The solar industry has been anticipating the release of Enphase’s Ensemble home energy management system with grid-forming technology since it was announced in May 2019.
Soon after in-person training for the system officially started in Q1 of 2020, COVID-19 forced the nation into lockdown.
The company had to pivot.
“We got off to a great start,” said Dave Ranhoff, chief commercial officer at Enphase. “We had trained about 120 people, and then, of course, we get COVID.”
Ensemble is a whole- or partial-home residential battery backup solution. Systems are comprised of five different components, including a microinverter, battery, switch, combiner box and software. Intensive training is required to install the extra parts that enable the unique grid-forming technology.
When lockdowns started, Enphase could no longer offer the two-day in-person training sessions and instead tripled down on developing its learning management system (LMS). Luckily, the company had planned to expand its online Ensemble training even before the pandemic hit. Enphase understood installers wanted to be able to learn remotely and at their own pace. Ranhoff said COVID accelerated the buildout of the LMS by about three months.
The eight online training courses rolling out to the public in the next few weeks have brought the entire training experience to installers’ home and business offices.
“We’ll teach them how to size the system, how to install the system, how to configure it and then ultimately how to onboard it,” Ranhoff said.
The courses include demos, quizzes and tests to make sure installers grasp the material.
Les Mood, co-founder of Bakersfield, California, installation company Energy Independence Group (EIG), was one of the contractors selected to beta-test the Ensemble training along with the master electrician and some apprentices at his company.
“For our team, the training was easy to understand. The technology is advanced, but Enphase seems to have everything really well thought out as far as what the processes will be and how to get it done,” Mood said.
EIG has been preparing for the Ensemble release for a while. The team has already contracted to install 50 systems before the products have been released. Those projects will be ready to go after permitting is approved and products are shipped. JD Dillon, VP of marketing at Enphase, said the company is shipping limited availability product to distributors and installers starting in June, and plans to begin widespread shipping at the end of July.
“We’re excited about how easy it is to do as opposed to other battery systems and energy management systems we’ve installed,” Mood said.
He and his team feel well-prepared to install Ensemble systems thanks to the online training.
“The staff has made it clear they’ll be available if we have any questions. The technical support has always been stellar,” Mood said.
If given the choice, he said he’d choose online training over in-person.
“I do prefer the online training because it allows us to have regular access to the information and the people,” Mood said. “The logistics of getting people to a facility are limited, and when you think about the rest of the nation, it’s going to be a lot easier for East Coast and Midwest companies to attend. As an enthusiast of Enphase Ensemble technology, I’m excited to see how the beta ‘University’ program will make it widely available to the rest of the country.”
The company’s goal was to train 4,000 installers in 2020. Enphase’s Ranhoff thinks it’s still achievable with primarily online learning.
“I think we can grow faster, we can get more installers on board faster and we can serve more homeowners more effectively as a result,” he said.
Once contractors are ready to design and install their first Ensemble system, Ranhoff said the Enphase team will be there (virtually) to ensure they get it right.
Enphase experts will hold a system design review with the installer ahead of time to make sure everything looks right. On install day, the contractor will go through a detailed online checklist for the system, uploading photos of the main panel, service panels and other aspects to make sure it’s installed properly. Then, Enphase will run through a series of functional tests with the installer before turning on the system for the first time.
“Normally, we would like to do that in a hands-on course, and we will ultimately turn that hands-on course back on, but until we’re able to do the hands-on course, we want to be able to enable these installers to start installing the product immediately, so we will do this skills verification step remotely with them,” Ranhoff said.
Although installers can get fully Ensemble-certified online, Enphase still sees value in in-person training so those who want extra hands-on experience have options. As lockdown guidelines ease up, Enphase is preparing to open 13 training centers around the country, co-located with distributor partners and some of the company’s own offices. Enphase also purchased two Amazon Prime-style commercial vans that can offer mobile, on-site training at installer headquarters.
“You can pull it into an installer’s facility, right into the warehouse, you can open the back doors and slide out two racks with full battery systems on them and we can do hands-on training right at the installer,” Ranhoff said.
He sees the digital-heavy approach as the future of solar training.
“I think we’re going to get a terrific outcome that’s going to put us on a different level,” Ranhoff said. “My message to any other company that was trying to think about this is if you remain curious, you can do a lot more than you can imagine digitally.”