Solar power has come a long way since the summer of 1878, when Augustin Mouchot harnessed sunlight at the third Paris World’s Fair to make a block of ice. It was an impressive feat for his time, but Mouchot’s Solar Concentrator was technologically akin to a child’s naughty wielding of a magnifying glass to assault an anthill. He simply funneled the sun’s heat. Instead of using the heat to roast innocent ants, he used it to fuel a modified steam engine which powered a condenser, essentially turning sunlight into ice.
Today’s photovoltaic technology works on a much different principle. Basically, a solar cell is made from material such as silicon that release electrons when struck by photons of light, causing the material to polarize. This is called the photoelectric effect, and describing it won Albert Einstein a Nobel Prize. If you arrange these cells into a circuit and expose them to sunlight, an electric current is born. Modern research and development into photovoltaics is geared toward increasing efficiencies in power generation, transmission, and storage – while at the same time bringing down costs through advances in manufacturing techniques.
Advanced technologies require advanced skills.
For Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), electrical safety from the industrial to the personal has been a cornerstone of the organization’s existence. UL has been fundamental to worldwide electrification for over a century, with a commitment to quality and safety that is as active and vibrant as ever. In 2013 alone, UL evaluated over 90 thousand products and nearly 22 billion products were manufactured bearing their stamp of approval. Along with product evaluations, UL develops professional accreditation and certification programs that set industry standards, including the expanding solar power industry.
For example, UL offers a Photovoltaic System Installer Certification. The qualifications to even attempt this certification demonstrates UL’s rigorous professional standards. An applicant must have passed the OSHA 30-hour construction safety program and be recognized as a Qualified Electrician, which requires an apprenticeship, classroom training, and state licensure. This reflects thousands of hours of real world experience (roughly 2 – 4 years, depending on individual state licensing guidelines). Once the certification is achieved, the installer must earn six continuing education credits in photovoltaic technology within three years in order to retest, which is when the certification expires.
Clearly, you can expect a UL certified installer to be the embodiment of competence. Keep that in mind when you consider adding or upgrading a solar system for your home or business.