Big Changes Ahead for NABCEP Certification

Last Updated:
Tue, 2018-01-09 15:48
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Solar Certification Program Prepares for 2018 Solar Growth

With interest and demand for solar energy growing at an unprecedented rate, the organizations managing the solar industry are rapidly adjusting their five-year plans to best reflect the market and account for future growth.

For example, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (or NABCEP) expanded and updated many of its programs in the second half of 2017 to prepare for a successful 2018 and beyond. NABCEP leads the charge as the preeminent organization for solar standards development and manages the most well-known solar certification program.

Here’s a brief listing of the NABCEP Certification changes we spotted in 2017. For more information about these changes, please keep reading below the bullet points or click the desired link.

May 2017

September 2017

October 2017

December 2017

Before we dive into all the updates, let’s do a quick history lesson on NABCEP Certification so you can get a better sense of why the new and, in some cases, improved certifications are important.

Prior to 2017, there were three designations for solar photovoltaic (PV) professionals.

  • NABCEP PV Associate (formerly called NABCEP Entry Level)
  • NABCEP PV Installation Professional
  • NABCEP PV Technical Sales

NABCEP has also offered certifications for solar heating and wind professionals, but the solar PV certifications are far more common.

As the solar industry has matured, it has become very apparent that there are roles and responsibilities held by a variety of professionals on the job. It’s not always boiled down to just three designations. For this reason, NABCEP has taken a serious look at the responsibilities and job titles in the field and has worked on introducing (or modifying) certifications to best align with these skill sets. Over the course of one year, NABCEP introduced five solar certifications and is constantly looking for ways to improve the certification process for convenience and efficiency.

Now’s let’s take a closer look at the changes.

NABCEP PV Systems Inspector Certification

The NABCEP PV Systems Inspector (PVSI) Certification is designed for professionals who currently work as, or desire to work as, a system inspector of solar electric systems.

The NABCEP PVSI Certification demonstrates a candidate’s proficiency in 15 tasks organized into four performance domains:

  • Inspecting Electrical Components and Systems
  • Inspecting Energy Storage Components and Systems
  • Inspecting Mechanical/Structural Components and Systems
  • Documentation for the System Inspection

There are no eligibility requirements to take the NABCEP PVSI exam, however candidates should have some familiarity with solar photovoltaic systems. Knowledge of applicable codes and ordinances is presumed.

The U.S.-based exams can be taken online from anywhere that has a stable Internet connection. Candidates must complete an application process through NABCEP and prepare to take the exam via live online proctoring. For more information, please see the NABCEP System Inspector Handbook.

NABCEP Solar Heating System Inspector

The NABCEP Solar Heating System Inspector (SHSI) Certification is designed for professionals who currently work as, or desire to work as, a system inspector of solar thermal systems.

The NABCEP SHSI Certification demonstrates a candidate’s proficiency in 13 tasks organized into 5 performance domains:

  • Appropriate System Design for Applications
  • Structural
  • Mechanical and Solar Loop
  • Plumbing/Potable Piping
  • Electrical

There are no eligibility requirements to take the NABCEP SHSI exam, however candidates should have some familiarity with solar hot water systems. Knowledge of applicable codes and ordinances is presumed.

The U.S.-based exams can be taken online from anywhere that has a stable Internet connection. Candidates must complete an application process through NABCEP and prepare to take the exam via live online proctoring. For more information, please see the NABCEP System Inspector Handbook.

NABCEP PV Installation Professional Job Task Analysis

The NABCEP PV Installation Professional (PVIP) designation is the most prestigious certification offered by NABCEP. This is the designation that is most commonly listed as a requirement for state licensure and/or utility programs, where applicable.

Due to its popularity and growing importance, NABCEP has made several changes to the Job Task Analysis (JTA) and certification process for this esteemed credential, including:

  • Adding testable concepts about 2017 National Electric Code
  • Changing the work experience requirement
  • Allowing paper-and-pencil format testing AND computer-based testing
  • Re-organizing the PVIP JTA to align with the new PV Specialist learning domains

Adding testable concepts about 2017 National Electric Code

Adopted in all 50 states, the National Electric Code (NEC) is the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards. The NEC code addresses the installation of electrical conductors, equipment, and raceways; signaling and communications conductors, equipment, and raceways; and optical fiber cables and raceways in commercial, residential, and industrial occupancies.

Most states are using the 2014 NEC in its building code, but more progressive states (and the NABCEP Certification program) are starting to require 2017 NEC so that electrical contractors can remain up-to-date on the most modern technology, such as rapid shutdown-compliant systems.

Changing the work experience requirement

To qualify for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional exam, candidates must satisfy Training and Work Experience requirements.

Before 2018, candidates were required to demonstrate proof of work experience on 3-5 permitted solar installations in a leadership role. The number of required solar installations varied depending on a candidate’s education level and work experience.

Now, ALL candidates have to demonstrate work experience totaling at least six “Project Credits.”

Project Credits are identified and awarded according to the following scale:

  • System size of 1-999 kW = 2 Project Credits
  • System size of 1 mW and up = 3 Project Credits

Not only has the Work Experience requirement become more straightforward, but candidates may not have to work on as many solar projects in order to qualify for the exam.

Allowing paper-and-pencil format testing AND computer-based testing

Before 2018, the advanced NABCEP installation exam was only offered twice per year – Fall and Spring – and only available in a paper-and-pencil format. In addition to having a specific exam date in the Fall and Spring, NABCEP also posted a series of dates representing application deadlines and exam scheduling deadlines. It was, and still is, important for candidates to satisfy both the Training and Work Experience requirements before these dates so that they are 100% eligible to take the exam when it comes around.

Now, the NABCEP PV Installation exam will be available by paper-and-pencil format AND computer-based testing. In addition to the Fall & Spring exam dates, NABCEP has introduced testing windows for the computer-based exams. Candidates will be able to take their exam at one of Castle Worldwide’s 600+ test sites in the U.S. and Canada.

For the year 2018, NABCEP is offering four testing windows for computer-based exams. The first window, January 1-5, has actually been extended through February 8. If a candidate chooses the computer-based testing option, he/she will need to submit a scheduling request to Castle Worldwide at least four business days prior to the date of the candidate wishes to take their exam. It’s unclear at this time whether candidates of computer-based testing will also be required to submit an application before a particular date. For the latest information about NABCEP testing, please see the NABCEP Calendar.

Re-organizing the PVIP JTA to align with the new PV Specialist learning domains

As we will cover in the last sections of this post, NABCEP has introduced three PV Specialist certifications. We believe that NABCEP has recognized the wide range of skills required to become a solar panel installer and realized that there was a gap between the entry-level PV Associate designation and the advanced PV Installation Professional designation.

As a result, the three PV Specialist certifications were born, each covering a highly focused skill set:

  • Design
  • Installation
  • Commissioning & Maintenance

When you review the updated Job Task Analysis for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification, you’ll see that the learning domains align almost exactly to all three PV Specialist certifications. In other words, to become a NABCEP PV Installation Professional, you must know all of the learning domains for PV Design Specialist, PV Installation Specialist, and PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist.

We have to believe that there is a credentialing hierarchy at play that hasn’t been specifically stated by NABCEP:

  • Step 1: Start with NABCEP PV Associate
  • Step 2: Pursue NABCEP PV Specialty 1
  • Step 3: Pursue NABCEP PV Specialty 2
  • Step 4: Pursue NABCEP PV Specialty 3
  • Step 5: Pursue NABCEP PV Installation Professional

If a candidate pursues all three PV Specialist certifications, he/she will essentially have acquired all the knowledge to prepare for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional exam. This marks the NABCEP PV Installation Professional exam as the highest level of achievement for solar PV certification.

NABCEP PV Design Specialist

Developed in conjunction with U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the NABCEP PV Design Specialist designation enables someone to become an expert at configuring the electrical design of a solar project.

The learning objectives are as follows:

  • Reviewing Customer Expectations
  • Reviewing Project Criteria
  • Assessing Project Site
  • Configuring Mechanical Design
  • Configuring Electrical Design
  • Configuring System Monitoring, Control & Communications Design
  • Preparing Project Documentation
  • Securing Permits and Approvals
  • Adapting System Design

To become a PV Design Specialist, a candidate must complete PV Design and NEC Code training in accordance with the Job Task Analysis. A candidate must also possess an OSHA 10-Hour card. This exam will be administered at Castle Worldwide’s 600+ test sites in the U.S. and Canada.

NABCEP PV Installation Specialist

Developed in conjunction with U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the NABCEP PV Installation Specialist designation enables someone to demonstrate proficiency in all aspects of solar panel installation.

The learning objectives are as follows:

  • Developing a Safety Plan
  • Safeguarding Against Hazards
  • Installing Raceways
  • Installing Electrical Equipment
  • Installing DC PV System Conductors
  • Installing AC PV System Conductors
  • Installing Grounding & Bonding
  • Completing Utility Interconnection Points
  • Installing System Monitoring, Control & Communications Hardware
  • Installing Battery Equipment
  • Installing Ground-Mounted Structures
  • Installing Building-Mounted Systems
  • Installing PV Modules

To become a PV Installation Specialist, a candidate must complete PV Installation and NEC Code training in accordance with the Job Task Analysis. A candidate must also possess an OSHA 10-Hour card. This exam will be administered at Castle Worldwide’s 600+ test sites in the U.S. and Canada.

NABCEP PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist

Developed in conjunction with U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the NABCEP PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist designation enables someone to manage the operations, maintenance, and commissioning aspects of a solar project.

The learning objectives are as follows:

  • Reviewing or Developing Commissioning Protocol
  • Completing Visual and Mechanical Inspection
  • Conducting Mechanical Tests
  • Conducting Electrical Tests
  • Verifying System Operations
  • Confirming Project Completion
  • Orienting End User to System
  • Verifying System Performance
  • Performing Preventive Maintenance
  • Performing Corrective Maintenance

To become a PV Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist, a candidate must complete PV Installation and NEC Code training in accordance with the Job Task Analysis. A candidate must also possess an OSHA 30-Hour card. Note that this PV Specialist certification is the only one that requires OSHA 30. This exam will be administered at Castle Worldwide’s 600+ test sites in the U.S. and Canada.

NABCEP Certification Exam Information

Because of its name, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners has long struggled with servicing international solar professionals. The NABCEP Certification exams are administered by Castle Worldwide, which is a third-party proctoring company with test centers in many locations around the world. The conflict, however, is that the NABCEP exams themselves were not available outside of North American testing centers until recently.

NABCEP PV Associate

Now, the NABCEP PV Associate exam will be administered at 370 test sites in 97 countries, including China, India, Australia, Germany, Kenya, and many others. International test-takers will be required to pay an additional $75 exam fee, which is standard for all of Castle Worldwide’s international exams. Candidates should also know that the exams will be administered in English only.

Everblue’s NABCEP PV Associate Exam Prep is a self-guided online training program accessible to candidates worldwide. After completing the course, individuals will pay the standard $150 exam fee as well as the international $75 exam fee. Once NABCEP validates a candidate’s eligibility, they will work directly with the individual to schedule a computer-based exam at one of Castle Worldwide’s testing locations.

For more information about NABCEP Certification or qualifying for a solar certification exam, please call us at 800-460-2575.

 

 

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