The Solar Energy Education and Training Best Practices give solar instructors the right tools for the job of training a highly skilled, globally competitive solar workforce. Separately and collectively, these documents enable instructors to easily enhance current solar curriculum while providing a detailed roadmap for those who are considering adding solar to related trades curriculum.

#1: Becoming an Effective Teacher

Dr. Barbara Martin — Lead Author
Educational Consultant, Former Professor

Download PDF of Best Practices #1: Becoming an Effective Teacher

This paper focuses on two primary components of instructional systems design (ISD): the development phase and the implementation phase. These phases address teaching and learning strategies that promote effective instruction. When you design instruction using the ISD process, it is important to know a little about learning theory.

If you want to be a good teacher, you have to know how students learn. Here we examine the information processing theory of learning and how it impacts lesson design using an eight-step lesson design plan. We also briefly discuss some adult-learning principles that you can incorporate into teaching and learning strategies. In addition, we provide a few tips for designing and using PowerPoint presentations effectively.

#2: Curriculum & Program Development

Dr. Barbara Martin — Lead Author
Educational Consultant, Former Professor

Download PDF of Best Practices #2: Curriculum & Program Development

Solar education programs have existed for more than three decades. Three of the earliest and most notable programs were developed by ARCO Solar (a PV module manufacturer), the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC, a university-based research, testing, and education institution), and Solar Energy International (SEI, a private training organization).

These organizations independently developed education and training programs based on their assessment of constituent needs. The primary target audience for all three was the solar industry. However, the duration of training, technical content, and focus on specific solar occupations varied.

In 2002, the first national job task analysis (JTA) was prepared by industry experts and professionals for photovoltaic (PV) system installers. Originally, this JTA was to be a framework for a national certification examination. However, it has also been used as a guide for the development of PV installer curricula and programs. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ (NABCEP) PV System Installer JTA has been updated several times since 2002. Other NABCEP JTAs have been produced for jobs in solar thermal, PV technical sales, and small wind.

This paper gives a brief overview of the curriculum development process—with special attention to DACUM (Developing A Curriculum) methodology and JTA. We have used the terms curriculum and program interchangeably because we are discussing the process of development rather than a specific set of courses that might constitute a particular curriculum or program.

Typically, an instructional program is a set of structured learning experiences used to teach a particular subject that is offered by an educational institution or recognized educational provider. It can, but does not have to, lead to a formal degree or formal award such as a certification. A curriculum is a set of courses or a plan for a particular area of study that may or may not be linked to a particular provider and may or may not lead to a formal award. The process of course development is addressed in a separate section.

#3: Developing a Quality Course

Dr. Barbara Martin — Lead Author
Educational Consultant, Former Professor

Download PDF of Best Practices #3: Developing a Quality Course

As the number of solar installations has soared in this country, so has the need for high-quality courses to teach installers how to design, install, and sell solar systems effectively. The quality of courses that have been developed over the years ranges from highly effective (with stated learning objectives, student participation, and assessments) to poorly designed and executed (using what we often call the “sit and get” strategy).

Most courses have suffered from lack of a good description of the job for which they prepare students. That is, there have not been reliable job task analyses. In addition, some courses have omitted one or more of the following: clearly stated objectives, effective tests and assessments, interactive classes, hands-on labs, and good equipment.

This paper explores the process of developing a quality course, unit, or lesson and the instructional models and practices that can be used for solar education and training. It includes a discussion of the broad concept of a systematic program plan and how to use instructional systems design (ISD) to develop such a plan. It shows how one type of ISD model— Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) — can be used to design and develop a course or workshop.

#4: Solar Content Integration

Dr. Jerry Ventre — Lead Author
Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director
Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division
Florida Solar Energy Center

Download PDF of Best Practices #4: Solar Content Integration

In developing and expanding the solar workforce, the question arises as to whether it is better to educate and train “solar specialists,” or it is better to provide supplemental solar knowledge and add-on skills to more traditional occupations. Focus group meetings held by both IREC and the Florida Solar Energy Center have shown that, by a two-to-one margin, industry representatives feel that the added-skills approach is the best strategy at the present time — or at least until there is greater certainty about the demand for solar energy.

For example, providing a journeyman electrician with the added skills to install PV systems may be more prudent than training a “PV installer” from the ground up. If the solar market declines, the PV installer may be out of work, whereas the electrician is still an electrician and can apply his broader talents to non-solar electrical work. Even in a stable solar market, workloads may not be significant enough to keep PV installers fully employed.

This document examines options for educating and training individuals by integrating or infusing solar content into existing education and training programs. Options will be considered for a variety of solar occupations due to the current heavy dependency of solar markets and related solar jobs on federal, state, and utility policies. The recommended approach provides the needed instruction, while minimizing the effects of market volatility and job uncertainty.

#5: Exemplary Solar Education & Training Programs

Dr. Jerry Ventre — Lead Author
Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director
Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division
Florida Solar Energy Center

Download PDF of Best Practices #5: Exemplary Solar Education & Training Programs

This chapter presents information on six exemplary solar education and training programs. These programs are complete, integrated, and well-organized and provide a solid foundation for those entering the solar workforce. They do not require significant background, experience, and prerequisites for entering students.

The programs include a construction trade apprenticeship program, three multi-course certificate programs, and two Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree program options. The number of instructional hours ranges from a minimum of 420 to more than 1,000. Each of the programs possesses distinguishing attributes that makes it exemplary and deserving of review and possible emulation by institutions that are considering new solar program development.

#6: Textbooks, References, & Other Instructional Resources

Dr. Jerry Ventre — Lead Author
Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director
Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division
Florida Solar Energy Center

Download PDF of Best Practices #6: Textbooks, References, & Other Instructional Resources

The purpose of this document is to assist instructors in designing, developing, and implementing courses in photovoltaic (PV) systems and solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems. It lists recommended training suites for both PV and SHC instructors—as well as textbooks, key references, and teaching materials that may be useful. Key references relate to occupational safety and health, electrical codes, structural building codes, and plumbing codes in addition to design and installation, minimum standards for equipment certification, and effective training methods.

In addition to technical references for both PV and SHC systems, there are links to magazines, online documents, and websites that may be useful to you.

#7: Photovoltaic Labs

Lead authors
Brian Hurd


Christopher LaForge
Great Northern Solar 

Dr. Jerry Ventre
Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director, Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division, FSEC

Read the full text of #7: Photovoltaic Labs

The primary purpose of this document is to assist faculty and administrators at colleges, universities, and other technical and training institutions that seek to develop new photovoltaic (PV) laboratories or improve existing ones. Such laboratories can then be used for a variety of courses and programs to enhance learning and develop the skills of several target audiences.

Although enrollment has been high for PV instruction throughout the country, the groups receiving the most attention to date have been the construction trades. Contractors, administrators, and tradesmen have shown an increased interest in PV systems installations. The laboratory facilities, equipment, hardware, tools and hands-on learning activities required to train future PV installers effectively are more extensive than those for other solar occupations (such as site evaluation, sales, or system design).

Consequently, this document presents information on developing laboratories that are inclusive enough for PV system installation courses and programs. From this more comprehensive list, selected equipment can then be used in courses for PV designers, contractors, code officials, site assessors, sales personnel, building designers, utility personnel, business professionals and other photovoltaic-related occupations.

This document is not intended to establish minimum requirements for facilities or equipment. Specific needs in these areas will depend on the overall educational objectives and desired outcomes of courses and/or programs, the level and length of courses and/or programs, available budgets and assets and the backgrounds and capabilities of the students.


The following individuals are responsible for the creation of the Best Practices series; some as lead writers and others as contributors and/or reviewers. These subject matter experts worked tirelessly, devoting time and talent to ensure the SITN has the best possible instructional resources available for the delivery of solar education and training.

  • Ezra Auerbach, Former Executive Director, North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)
  • Jim Dunlop, Jim Dunlop Solar
  • Brain Hurd, Hands On Solar, Inc.
  • Christopher LaForge, Great Northern Solar
  • Andrea Luecke, Executive Director, The Solar Foundation
  • Dr. Barbara Martin, Educational Consultant, Former Professor
  • Doug Payne, Former Executive Director, SolarTech Consortium
  • Joe Sarubbi, Project Manager for IREC – National Administrator of the SITN
  • Dr. Jerry Ventre, Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director, Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division, FSEC
  • Jane Weissman,President/CEO,Interstate Renewable Energy Council
  • Dr. Sarah White, Senior Associate, Center on Wisconsin Strategy

IREC would like to recognize Christina Nichols, Contractor to the Solar Energy Technologies Program/SunShot Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy, for her leadership and guidance; and to the U.S. Department of Energy for having faith in IREC, and for providing the resources to assemble such a talented group.

Additional Recognition goes to:

  • Mary Lawrence, IREC Project Coordinator
  • Jane Pulaski, IREC Communications
  • Anita Saville, Technical Editing
  • Brownstone Graphics, Graphic Design

Acknowledgment: This material is based upon work supported by the Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Program/SunShot Initiative, Award No. DE – EE0004137.

Disclaimer: This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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