Setting the Standard in Solar Thermal

Considered one of the most efficient and least expensive of renewable energy technologies, orders for solar hot water systems are up considerably in the U.S. compared with only a few years ago — and a number of PV system installers, plumbers and HVAC mechanics are now joining the ranks of solar thermal installers nationwide.

According to Bill Queen, director and program coordinator for the Michigan Energy Demonstration Center at Northwestern Michigan College, national certification is becoming increasingly important for graduate students and professionals installing both photovoltaic (PV) and hot water systems. “It provides a kind of a level of understanding between the renewable energy industry and the utilities so that when grid interconnection occurs it’s done safely and reliably to national standards. Not that the work being done now isn’t safe or reliable, but having national standards help keep it very consistent throughout the industry,” said Queen, noting that national certification will ultimately lead to reduced costs along with the stricter quality and safety requirements. Northwestern Michigan College offers non-credit renewable energy courses and workshops such as Solar Essentials: Siting and Sizing Solar Hot Water Systems, where students learn how to evaluate a prospective site for system placement, solar potential, load measurement and system sizing. Working in conjunction with the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), Queen is in the process of creating an accredited program at the college that will — among other things — prepare students for the NABCEP certification exam. “It’s a very rigorous exam,” said Queen of NABCEP’s certification exam. For NABCEP’s Certification purposes, solar thermal installers include those who install pool heating or hot water systems. Similar to NABCEP’s nationally recognized Solar PV Installer Certification, its Solar Thermal Installer Certification is an effective way for practitioners to build on this momentum and support for solar technology. “NABCEP receives many inquiries about the details and logistics of Solar Thermal Installer Certification and how it all works. From our vantage point, based on these inquiries and discussions, there is a most definite underlying feeling that the industry is starting to get the respect, recognition and some support it has long deserved,” said Pete Sheehan, executive director of NABCEP. “We believe that solar thermal certification will elevate the stature for NABCEP Certified Solar Thermal Installers as it has for our Certified Solar PV Installers,” added Sheehan. The upcoming NABCEP certification exam, which takes place on March 24, 2007, will be based on the NABCEP Solar Thermal Task Analysis, a comprehensive list of tasks and subtasks for contractors installing solar water and pool heating systems on buildings. The purpose of the solar thermal task analysis is to define a general set of competencies or skills typically required of practitioners who install and maintain solar water and pool heating systems. “In the same way that getting NABCEP Certified for PV elevated my stature and recognition, I look for solar thermal certification to do the same thing. It’s good for the whole industry to have a recognized credential that demonstrates proficiency, and I encourage my solar thermal installer colleagues to get certified,” said John Witte, president of Advanced Distributed Generation in Ohio, who is NABCEP Certified for solar PV, and is now NABCEP Certified for solar thermal. The deadline for applications to NABCEP for Solar Thermal or Solar PV Certification is January 27. Applicants are encouraged to use NABCEP’s electronic application facility to save resources and time in submitting the application. A NABCEP Solar Thermal Exam Prep Web Training — presented by IREC and funded by U.S. Department of Energy — will be held on February 27 and March 1 to help prepare individuals for the exam. This workshop is designed for experienced installers preparing for the NABCEP Exam.