One significant barrier to the expansion of the solar market is the limited training of municipal code officials, the individuals responsible for approving proposed plans and inspecting and approving installations of photovoltaic (PV) systems. A dynamic new online training opportunity launches this month to provide consistent, effective training which can quickly and cost-effectively reach a far greater number of code officials than has been possible with traditional onsite workshops and seminars.
“Development of the Photovoltaic Online Training (PVOT) project expands the reach and scale of training,” says IREC Executive Director Jane Weissman. “It creates an avenue for more consistent learning nationwide.”
The project is part of IREC’s role as the national administrator of the Solar Instructor Training Network, through a grant with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). While the online program is targeted to code officials, to instruct in key issues for granting permits and performing field inspections for residential PV installations, it is also available to others.
The training addresses a significant barrier to the expansion of the solar market. Code officials and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) provide a critical link in the process of PV installation applications and permitting. Lack of familiarity with PV systems, codes and standards can lead to unnecessary steps in the approval process, which can slow system installations and add additional costs. Providing more accessible PV training online will help accelerate the process and reduce costs, while providing quality assurance of safe installations.
The project is also important for its use of groundbreaking technology in education. “This project is an early adopter of several highly innovative emerging technologies that are transforming the delivery of educational resources, not only within the PV industry but across all sectors,” said Joe Deringer, executive director of the Institute for the Sustainable Performance of Buildings (SuPerB) and lead project manager.
The training includes seven online modules, six traditional and a final “capstone” module which is game-based. It provides an interactive environment in which the user can assess and improve his/her ability to identify correctly and/or incorrectly installed components of a roof-mounted PV Array installation.
In the final module, the online learner steps up to a virtual house to be faced with problem-based challenges and scoring. It is intended to fully engage the learner in a 3D environment, imbedded in a game-based framework with its own assessment. The first six traditional linear training modules present a series of pages with onscreen content, 2D media and video with narration, followed by an assessment quiz.
The content covers the major topics of concern for field inspection and expedited permitting, including: Roof Mounted Arrays and Wire Management; Electrical for Roof and Ground Mounted Arrays; Specifics of Ground Mounted Arrays; Appropriate Signage; Equipment Ratings; and Expedited Permitting.
All lessons have been reviewed and vetted by currently serving code officials and field inspectors, and representative members of the solar industry. All seven learning modules are contained within DOE’s National Training & Education Resource (NTER).
IREC contracted with SuPerB to develop the training modules. Brooks Engineering provided the primary subject matter expertise.
“Through SunShot, the Department of Energy is succeeding in making solar affordable for many American families,” says DOE’s Minh Le, acting director, SunShot. “SunShot supports the development of the most innovative, effective tools for renewable energy adoption. Free, accessible online training for the local code officials involved in solar safety inspections in more than 18,000 jurisdictions will help drive down the costs of getting solar power,” he said.
At the conclusion and passing of the course, students can apply for Continuing Education Units from the International Association of Electrical Inspectors. “We are pleased to be working with IREC and our Industry partners under the DOE’s SunShot Initiative,” said David Clements, IAEI’s CEO. ”IREC’s online training program is an excellent tool that provides much needed education for all involved in today’s fast growing PV industry.”
To publicize the on-line training and to develop a companion, hands-on workshop, IREC will be working with DOE’s SunShot Initiative; the nine Regional Training Providers comprising the Solar Instructor Training Network; SolarTech and its team including the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, Underwriters Laboratories, and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability; DOE’s Rooftop Solar Challenge teams; and others.
“IREC’s online training gives users a clear and easy pathway to help code officials understand the photovoltaic systems they are inspecting. This leads to safer systems, satisfied customers, and lower costs,” says SolarTech’s Tom Tansy, Solar 3.0 program manager. “SolarTech’s Solar 3.0 team and IREC’s Regional Training Providers give us a strong and wide-reaching network to get the word out about the online training opportunity,” says Tansy.