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Solar Certifications vs Certificates

Solar Certifications vs Certificates

We receive this question a lot –  “What is the difference between solar installation Certification and a solar installation Certificate?”

The distinction is important because there is no shortage of solar installation training bodies across the country – many of them excellent, many of them not.

Before signing up, you want to know that you’re receiving training that will actually lead to long-term employment as a professional solar installer.  Understanding the difference between Certification and Certificate is an important step in this process.

Solar Installation Certification – What Is It?

A Solar Installation Certification is official recognition by a third party organization that accredits, licenses, or regulates the broader vocational education training industry (i.e. photovoltaic, electrical, safety, or even paramedics).  The best and highest agencies for this accreditation is the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  The specific standard is ISO/ANSI 17024.

In over 30 states in the USA (including Florida), most of the Caribbean Nations and Latin America a solar installation Certification is NOT a requirement nor an equal or substitute for professional licensure as a Certified Solar or Electrical Contractor.

In a few states a solar Certification is a requirement if a rebate or feed in tariff is awarded or if the contract language in the inter-utility connection agreement (with the local power utility) requires it for the installation to be awarded or contracted.  Also many of the financing entities (banks and loan companies) demand installations are done by those who possess a solar Certification.  The rule is if someone is giving someone else money for the installation – a Certification is likely a requirement.

Professional licensing agencies like state Departments of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB) and Building, Planning or Permitting Offices most often require that you meet broadly accepted standards established by any number of agencies, including the Department of Education, electrical authorities, contractor associations, or similarly themed organizations to prove you have the pre-requisite years of experience and or education in order to be licensed as a Professional Solar or Electrical Contractor.  A Certification is NOT a substitution for a contractors license regardless.

In the event that professional licensure (contractors license) is not a requirement in your state or country the value of a personal Certification is higher as these give the public greater assurance that the Certification holder has been properly prepared for the task of hire or contract.  In these locations it is almost a certainty that a Certification is important.

This same general formula applies if you live outside of Florida – solar installation Certification typically requires external backing for it to be 100% legitimate.  Those that offer a ligitamate Certification include: USSolar, Underwriters Laboratory (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and NABCEP.

Solar Installation Certificate – What Is It?

Solar training Certificates don’t carry the same weight as “Certification.”

Why?

Because anyone, and I do mean anyone, with a computer can print out a Certificate.  Gold leaf, fancy calligraphy, watermarks, raised seals, and countless other enhancements don’t make solar installation Certificates official – they just make them “look” cool.

Certificate courses are largely not regulated.  These are considered voluntary and are often labeled as Continuing Educational Courses (CEC) meaning that even Department of Education Licensed Universities, Colleges and Trade Schools are not held accountable for the quality of the education, instructor nor are they held accountable for job placement once the course (or program) is complete like USSolar Institute is.

What is the difference between a Certificate earned from a Continuing Education Course (CEC) and a Department of Education Diploma Program (such as that offered by USSolar Institute)?

Only Department of Education Licensed Diploma (or Degree) programs and/or those accredited by ANSI (E2659) Certified courses are regulated.  Meaning that the education of the providing body has met a set of rigorous standards that require the quality of the education has been reviewed, audited and inspected to meet their standards of excellence in areas such as student privacy, policy (like equal opportunity), instructor qualifications, facilities and most importantly job placements have been met by as much as 75% of all who participated in the program.

These are the requirements in order for the educational body to be approved to accept student grants and similar funding such as Pell, loans and especially Veteran Affairs benefits.  Obviously this is why there are so few that accept these funds and why USSolar Institute does.  These standards, licenses and requirements are very expensive, difficult to earn and maintain and most take at least three (3) years of continuous successful job placements to qualify.

While there are a few voluntary organizations like the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and their other division Institute for Sustainable Power Quality (ISPQ) that claim to provide a “standard” of accreditation and or certification, they are strictly a volunteer organization and are in no way a substitute for a Department of Education License or ANSI Certification.

Best to look for education providers that hold licensure from the Department of Education (such as a Diploma and Degree Programs) and or are Certified by ANSI and do not to be fooled by those touting meaningless volunteer substitutes.

Does This Mean That Solar Installation Course Certificates Are Worthless? 

If solar energy certificates are not official documents recognized by other parties, does this make them useless?

Not necessarily.

Solar installation Certificates are terrific for putting on your resume.

In fact, we regularly (and proudly) hand out our own certificates at the end of our single day solar PV training courses.  It’s important that we commemorate the successful completion of our modules.

But…

Our solar energy Certificates are more than just pieces of paper.  They are official documents backed, regulated, certified and accredited by the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Businesses and Professional Regulation, the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board and more.

In fact, we’re the only licensed, dedicated solar PV training school in the world, so naturally, we tend to feel that our solar installation Certificates carry at least some weight – in the USA, Caribbean and abroad.  Most who know agree.

But this weight doesn’t come from arrogance or wishful thinking.  Rather – our solar installation Certificates carry weight because we’re licensed and accredited to provide solar installation Certificates and Certifications.  In fact we are the only legitimate organization we know of that provides both.

Don’t Be Fooled by Clever Marketing & Gimmicks

When you see “100% Natural” on food packaging, do you read the ingredients?  I definitely do.  I like to know – 100% natural “what” exactly.

I encourage you to use this same approach when selecting solar PV training schools.  When programs advertise solar energy Certificates, always ask by what organizations, if any, recognize these credentials.

The answer may just surprise you.

Thanks for your time,

Ray Johnson
Founder and President

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