Green Career Training under the Microscope

Photo: Photo (c) Adam Gregor

Despite countless new incentives helping to drive Ontario's booming solar energy market, the industry's continued growth hinges on how effectively professionals in the field can provide the types of services that end-users require.  As with any quickly growing sector, speculation and haste are inevitable.  As such, homeowners and businesses need to carefully scrutinize the training their installers have received.

Solar job training and other standards guiding the industry are still very much in their infancy.  Qualifications, regulations, and codes governing PV installation are largely undefined, leaving numerous opportunities for trained and untrained professionals alike.  In this modern-day "wild west," many consumers potentially face quality control issues as they try to sort through the myriad installation options and firms.  Consequently, some unqualified “eco experts” have adroitly exploited this confusion, using the growing and unregulated market to maximize quick profits while leaving homeowners with higher bills, dangerous installations, and unfulfilled promises.

Lesya Cooper is one such Ontario homeowner disappointed by her "green" experience.  After making lofty promises about lower energy bills, better temperature control, and ecological responsibility, her contractor skipped town, taking with him the $70,000 Cooper had invested in her "state-of-the-art geothermal system."

New PV Installations Require Qualified Experts

Opportunities for green energy upgrades on homes and businesses abound throughout the province as Ontario continues to position itself as a global green leader.  Already, the region has dolled out $1 billion in green government rebates and interest-free loans to help residential developers and homeowners make the transition to a greener economy.    

For the most part, such incentives have managed to achieve exactly what they were designed to do - prompt end users across the province to embrace PV installations, wind power, and other green technologies.  Yet, accompanying this enthusiasm is a surprising and growing number of horror stories, many of which highlight the lack of training that some solar integrators and installers have. 

Low quality PV installations and unqualified workers are not just bad for those homeowners saddled with expensive bills and potentially unsafe conditions.  It is also bad for an industry vying for the limelight amongst older but more familiar technologies based on coal, oil, and gas.  Speaking specifically about solar energy, David Gower of Ontario Solar Academy explains, "Installers and integrators are the face of [the industry] since they meet directly with end users.  People are genuinely excited about solar technology, but that enthusiasm could disappear if systems are not properly installed." 

Toronto resident, Nadine Bloomfield, is rather illustrative of this potential "souring."  Two years ago, she was eager to take part in an experiment to create "a simple, modern, eco-friendly home."  Two years later, the project is unfinished, serving as a visual and financial reminder of “green gone bad.”  Bloomfield remarks, “If the government is going green, it needs the regulations, oversight and standards in place first before it swings its doors open and rings the bell declaring the shop’s open.”  Brad Duguid, Ontario's energy and infrastructure minister, promises to look into the situation.    

Expanded Quality Training for New Green Careers

In the future, renewed focus on quality could expand the market for green career preparation in geothermal, wind, and solar.  Governments are usually responsible for implementing stricter standards across nascent industries, but perhaps demand for better training and "unofficial" standards will arise organically as consumers leverage their buying power to push renewable energy in the right direction.  

Austin Brentley is a born and bred Washingtonian who has spent the last 9 years traveling the globe, living in New York, Hawaii, Japan, Thailand, France, and most recently, Malaysia.  Passionate about all things green, Austin currently works with the Ontario Solar Academy, writing news stories and blogs about North America's growing solar revolution.  Feel free to drop him a line if you have questions about photovoltaic technology or solar panel installation training.