Monday, November 30, 2009

NY Training for Solar Electric Systems

Residential solar electric systems have become extremely popular in New York state because of a variety of incentive programs and tax breaks that are available to homeowners.

But the problem here and elsewhere across the country is that there aren't enough qualified people to install solar electric panels -- also known as photovoltaic, or PV, systems -- which can be dangerous to install without proper training.

"There's people being killed by PV systems, and they're burning houses down," said Jim Dunlop, president of Jim Dunlop Solar, a solar training and design firm based in Cocoa, Fla.

Dunlop was speaking Friday at the Albany Marriott hotel on Wolf Road in Colonie during a renewable energy work force training conference. The event was sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

He was trying to make the point that the country needs a stable group of trained solar system installers, and it needs them now.

"The key thing is training the trainers," Dunlop told a capacity crowd in one of the hotel's conference rooms. "Unfortunately, the training centers don't get the subsidies that the public programs get."

Luckily for the Capital Region, money to pay for training is coming from the federal government. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that Hudson Valley Community College in Troy will be getting nearly $3.5 million for solar electric system installation training.

"This funding will allow us to establish a network of certified instructors across the Northeast, which will have a significant impact on the photovoltaic industry and the promotion of sustainable renewable energy," HVCC President Andrew Matonak said in a statement.

The money is part of $27 million that the Department of Energy is spending on nine regional training centers across the United States, with $10 million of the amount coming from stimulus funding. A center to serve New England was designated at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, Maine.

Mark Frickel, an energy analyst with a company called Sentech Inc. of Bethesda, Md., who is working on the Department of Energy training program, says that the solar industry got a black eye in the 1980s with poorly-trained installers.

"Nobody wants that to repeat," Frickel said.

He said there is a shortage of solar installers right now, and so the outlook for training the trainers is promising.

"Solar training needs to be high quality, local and accessible," Frickel said.

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