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:
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org