The results are finally in. Now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has added solar training to its list of veterans benefits, a growing number of programs have begun launching competing offers.

Note that since only the finest, Department of Education licensed and longest operating as qualified schools are rigorously selected to accept official veterans solar educational benefits under Post 911, the GI Bill and VRAP, so many of these rival offers are more akin to private scholarships and not government-approved benefits.

Just for the record, we applaud any program that recognizes the hard work and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Our veterans deserve the best, and we’re pleased that more and more schools are launching programs designed for America’s heroes.

However, not all solar training programs truly address the needs of veterans, nor do they always provide the real-world professional training one needs to thrive in the solar industry of today and tomorrow. So what are they offering?

If you read the fine print, there are pretty glaring differences between schools that offer VA-approved training and schools that simply market to veterans. Let’s look at some of these differences… Free Tuition for Veterans Solar Training

Some programs advertise free training for returning vets. For in-state veterans who already live close to the school, this can be ideal. But only VA-approved programs include housing and food allowances for veterans who have to travel in order to secure high quality solar PV installation training.

Many of the veterans who train at US Solar Institute travel from out of state and have some or all of their living expenses covered by VA-approved veterans benefits. Most stay at hotels or apartments on the beach, near the Port of Everglades or in downtown Fort Lauderdale. This is on top of having their tuition costs covered 100%.

Certificates vs. Certification (Diplomas)

We’ve already covered the differences between certificates and certification in a previous post – but it’s worth repeating here. Anyone with a printer can hand out certificates – they are, after all, just pieces of paper with gold-leaf seals and fancy script. Only schools that have passed rigorous, third party assessments by truly accredited organizations can offer real certifications that mean somthing to employeers and licensing boards. US Solar Institute, for example, is backed by the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Businesses and Professional Regulation, and the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board. In addition, we partner extensively with Underwriters Laboratories to ensure that our curricula and testing adhere to the highest standards in the industry. In fact we’re the only licensed, dedicated solar PV training school in the world that offers true diplomas and Underwriters Laboratory Certified PV Installer Examination.

Hotel Conference Rooms vs. a Real Campus

Whenever possible, you should select a school that works out of a permanent campus. This ensures that you receive standardized and consistent training. Hotel conference rooms are okay if you have no other options, but depending on the weather, the hotel, and the conference room, the quality of training may vary with each session. Effective hands on experiences are largely absent in these settings and none work with live electricity. Because we’re located in Florida, we’re able to consistently offer year-round solar PV installation training – even during the winter months. You actually get to work outside under Florida’s blazing sun and learn, first-hand, how to install the technology under real conditions.

Manufacture Representatives vs. Licensed, Certified Electricians

We’re not against inviting manufacturer representatives to give individual demonstrations on their respective solar solutions. In fact, we do this quite frequently. The disadvantage of using manufacturing reps exclusively, however, is that you only become exposed to their manufacturer’s technology of choice. Whenever possible, select schools that use certified instructors, professional engineers and licensed electricians for the majority of classroom training. This increases your chances of securing the broadest and most adaptable solar education possible. At US Solar Institute, our instructors are fully licensed electricians with years of classroom experience and our professional engineers have regularly designed and commissioned commercial PV systems in this global market since 1972. With this level of experience, we are able to train our students using a wide range of solar technologies from numerous manufacturers. Of course, we’re partial to certain products, but our ultimate goal is to graduate well-rounded installers who are comfortable using any technology or product they encounter. When you come to USSI, we train you in grid-tied, off-grid, and bi-modal solar applications. Once you pass our rigorous training and testing, you’re prepared to work in numerous professional solar environments, whether for residential, commercial, or utility clients.

All Things Being Equal – Free Solar Training Is Free Solar Training, Right?

This statement is 100% correct – all thing being equal, free is free. So in theory, it shouldn’t matter if you pay for your solar training using VA-approved veterans benefits or you use a private scholarship. However, when you really explore the various offers out there, you’ll soon discover that not all things are equal. For the same amount of money ($0), it’s possible to secure professional, truly accredited training that actually prepares you for the rapidly changing solar landscape.