General Contractor with Questions on solar

I know there is a wealth of knowledge here from reading the posts so thought I may get some input on some questions I have. We are a small general contracting business in Oregon and looking to get into the solar boom. We would like to start offering our customers alternative energy options such as solar. We are looking for resources to get us started. We have a general contracting license and plumbing license. We would like to offer solar electric also. Is there something to do to obtain this training and license? Any input would be great!

Thank you,


  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,737 admin
    Re: General Contractor with Questions on solar

    Generally, a state electrician license as a start...

    You can review through the state of solar incentives in Oregon (or any state) at this link: for Oregon

    and read what the requirements are to qualify for the various rebates/credits/loans and make sure your company/people can meet those requirements.

    Lastly, I would humbly suggest that you specialize in Solar RE that makes sense for the region in which you do business...

    If you are in the mountains on the coastal side--trees and marine layer make Solar PV Electric systems a bit dicey--but Hydro and Wind may be a good fit. If you are on the eastern side of the mountains--solar PV electric is a great fit.

    And, look at what type of work you want... Out here, there are quite a few solar PV electric installers--but fewer solar hot water / plumbing installers... And, for the most part, solar hot water is less expensive and a better solar investment for most people. However, because of the complexity of solar hot water, there can be more maintenance issues (pumps, valves, freezing, leaks, etc.).

    Also, generally there are distributor programs for most manufacturers... Pick a few vendors with good reputations and contact them for details on joining their network...

    As a general contractor--you may make a lot of business based on remodels for conservation... I spent lots of $$$ on insulation, double pane windows, new Energy Star central heater, ceiling fans, appliances, etc... Much more than on my Solar PV GT system.

    But, because of my conservation, my Solar PV Grid Tied system is probably 1/2 the size I would need if I did not do the conservation part first (all at my direction--my contractor did not care or offer any conservation suggestions). And I still had to go through myself and finish up some stuff (such as better sealing of my duct work).

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: General Contractor with Questions on solar

    We are in Beaverton Oregon. I don't think there are a lot of people yet offering solar. At least we haven't heard of them. We are also a licensed plumbing company so the Thermal Solar would be easier to get into I am thinking. I do want to start offering solar electric systems. We may need to put together some packages and sub it out at first until we get up to speed. Thank you for the information and I will take a look at it today!

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,737 admin
    Re: General Contractor with Questions on solar

    A couple good project links for solar hot water... (home page) (solar hot water heating) (solar domestic hot water)

    This guy documented pretty much everything, even what he did wrong and how he fixed it.

    The "Solar Shed" is another home built system--but will give you good ideas:

    As a plumber, you may not make some of these mistakes--but they are still worth a read.

    Some other places to read: (Home Power Magazine) (solar thermal kit producer) (solar irradiation data) (solar PV prediction site based on real data) (more info)

    Of course, there is a lot more out there--but these will get you started with some real-world installations and their issues.

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: General Contractor with Questions on solar

    As a (semi) retired general contractor, I can tell you it was a hard sell. I suspect that may be changing a bit. As Bill suggests, solar water and space heat are much cheaper installations and generally more efficient. PV solar is "sexy" and therefore becomes an easier sell, even if it doesn't make much sense.

    I suggest you A:read all you can here and elsewhere B: Consider attending a few workshops and training sessions such as the Solar Living Institute. Many local colleges/tech schools have training sessions.

    Good luck,

  • MangasMangas Solar Expert Posts: 547 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: General Contractor with Questions on solar

    I was the general building my house. These are my opinions.

    Agree with Bill's emphasis on careful conservation planning. It's where you've got to start, especially off-grid.

    From experience, I am a firm believer in using the same people to do the house's electrical construction and solar work. Minimizes whipsaw finger pointing during the planning, sizing and installation of these interdependent utilities. It also helps when doing civil work and procurement.

    The decision to find the most experienced licensed electrical contractor I could find (commercially licensed too) to do the rough in electrical, trim and turnkey solar was a critical success factor. Right now, I found this integrated sub resource hard to find.

    Lot's of people say they can build a turnkey off grid solar system but in my experience very few really know what they are doing. A few posts back, I recommended a credible electrician solar install and service network needs to be built from within the solar industry and electrician trade to gain people's confidence in the technology. I found expectations about system cost and deliverables are not well understood.

    In the meantime, if you have to go further to get the right people it would be a good investment.
    Ranch Off Grid System & Custom Home: 2 x pair stacked Schneider XW 5548+ Plus inverters (4), 2 x Schneider MPPT 80-600 Charge Controllers, 2 Xanbus AGS Generator Start and Air Extraction System Controllers, 64 Trojan L16 REB 6v 375 AH Flooded Cel Batteries w/Water Miser Caps, 44 x 185 Sharp Solar Panels, Cummins Onan RS20 KW Propane Water Cooled Genset, ICF Custom House Construction, all appliances, Central A/C, 2 x High Efficiency Variable Speed three ton Central A/C 220v compressors, 2 x Propane furnaces, 2 x Variable Speed Air Handlers, 2 x HD WiFi HVAC Zoned System Controllers
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