As California's solar industry grows, the need for a trained workforce grows with it. Many independent organizations offer solar training classes now--and so do many local colleges and universities. There is no national certification system for solar installers, other than the voluntary NABCEP program, and each state has a different definition for a "certified" installer. There's a training program out there for everyone: solar home owners, the vaguely interested, the experienced contractor, and even the experienced installer looking to prep for the NABCEP exam.
Today's solar training resources of note are industry veteran Solar Living Institute (SLI), and newcomer Sierra College: the only community college in Northern California to offer a Solar Energy Technician certificate program.
Non-profit SLI has been offering solar training classes since 1998, seven years after its parent company Real Goods Solar started doing hands-on workshops and lectures. Real Goods is still around, and still for-profit, and while the two businesses share an address they are kept totally separate; SLI was founded precisely to allow for unbiased, focused solar education. SLI offers workshops and "solar bootcamps" in addition to online webinars and training. It's also open to the public for self-guided tours daily, and professional tours can be arranged. SLI is located a couple hours northwest of Sacramento in Hopland, California.
Just 22 miles outside of Sacramento in Rocklin, California, Sierra College started training energy technicians in fall of 2009. The program has been helped by California's renewable energy initiatives: Roseville Electric's BEST Homes incentive program encourages solar-powered communities, and the California Solar Initiative is in place to install panels on one million roofs across the state.
The two plans increased demand for trained solar workers and fueled the California Community College Chancellor's Office to award Sierra College a $470,000 grant to develop a training program for solar installers. In 2010, the school received another $205,000 in grants to develop energy-saving practices that manufacturers can adopt.
What is solar energy? How competitive is the job market? Sierra's comprehensive program starts with the basics and leads into more technical aspects of solar. The courses benefit novice solar students trying to learn the black and white of solar power and the professional technician who is one class short of gaining certification. Interested? Sierra College's detailed course descriptions online can help determine whether the program is right for you.