USSolar Institute was founded in 2008 as a result of founder Ray Johnson discovering there were few schools in the world who properly trained people for the rigorous task of designing and installing PV systems in hurricane prone regions. Ray had a degree in Mechanical Engineering and had spent over 20 years helping large electrical users reduce operational and new construction energy expenses and costs felt the day of buildings operating with solar PV power would be a growing industry.
The state of Florida has professional solar contracting law and requires a person to have over four (4) years of documented experience installing solar. Those four years can be a combination of specific education (engineering or construction management degrees) and field experience. The distinction between solar thermal or hot water systems and solar photovoltaic or PV solar electricity systems was not mandated by the state of Florida. This means that a person who had spent years installing solar hot water systems for pools of domestic hot water could in fact qualify to install high voltage systems despite having no specific electrical experience doing so.
Moreover the Florida state exam, that is required to be passed by all wishing to earn a Florida state Certified Solar Contractors licensure, is largely based on solar thermal too.
So how does a person wishing to work as a contractor in the state of Florida get the experience and education to qualify to become a Florida State Certified Solar Contractor? The truth is sobering – many provide false information that is not critically reviewed by an overburdened Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Construction Industry Licensing Board and since the exam is largely based on plumbing the exam taker is not tested adequately on the National Electric Code and OSHA safety articles and standards.
“One must know before one can do”
As a Mechanical Engineer who had spent decades designing and installing hydronic (or water) based heating and cooling systems, Ray had the background to meet the education and experience aspects to qualify for the license but, no real electrical experience or training.
In order to learn solar and be trained in photovoltaics, Ray went to the Florida Solar Energy Center who had been involved in solar for over 30 years. After the second day, Ray realized that this course alone would not provide the proper preparation for the state exam and the subject matter was instructed by academic engineering types with no real practical electrical contracting or installation experience.
Hoping to find more advanced solar PV education, Ray looked to solar industry leading California to take more classes and enrolled at the Solar Living Institute who promoted the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (or NABCEP). The second course provided the same lack of results and the NABCEP entry level exam was not recognized by any professional board or college nor was it enough to install solar anywhere despite the marketing message by most solar training schools who proclaimed the 40 hour course (and volunteer exam) was actually permitted one to do.
Not to be deterred Ray enrolled in two (2) other courses (Solar Energy International and Boots on the Roof) and was equally disappointed.
With now over $10,000 invested in proclaimed advanced solar energy courses based on NABCEP task analysis Ray hoped to be ready to take the Florida State Certified Solar Contractors exam until he discovered that the state exam was largely based on thermal. Ray passed the exam anyway opened Florida Solar One, Inc a Florida State Certified Contracting firm and concluded others may want a better path to knowledge to. Next he decided to embark on opening The USSolar Institute so others would not have to experience the same ill fate.
Florida has professionally regulated educational and contracting licensure and the not for profit volunteer organizations like NABCEP do not fit the bill for the professionally regulated market. For this reason, The USSolar Institute made application to the Florida Department of Education to become a licensed college to train people at the most qualified level – proven with a Department of Education license. The curriculum was scrutinized by the same body that do the same for degree courses and those who perform the instruction had to be themselves qualified with degrees and professional licenses.
In 2008 the Florida Department of Education unanimously approved USSolar Institute for licensure with two (2) members holding a PhD in education, four (4) with professional engineering degrees and licensure plus several electricians and solar contractors who hold licensure for the same.
Later in 2010 Underwriters Laboratory who has provided the standard in safety for all things electrical for over 100 years announced they would be offering courses and examination for an ANSI17024 personal certification as a Certified PV Installer. Ray welcomed UL with a letter to the UL president and a few days later was contacted by them to discuss the course and examination.
Also in 2010 Ray constructed the labs and conducted UL’s first solar installer course with the very curriculum and practical’s that was approved by the Florida Department of Education for USSI. The relationship exists to this day and only at USSolar Institute can one take the finest courses and for those who qualify sit for the UL Certified PV Installer examination.
The next steps for USSI
In 2012 only after The USSolar Institute had three (3) proven years of providing solar education every month did the Department of Defenses division of Veterans Affairs conclude that USSI would become the first to earn their approval to accept VA benefits to our American heroes. Starting in the Fall of 2012 the first American Veterans will begin on their journey to earn a Diploma in Photovoltaics with the support of the GI Bill, VRAP and Montgomery Bill benefits.
Also coming in 2012-13 school year USSolar Institute is expanding its flagship course PV401 to provide at least 1,000 hours of rigorous on the job training to give graduates a chance at earning a full year of experience required for state licensure and to sit for the UL Certified PV Installer exam.
Lastly, USSolar Institute is a sponsor and supporter of the United States Renewable Energy Education Organization (or USREE) ISO/ANSI 17024 personal certification as a USREE Certified Solar Apprentice. Once 1,000 hours of proven installation experience is proven the apprentice is eligible to sit for the UL Certified PV Installer – the global gold standard in qualified PV installation persons.
Once one knows one needs access to Parts and Smarts
After earning a Florida state Certified Solar Contractors license and at least four (4) certificates of completion from the unregulated and licensed “solar training schools” Ray decided to purchase his first system to install on his own home in the Florida Keys.
Again a problem arose when he discovered that many companies sell solar products but, the sales people themselves were not able to help answer technical questions about the specifics on installing in hurricane prone regions where high winds, salty air and high humidity and temperatures take a harsh toll on these electrical systems.
Ray concluded that once one knows the industry they simply must have access to solar parts at fair market rate supported by people knowledgeable and qualified to design and support the sale and decided to open USSolar International to provide wholesale parts and pre-packaged professionally engineered systems to those who qualify for installations throughout the world.
Large system engineering, procurement, construction and financing.
In 1972 the first commercial system in the United States was installed by a staff member of USSI. This proven experience provides the foundation for the engineering, procurement, construction and financing division of USSolar.
USSolar has a team of construction and engineering professionals who understand the advanced aspects of utility interconnection. Clients around the world who generate electricity and want proven solar systems to improve their renewable energy portfolio look to USSolar’s expertise in design, construction and operation of utility scale and grid connected large systems to lower their energy costs and stabilize their cost of electrical generation.
With the ability to provide financial solutions for any sized systems USSolar Financing can help anyone or any country harness the power of the sun today and tomorrow.
In conclusion USSolar provides the finest education, pathways to globally recognized personal certification, wholesale parts, design build construction and financial solutions it is easy to see why we say ..
“USSolar – we provide everything but the sunshine”