North Carolina: a hotspot for solar training in the Southeast

By Jane Pulaski
December 12, 2011

A tasty menu of renewable energy incentives and utility rebates, home of the Solar Center and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at NC State, and a regional epicenter for training tomorrow’s solar instructors through the Southern Mid-Atlantic Regional Training Provider (one of eight RTPs in the National Solar Instructor Training Network), makes North Carolina one very solar friendly state.

“The North Carolina solar market and the demand for solar training has surged since passing the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard,” said Lyra Rakusin, Workforce Development Extension Specialist at NC State.

Since 2006 when the NCSC’s Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series (RETDS) became IREC ISPQ Accredited as a Continuing Education Provider, it’s been providing technical and hands-on training; information on current policies and technologies; and a support network of experienced renewable energy professionals.

The program is geared especially for electrical, plumbing, and general contractors, engineers and HVAC professionals, builders and architects, entrepreneurs—anyone who wants a higher level of professional training in renewable energy and green building.  To earn the diploma, students must complete 120 contact hours, or three 40-hour workshops within three years, and make a 15-minute presentation on their future plans.  Participants must be there 90% of the time to receive the workshop certificate.  A certificate of completion is given at the end of each five-day workshop.

Just last month, the RETDS received IREC ISPQ Training Program Accreditation for its solar PV and thermal workshops.
The IREC ISPQ credential accredits training programs and certifies instructors.  The credential is based on an international standard that specifies requirements for competency, quality systems, resources, and qualification of a curriculum against which trainers and training programs can be evaluated.

“We wanted to make sure that we held up to the highest standards of the industry, and have a third-party (IREC ISPQ) give us its stamp of approval,” said Lyra Rakusin.

Rakusin says they’ve been working with local workforce boards to advertise their classes.  Though classes aren’t as full as they’ve been in the past, the majority of their students are from North Carolina, though they do get a handful from the greater NC region. Students from Ireland, the Bahamas and Libya have taken their classes.   According to Rakusin, the demand for PV classes is higher than for solar thermal—almost a 3 to 1 ratio.

Former students are surveyed biannually to learn if they’re working in the industry.  “In the survey we sent last year, about 40% said they were working in the renewable energy/green building field, but 68% had worked on some type of renewable project after taking our courses.” In that same survey, when asked what made them decide to take a workshop at the NC Solar Center, 46% said it was the IREC ISPQ accreditation.

In addition to the IREC ISPQ accredited courses at NCSU, a new Certificate in Renewable Energy Management (CREM) is underway.  This 40-hour program focuses on technology, policy and finance for the non-installer, providing a sound foundation of how existing renewable energy technologies work to help individuals make informed decisions as a manager and businessperson in the renewable energy industry.

“I’m hopeful that the CREM program will help further the industry by giving non-installers the tools and resources they need to navigate what can be the complicated process of structuring deals and contracts and finding how to do business in different states,” said Rakusin.  Deadline for early registration for the March-May 2012 course is January 25th ($200 discount for early registrants).

“Having gone through the IREC ISPQ process has really helped us identify our strengths and areas for improvement,” she added. “It is always helpful to have someone from the outside validate your work. We’ll be working for IREC ISPQ status for the CREM program next year.”

For more information about any of the training programs at NC State, visit the website, or contact Lyra Rakusin at




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