Online Solar Code Training Course Continues to Provide Value

Since April, IREC and partners have been busy with a project focused on bringing high quality training to code officials and the fire service. Although historically IREC has actively led credentialing and training efforts for solar and other clean energy industries, we are increasingly focused on the workforce needs of sectors “allied” with solar. From code officials to realtors, insurers to the fire service, there are a number of industries that impact the solar transaction, and the ‘soft’ (non-hardware) costs of going solar. IREC leads national and state efforts to streamline the permitting process to help address these costs, while simultaneously recognizing that it takes a well-trained workforce to support these initiatives.

Further, as the solar industry grows in leaps and bounds, allied professionals are seeing solar in their communities and becoming increasingly aware of their own need for solar competencies. Code officials are a good example.

A poll of 645 code officials around the country indicates that less than one third report they are ‘knowledgeable’ about solar codes, and only about half thought they can determine if a solar plan is compliant with all applicable codes. Clearly, there is a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed in order to support efficient and accurate solar permit plan reviews and inspections.

To address this gap, IREC will offer an in-person course specifically on solar permit plan review starting in January 2017. Also during the STEP project, we will leverage and enhance IREC’s long-standing PV Online Training (PVOT) for code officials.

solar-labeling-graphic-300Created in partnership with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), PVOT is a free online course for code officials who conduct reviews and inspection of solar systems. Seven lessons cover key points, including equipment ratings and appropriate signs, with a focus on known common installation errors. This emphasis helps to hone in on the most important aspects of the solar array, since inspection time and resources are so limited. A cutting-edge ‘capstone’ lesson engages learners in problem-solving activities with a game-based 3D model for a roof-mounted residential installation. Since PVOT was launched in 2012, the course has been updated to current NEC and i-Codes, and will be updated in accordance with the 2017 NEC soon.

Completion of the course still positions learners to receive CEUs from IAEI, and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), but now learners can also be awarded CEUs by IREC STEP partner, the International Code Council (ICC)

Terry Martin, Virginia Master Electrician, is code enforcement manager for Loudoun County, VA. Like many inspectors, he wears multiple hats: Combination Residential Inspector, Commercial Plumbing and Mechanical Inspector, Electrical Plan Reviewer and Fire Protection Inspector. He took the PVOT in July 2016 as part of a group training he requested to better understand and inspect installations.

“The course was extremely helpful, covering inspection highlights and typical contractor deficiencies,” says Martin. “I would wholeheartedly recommend it to colleagues.”

IREC’s work to train local building code officials is part of the US Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s STEP project, which stands for Solar Training and Educational for Professionals.

Although PVOT was created with code officials in mind, it is an excellent example of the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach the STEP project exemplifies. Anyone from PV designers to architects to installers can benefit from the content. “PVOT is an excellent source for PV installers as well as code officials and inspectors; they can both be participants in speeding up the permitting process, while never compromising safety or the effectiveness of an installation,” says Joe Sarubbi, who directed the development of the original PVOT and its most recent update for IREC and IAEI.

In addition to bringing solar training to a number of allied sectors, STEP goals include uniformity and consistency of solar training and messaging across industries. What better way to ensure those involved in the full spectrum of the solar transaction are on the same page than for them to take the same training? Given that it is also free, and taken at the learner’s own pace and place, PVOT is a key resource in the STEP toolkit.

While IREC and our STEP partners foresee a future in which a range of workers learn relevant solar competencies as an integral part of their professional development training, we’ve got some catching up to do! Eighty percent of code officials nationwide indicate they could use training on solar, and IREC is ready to meet that challenge with PVOT and other resources and courses. Stay tuned for more course offerings and reference materials throughout this two-year project.

Interested in the January in-person training? Contact us at [email protected].