Photovoltaic (PV) installations are becoming more common in commercial and residential buildings as PV-system efficiencies increase, installed costs decrease and cost of conventional utility-supplied electric power increases. Building owners should be concerned about who is installing their PV system because PV systems are complex and require specialized knowledge and expertise to install. Improperly installed PV systems not only put the building owner’s investment at risk but can also result in fire and shock hazards.

It is very important that PV installers be qualified to install PV systems. To protect consumers and the public, state and local governments, utilities, PV manufacturers and others are beginning to require that PV installers be licensed, certified or both to perform the work.

Building owners are becoming more knowledgeable about the risks posed by an improperly installed PV system and they are becoming more discriminating about who is going to install and service them. The electrical contracting firm needs to be aware not only of the required licensing requirements in its market area but also the competitive advantage that voluntary PV installer certification may provide.

A number of states and local governments have either enacted licensing requirements for PV installers or are considering it. These licensing requirements vary from being a licensed electrical contractor or electrician to having a specialty license or certificate to do PV installations. Currently, states including California, Florida and Nevada have special licensing requirements for PV installers.

To find out if your state and local governments has special licensing requirements for PV installers you can check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) at www.dsireusa.org. In some locales, licensed electrical contracting firms are allowed to perform the total installation themselves, but if they subcontract out any of the non-electrical work to other general or specialty contractors, they may be required to have a general contractor license.

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) was formed in 2002 because of a concern that a lack of consistent installer standards could result in poor installations by unqualified installers. This could damage the industry’s reputation and slow the public’s adoption of renewable energy technologies.

Its board of directors includes representatives from all parts of the industry including National Electrical Contractors Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

NABCEP developed and is offering a certification process for PV installers. To become a NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer, candidates must be at least 18 years old, meet minimum knowledge and experience requirements, agree to the NABCEP code of ethics and pass a written examination.

The written exam tests a variety of knowledge and skills that a qualified PV installer should have including assessing a site’s suitability, installation techniques, safety, applicable National Electrical Code requirements, among others. It should be noted that electrical contracting firms can’t get NABCEP certified, only individuals are eligible for certification.

There are a variety of ways that an individual can qualify to take the examination and become certified. A NECA contractor will typically qualify to take the examination by being a licensed contractor in good standing and have at least one year’s experience installing PV systems.

Similarly, an IBEW master electrician or journeyman can qualify to take the examination by completing the apprenticeship program and having one year of PV installation experience. For more information about becoming a certified PV installer, you can go to the NABCEP Web site at www.nabcep.org.

Where required, licensing represents the electrical contracting firm’s ticket into the growing PV market. The electrical contracting firm needs to be aware not only of what today’s licensing requirements are but what is on the horizon because many state and local governments are considering instituting licensing requirements as the demand for PV and the need to protect the public grows.

Licensing will get the electrical contracting firm in the door but to profitably grow its PV market, the firm must be able to differentiate itself from its competition. Having NABCEP-certified PV installers is one way that the EC firm can stand out and meet project prequalification requirements especially as the value of a proper PV installation increases among owners and designers. EC

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.