It’s much easier to say NABCEP.

Outside of the PV industry of designers and installers, I find myself having to educate about NABCEP, explaining that the program is for professional PV installers in the nation trying to lead the way by being certified to a national standard of competency and upholding a code of ethics to install the highest quality photovoltaic electrical systems for our clients.

IREC: It’s great to have a cheerleader like you. In addition to being NABCEP-certified, you’re a member of NABCEP’s Ethics Committee. That seems consistent with your SPG role of Compliance and Design Manager.

CS: The NABCEP Ethics Committee is dedicated to the enforcement of the NABCEP Code of Ethics and the NABCEP Standards of Conduct. As a committee, we investigate allegations of misconduct by members and recommend disciplinary action. I am honored to be part of a group that upholds the highest level of professionalism for a certification that emphasizes the best in system design and installation of code compliant and optimal performing systems. As an adult Eagle Scout, I live by an oath supported with values that offer a great way of life. As a NABCEP member, I feel that I am part of an organization that promotes strong ethical and professional ways toward building systems that we should all be proud of, and that will strongly support the growth of our emerging industry.

IREC: As a certificant and a board member, what do you see as challenges for NABCEP?

CS: The biggest challenge for NABCEP from my perspective would be the growth of new members into this organization as the industry continues to grow immensely, while sustaining the highest level of respect from both the PV industry, as well as other electrical organizations. This could be more easily achieved with the proper synchronization of developing code compliant training programs across America that will support the cause. NABCEP’s Entry Level Certificate Program is the exact thing for those wanting to get started in solar. As the market grows for PV, those holding an Entry Level Certificate will find it easier to obtain employment, and it will also overall benefit the industry to have more qualified installers.

I also think that NABCEP sponsored projects would also be a great offering. For example, projects having a NABCEP certified installer could receive better incentives, and possibly be offered higher priority during the AHJ review process.

IREC: Sounds like you’ve been giving this some thought. Any surprises about being NABCEP-certified?

CS: No real surprises, yet the benefits have been greater recognition, confidence and additional opportunities. I can only hope that the organization will continue to thrive and support the professionals that are dedicated to building the highest quality PV systems.

IREC: With active, involved certificants like you, Craig, NABCEP is in especially good hands. Thanks for spending time with us.

CS: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

Interview with Todd Stafford, National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC)

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 11:03 am

Todd Stafford, Senior Director the NJATC, is tasked with oversight and development of Renewable/Distributed Generation technologies. The NJATC was a charter member of NABCEP, and Todd has been an invaluable member of NABCEP”s Board of Directors. He’s incredibly busy, traveling constantly, but was his usual gracious self to take time between airports to chat about his involvement with NABCEP.

Here’s our conversation.

NABCEP: Todd, what does the NJATC do, and what exactly do you do for them as Senior Director of Renewable/Distributed Generation?

TS: “The NJATC provides training for approximately 40,000 apprentices annually as well as Journeymen upgrade training for those that have completed apprenticeship and desire to further their abilities in the electrical construction industry.

As Senior Director for the NJATC, I provide oversight and develop Renewable/Distributed Generation technologies. This refers to curriculum creation for use within our industry but also technical committees, certification boards (NABCEP) play a part as they further development and creation of standards for the affected industries. There are other areas in which I am tasked with as well such as instrumentation distributed controls systems, power quality and electrical theory.

NABCEP: NJATC was one of the charter members of the NABCEP board. How did that connection happen?

TS: Yes, I am a Charter member. Mark Fitzgerald approached me about participating in the creation of NABCEP in the mid 90’s. I must say though, that Mark wanted the training arm of the IBEW, the NJATC to be involved, for he felt that the resources were needed to reach hundreds of thousands of potential workers in the PV industry.

NABCEP: So what’s the connection between NJATC and the IBEW?

TS: The NJATC is a separate training organization created in 1941 to provide training for the IBEW and the unique creation, the Contractors as well. The creation of the NJATC, by NECA and the IBEW, was to assure latest technologies were adopted that suited both parties–labor and Management. The NJATC is a true apprenticeship program in that it has indentures, sponsors, and employment opportunities.

NABCEP: Did NJATC’s membership on the board encounter any difficulties at the beginning of NABCEP? Were there any obstacles?

TS: The NJATC does not feel that the beginning of NABCEP was difficult, for it was created to credential qualified individuals to install PV. All the training the NJATC provides to the IBEW, and NECA, emphasizes quality over quantity. Any credential which promises to raise the qualifications of those within the electrical industry is always looked upon with favor by the NJATC. Any obstacles were more technical than philosophical. Identifying the areas in which electrical work is already licensed and performed was the main issue. Later, it was the determination of how to qualify for the certification, which created the greatest discussion among NABCEP, before it was actually NABCEP.

NABCEP: It seems like NJATC has been receptive helping its members become NABCEP certified. Do you think NABCEP’s affiliation with NJATC has been good for the IBEW? For NABCEP?

TS: From the NJATC point of view, I think the partnership between NABCEP and the NJATC has been a good thing. Again, it goes to raising the qualifications of everyone. Regardless of affiliation, raising the performance levels of electricians and others only increases value to end users of labor. This enhances quality of installations and improves lifestyles of the installers. These are two key values supported by the NJATC.

NABCEP: Have you seen an increase in members becoming NABCEP certified for either PV or solar thermal? How many over the years?

TS: The NJATC has noticed several members that have been awarded credentials for NABCEP. This number will grow as determined by local requirements and rewards for pursuing the credential. I do not know how many have applied nor completed the requirements for certification.

NABCEP: Does NJATC develop the solar training for its members? Does it encourage its members to seek NABCEP certification? TS: Yes, the NJATC does develop the training for our members. There are Federal laws that also mandate this. Specifically, we have to create curriculum that is for the advantage of the apprentice in our programs. In some cases, it does require that we use the curriculum exclusively in our organization. This is from the Federal Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT) which requires that monies contributed by participants in an apprenticeship program (in our case our contractors) are used for the sole purpose of furthering the education of the apprentice. In some cases we are able to share curriculum, such as the Photovoltaics Systems textbook, which was written by Jim Dunlop (who works for the NJATC), and it is used as the reference source by everyone throughout the industry.

NABCEP: So NJATC is mandated to offer very specific classes for its members. But does it also offer courses that satisfy NABCEP’s continuing education requirements? Has it developed specific courses for its members to prepare them for the NABCEP certification exam?

TS: The NJATC courses are prepared and delivered for what it takes to install PV systems. Each lesson and course are created and delivered to extend knowledge gained through apprenticeship. We provide training that is in addition to 900-classroom instructor contact hours and 8000 hours on-the-job training. When a certification is developed correctly it reflects actual requirements reflected by knowledge and performance requirements. With NABCEP, some of the knowledge and performance criteria do reflect actual job install requirements. Some test criteria reflect the job tasks of multiple individuals as determined by an existing electrical industry. Most courses developed towards education of the electrical industry are directly applicable to the PV industry. It hasn’t, however, developed courses specifically targeted to pass the NABCEP exam.

NABCEP: What’s on the horizon for NJATC and NABCEP?

TS: The NJATC hopes to have a long and successful partnership with NABCEP. The NJATC does recognize that the PV industry is changing, evolving with market factors requiring change, that the NABCEP certification exam must also reflect current conditions.

NABCEP: What’s been the biggest surprise about NJATC and NABCEP?

TS: Both NABCEP and the NJATC are searching for the proper method to do the same thing: we both want to make the public aware of that quality installations can be performed on PV systems. Both organizations understand that raising the quality of installations overall benefits everyone.

I’d say the major surprise has been the implementation of the NABCEP’s PV certification. Originally, the certification was created to credential one individual that “did it all” as this was the predominate business model for PV installations. That has migrated to the point where large systems contractors are getting involved and these large contractors bring a huge staff to the project. One person may do site qualifications, another estimating of performance, and even more for the actual install, and then the maintenance and checkout crew may be different. This specific breakdown of labor doesn’t fit into any certification category NABCEP currently offers.

Let me explain this a bit more.

On a large project site, the planning and site survey is done by an electrical contractor who may or may not have any experience with PV installation requirements, OSHA regulations, the National Electrical Code, etc. Then an installation team (in our case, electricians) performs the actual installation. Then the contractor owner, president or representative performs the checkout and turns over the project to the owner. Then there may be a maintenance crew. In each case, the numerous people working on the project haven’t had the benefit of knowing the scope of the entire project. It’s just not a very efficient business model.

For the NJATC, the rapid evolution of the PV industry has presented a special challenge to the electrical industry in how to obtain credentials.

NABCEP: I guess that’s why your presence on the board is so critical to NABCEP. There’s a constant need for awareness of stakeholder issues, and coming up with innovative problem solving and efficiency in the field.

TS: Innovation is the key. The NJATC has to find ways to train efficiently as well as prepare the largest electrical contractor group and their labor requirements for a business model that works for them. NABCEP is nothing different than other industries we are involved with. Each changes as market and work requirements dictate.

NABCEP: Thanks, Todd, for taking time to visit with us, and for being such a constant on NABCEP’s board.

For more information about The NJATC, or to contact Todd directly.

NABCEP’s ANSI Accreditation: A Conversation with PTI’s Dr. Lynn Webb

Filed under: News — nabcep @ 10:30 am

Since 2003, when NABCEP offered its first certifying exam, NABCEP has used Professional Testing, Inc. (PTI) as a full-service provider of assessment, evaluation and certification services.

Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, with offices in Tallahassee and the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, PTI provides effective, valid, fair, reliable, and legally defensible assessment and evaluation services, helping businesses, industries, professional associations, and licensure/certification agencies ensure that today”s workforce is competent, and that the organizations administering the assessments are viable and credible.

PTI helped NABCEP prepare its application for ISO 17024 American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accreditation that NABCEP was awarded last year. NABCEP visited with Dr. Lynn Webb, Ed.D, psychometrician at PTI, to discuss the ANSI process for an organization like NABCEP.

NABCEP: I know that NABCEP is pleased to be recognized with accreditation through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with ISO/IEC 17024 – but what is that, exactly?

LW: It’s a relatively new accreditation, so many people might not be familiar with it. There have been ISO standards in manufacturing for a long time – and this is an ISO standard, but it’s for the accreditation of certifying persons, instead of products. It’s a world standard, which distinguishes it from other U.S. accreditations. The American National Standards Institute is the U.S. representative for ISO/IEC 17024. Let’s take each one of those in turn:

ISO: The International Organization of Standardization IEC: International Electrotechnical Commission 17024: A voluntary benchmark for organizations responsible for certification of personnel. It was fully enacted on April 1, 2003.

NABCEP: Thanks for the translations, but what is it?

LW: The standard, ISO/IEC 17024, was designed to harmonize the personnel certification process worldwide and create a more cost-effective global standard for workers. It is expected to play a prominent role in facilitating global standardization of the certification community, increasing mobility among countries, enhancing public safety, and protecting consumers.

As the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.

NABCEP: So this is an international credential for NABCEP?

LW: Yes, it confirms the excellent work being done by NABCEP in North America – but also opens the door for expansion in the future. Other countries wouldn’t have to put NABCEP’s certification under a microscope, in the sense that the certification process has already been recognized with a world credential.

NABCEP: How was it decided that NABCEP earned the credential?

LW: ANSI accreditation is a lengthy and thorough process. NABCEP had to complete a voluminous application, providing documentation about its certification procedures.

NABCEP: Do you mean the test development process (February 08 newsletter) that we discussed last time?

LW: Yes, that’s a big part of it – but it also includes the organizational structure and governance of NABCEP, policies and procedures, the management system, record-keeping, subcontractors, confidentiality, security, personnel, decision on certification, evaluation, surveillance, and use of logo and marks.

Two trained auditors review the materials presented by NABCEP and then conduct an on-site audit to discuss the documentation, ask more questions, view evidence of procedures, and ask questions. The documentation and recommendations of the auditors are reviewed by a special board at ANSI and then the decision for accreditation is rendered. If the certification organization is granted accreditation, as NABCEP was, they begin a regular program of maintaining the credential. There are annual submissions of documentation, periodic on-site audits, and finally the whole cycle begins anew after five years.

NABCEP: Well, you said ‘thorough.’ That sounds like a lot of work for the organization.

LW: Yes, it’s a lot of work to earn the credential, and also to maintain it. That’s true of all ISO certifications.

NABCEP: I guess in this way the organization knows how it feels to be a ‘candidate.’ NABCEP received a credential just as they credential candidates.

LW: Great point, Jane. Both the ANSI and NABCEP credentials should bring a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

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