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BOB MOON: Maybe you’ve noticed: More solar panels are going up on rooftops in neighborhoods across America. Not to short-circuit a good idea, but there are growing concerns about the safety of those panels. That’s why Underwriters Laboratories — the group that certifies the safety of many products — has designed a new training program for electricians who install solar panels.
From North Carolina Public Radio, Leoneda Inge reports.
LEONEDA INGE: Historically UL — or Underwriters Laboratories — has certified products. Now it’s certifying people.
Brad Smock is in charge of training these electricians in the technology of a solar panel — also known as a photovoltaic system, PV for short.
BRAD SMOCK: So when you walk out of a classroom here, you will actually be able to go install a PV panel and a PV system, tie it into the grid and start producing power at a residence or on a commercial site.
And as with any electrical system there’s always the risk of fire.
PETE JACKSON: April 5th, 2009 — the roof of a Target store exploded and caught fire.
That’s Pete Jackson, chief electrical inspector for the city of Bakersfield, Calif., where the fire occurred.
JACKSON: Originated with the photovoltaic system that had been installed on the roof.
No one was seriously hurt. But Jackson says it could have been a lot worse.
JACKSON: What we realized, and what the firefighters realized, was they couldn’t shut off the supply of electricity, because the sun was out the electricity was produced — it was major amounts.
Jackson and other electrical inspectors from around the country met at UL to help put the finishing touches on installation standards for the incoming class. And if there’s one thing everybody agrees on: There has to be industry standards.
Steve Kalland heads the Solar Center at North Carolina State University.
STEVE KALLAND: There isn’t a lot of agreement nationally on what that should look like, in fact there are lots and lots of programs as the focus on energy has increased in the U.S. Lots and lots of programs that have kind of sprung up in thin air.
Kalland says the new training program will add credibility to the solar-panel industry and to the renewable energy movement, as well.
UL is expecting to train more than 1,000 technicians and electricians in its first year.
I’m Leoneda Inge for Marketplace.
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