In order for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations to be scalable, installers need consistent standards. This need is most critical in the inspection process. Deploying solar effectively becomes increasingly difficult if installers must abide by different rules for each jurisdiction or send crews out to modify an installation in order to meet specific inspection requirements.
The PV industry is experiencing rapid growth at precisely the same time the public sector is experiencing massive layoffs. This convergence has created multiple challenges for the PV industry: Not only are there fewer inspectors available to review PV installations, but budgetary and time constraints limit the training and resources available to the inspectors who remain.
While PV installations are not especially complex, they can present unique challenges. Installation practices often vary from installer to installer, and inspectors may be unfamiliar with the electrical and structural specifics of differing PV installations. A streamlined and consistent inspection process can help make the inspection process more efficient, saving time for inspectors and supporting greater numbers of PV installations.
PV inspection processes must include a number of steps, including visually inspecting system integrity, confirming wire size and conduit grounding, inspecting junction and combiner boxes, and verifying proper installation of wire and wire conduits. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC’s) Field Inspection Guidelines for PV Systems (prepared by Brooks Engineering) provides thorough and effective procedures for both residential and commercial PV inspections.
Two suggested initiatives that may improve the inspection process for both jurisdictions and the solar industry are consolidation and education.
Consolidation – Currently, every jurisdiction develops its own inspection protocol. Providing jurisdictions with a standardized protocol that identifies the elements of a safe installation can enhance the likelihood that inspectors will focus on the most critical installation elements. A standardized process could also increase the solar industry’s confidence that similar installations will face a comparable inspection process within any jurisdiction.
Education – Installer education is a critical element in improving the safety and performance of PV systems. Additionally, though PV installations are increasing, many jurisdictions have reviewed a limited number of systems to date. The novelty of the technology combined with limited educational resources and variances among installers can make it difficult for an inspector to stay current with all of the potentially unique installations. Thorough, concise, and readily accessible educational resources can enhance an inspector’s knowledge base and help advance uniformity in inspections across geographic distances without excessive cost or time commitments.
Solar 3.0 offers PV Installation Requirements and Codes workshops, which address changes to the national electrical, building, and fire codes as pertains to PV. Click here to see an example of the curriculum offered during these workshops, and check the Events Calendar to see when the next training opportunities are coming up.
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Most building inspectors are certified by the International Code Council (ICC) and many ICC Chapters offer solar inspection components as part of their continuing education offerings. Solar industry veterans like Bill Brooks of Brooks Engineering and John Wiles of New Mexico State University also offer training through ICC chapters and other solar training venues. In addition, the International Association of Electrical Inspectors includes Solar Photovoltaic Systems in its Electrical Inspector Certification. In conjunction with the National Fire Protection Association, Underwriters Laboratories offers one-day workshops on the National Electrical Code for Photovoltaics.