Obama launching training program for solar

Obama launches solar training program for veterans

Obama launching training program for solarPresident Obama launched a program Friday to train outgoing military personnel and veterans to work in the solar power sector.

He announced the initiative Friday at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which has solar panels on site and uses them to provide 20 percent of its electricity. The White House first unveiled the program earlier Friday.

The president used the speech as an opportunity to boast about the success of the solar power sector, and sell it as a prime opportunity for military veterans. He toured the solar installation before the speech.

“The solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy,” Obama said, quoting 2014 employment figures. “They’re good-paying jobs that are helping folks enter in the middle class. And today what we’re going to try to do is to build on the progress that’s already been made.”


solar supply chain

Wind and solar supply chains thrive in Midwest states

solar supply chain
Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Wind and solar energy support about 30,000 jobs at about a thousand companies in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, according to a series of reports released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center over the past two weeks.

The reports show the jobs created not only by the manufacture of wind turbine components, the building of wind farms and the installation of solar panels, but also in related businesses from banking to making cables and glass.

“We continue to be impressed by the robustness and the diversity of these jobs,” said ELPC executive director Howard Learner. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are headquarters and manufacturing and construction jobs, retrofitting jobs, legal and insurance jobs, design and engineering, it’s really a diverse mix of skills for all types of companies.”

The ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

The supply chains have remained robust even as wind and solar have faced policy uncertainty at the state and federal level.

The ELPC and other groups say the renewal of the federal Production Tax Credit is crucial to future wind development and its supply chain impacts. The Siemens wind turbine blade plant in Fort Madison, Iowa laid off more than 400 of its 660 employees in 2012 because of uncertainty over the PTC. Many of those workers were rehired when the PTC was extended, the ELPC report notes, but now the credit is again in limbo.

Meanwhile the federal Investment Tax Credit which supports solar installations is in effect through 2016, with proponents hoping for a renewal.

In all three states and across the Midwest, federal grants under the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) pay up to a quarter of the cost for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects at farms or small rural businesses. In 2014 Congress authorized continued funding of $250 million for five years.

The ELPC released its Iowa report on March 5, just before a major agricultural summit in Des Moines where Republican presidential hopefuls discussed their views.

Learner said renewable energy and the federal tax credits will likely be an issue in the presidential election, and the special role that Iowa plays is notable since public support for wind power in Iowa is strong.


Iowa leads the Midwest in wind capacity installed, with 5,178 MW. Illinois is second with 3,578 MW. In 2013 and 2014 Iowa got more than a quarter of its power from wind.

Iowa’s solar development is the lowest in the Midwest, with only 4.6 MW, compared to almost 10 MW for Ohio, 49 MW for Indiana, 43 MW for Illinois and 22 MW each for Wisconsin and Michigan. But Learner said he expects solar development in Iowa to accelerate after a court ruling last year that protected third-party financing.

In Iowa, the ELPC report says, 47 companies are involved in the solar supply chain and 75 in the wind supply chain. Solar installation, manufacturing and supply creates 680 jobs in the state. Overall, the clean energy supply chain supports 4,000 jobs.

The report credits the vibrant wind industry manufacturing scene in Iowa for both the state’s support for wind energy and to Iowa’s general attractiveness to manufacturers thanks to its skilled workforce and transportation infrastructure.

State policies that support the wind industry include a state sales tax exemption for wind industry materials and equipment. The state also offers tax credit to corporations who enter the state’s New Jobs Training program and expand their employment base by 10 percent a year. Tax credits are also offered for “high quality jobs” that meet certain wage and other requirements.

Examples of the wind supply chain employers in Iowa include Anemometry Specialists, which makes towers for meteorological monitoring for wind farms; and Conductix-Wampfler, which employs 95 people at a factory in Harlan making rotor pitch controls and an alternative to copper cable for wind turbines.

The proliferation of wind farms in Iowa is an incentive for factories to locate there, since products don’t need to be transported far. For example, Siemens’ Fort Madison plant is supplying blades for more than 500 turbines being built as part of MidAmerican Energy Company’s $2 billion investment in wind power in Iowa.

Iowa wind manufacturers also sell their products nationally and globally. For example Conductix-Wampfler is developing cable specifically for offshore wind power. Keystone Electrical Manufacturing in Des Moines has a $2.2 million contract to supply wind substations in Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In Iowa as elsewhere, wind manufacturers are taking advantage of manufacturing infrastructure from days past. For example, the Trinity Structural Towers plant in Newton, Iowa opened in the site of a former Maytag washing machine factory.

“You see old-line manufacturing companies retooling to produce clean energy,” said Learner.

Solar components are less likely to be manufactured in the Midwest, but the installation of solar panels and related tasks provide many jobs. Eagle Point Solar, the company at the center of the state Supreme Court case that upheld third party financing, employs 22 people doing solar installations in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Eagle Point and other companies not only install solar power but also in many cases own the installation and sell the power to the homeowner, business or organization.

There is also some manufacturing related to solar in Iowa, for example a DuPont plant in Fort Madison that makes a film used to help protect solar panels from harsh weather. Baird Mounting Systems in Waterloo makes mounting equipment for solar panels as well as antennas and satellite dishes. And PowerFilm in Ames makes thin film solar modules that are mounted on RVs, golf carts and batteries.

“States that get the policies right will drive solar development,” Learner said. “There’s an enormous number of jobs in installation, wiring.”


Wisconsin has very little wind power installed, with only 648 MW. But it is actually home to more companies and clean energy supply chain jobs than in Iowa. There are 316 companies in the solar supply chain and 231 in wind, and 6,800 total people employed, the ELPC report says.

That’s thanks to the state’s rich history as a manufacturing hub, its transportation infrastructure and its research institutions – including the Energy Institute and Solar Energy Laboratory at UW-Madison and a public-private energy storage lab at UW-Milwaukee.

Companies include Cardinal CG, which makes glass for solar panels; DH Solar makes solar installations that track the sun; Applied Plastics makes a plastic used for the molds of wind turbine blades; and Faith Technologies, an employee-owned electrical contractor that installed 800 solar panels at Kohl’s stores in Wisconsin.

The report calls renewables Wisconsin’s only source of “domestic energy,” as the state does not produce natural gas, coal or uranium. The report notes that after years of bipartisan support for renewable energy, the state has “reversed course” as Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican legislature and the Public Service Commission have pushed policies hostile to renewable energy development.


Illinois is home to 170 wind and 237 solar supply chain companies, employing a total of about 20,000 people. There are about 70 solar and 50 wind companies in the Chicago area alone, including 13 corporate headquarters of national and global wind energy companies.

The Illinois companies are notable for their size, with an average of 26 employees. Companies are clustered in the Chicago area along with Rockford, Peoria and other former manufacturing hubs.

Corporate headquarters in Chicago include Goldwind, the top manufacturer of wind turbines in China, with plans to build manufacturing plants in the U.S.; Gaelectric North America, a company developing wind projects in the UK and Ireland and also a 430 MW project in Montana; the German manufacturer Nordex; and Acciona, a global company in the running to provide renewable energy to the Department of Defense.

Legislation introduced last month to “fix” structural problems with the state’s Renewable Energy Standard and also to increase the solar carve-out and the renewable goals in the standard could boost the Illinois wind and solar industry significantly.

New companies have sprung up, while other companies that have been around for decades have started making components for wind and solar energy – like Finkl Steel on Chicago’s South Side, LB Steel in suburbs south of Chicago or Brad Foote Gear Works, a company in the suburb of Cicero that has been around for almost 90 years and remade itself as a wind energy supplier.

Learner noted that S&C Electric Company, a factory that supplies electronics for wind power, is just blocks from his home on the north side of Chicago.

“This is the Midwest, where we make things,” he said.


solar diversity

Grid Alternatives Grabs $5M to Build a More Diverse Solar Workforce

solar diversityIn an effort to bring more equality to the solar workforce, solar manufacturing giant SunEdison announced Friday that it is giving a $5 million contribution to Grid Alternatives, the largest nonprofit solar installer in the United States, and whose work includes providing job training to women, minorities and other underrepresented groups in the industry.

Through this partnership, the U.S.-based SunEdison, which also develops and owns wind and solar power plants, and its philanthropic arm the SunEdison Foundation will give the Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit a mix of financial support and solar panels totaling $5 million, to be doled out over two years.

“This is going to really help Grid expand our work to provide equal access to solar power to all of our communities, and to build a pipeline of trained employees,” said Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of Grid Alternatives.

Grid Alternatives’ programs are rooted in using a professionally guided workforce consisting of volunteers and those receiving job training to install solar in low-income communities.

This is not the first time SunEdison and Grid Alternatives have partnered together to bring greater diversity to solar. Last year, the company announced it was giving the nonprofit $1.2 million to provide women hands-on training, mentorships, fellowships, leadership-building events and networking opportunities.

With the substantial uptick in SunEdison support, Grid Alternatives said it will provide hands-on training to more than 4,000 people throughout the country, and 40 individuals will receive a one-year paid fellowship with the the nonprofit.

Grid Alternatives will also boost its work to connect its job trainees with solar companies looking to hire. Efforts include building up a resume bank to match employers with job seekers and hosting job fairs.

Grid Alternatives also plans to carry on with the main components of its women-focused programming, Mackie said. “You certainly can’t have a one-year effort and say, ‘we are going to bring more women into the industry,’ and then think you’re done,” she said.

The timing of the SunEdison and Grid Alternatives partnership aligns with the current needs of the solar industry.

Solar has been rapidly growing. The number of solar jobs in the U.S. grew by 21.8 percent between 2013 and 2014 — with 173,807 people now working in the sector, according to the latest research by The Solar Foundation. This growth translates to an industry that is creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than the overall U.S. economy.

But the industry’s swift expansion is starting to take its toll. Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified workers, Andrea Luecke, the president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, told earlier this month in an exclusive interview.

As solar companies look to fill jobs, SunEdison and Grid Alternatives want to make sure the industry is also working to build a more inclusive economy.

Although more women work in the solar industry than ever before, gender representation is low. Women accounted for more than 37,500 solar workers, or almost 22 percent of the 2014 workforce, according to The Solar Foundation.

Underrepresentation among minorities in the industry remains the norm as well. In 2014, Latinos comprised 16.3 percent of the solar workforce, Asians or Pacific Islanders represented 7 percent, and African-Americans made up 6 percent.

Mackie hopes the partnership with SunEdison will serve as a call to the solar industry to fill its need for well-trained workers with applicants from diverse backgrounds. To bring greater equality to the solar industry, “we need plurality of voice in our workforce and at the table making policy decisions,” she said.


vivint solar veterans

Veterans graduate from solar training and go straight to Vivint Solar

vivint solar veteransThe first wave of military veterans to enroll in a US programme to train to work in the solar energy industry have graduated in San Diego, California and already been offered employment.

The veterans graduated from the programme at Camp Pendleton, one of three bases participating in an initial pilot programme to train 200 workers as part of a wider drive to train and recruit new solar industry employees in the US. Residential leasing and installation company Vivint Solar has already hired all 20 of the graduates, the company announced on Friday.

Vivint Solar was one of US solar’s five biggest companies – by numbers of employees- which signed up and committed to interviewing military graduates of the programme. Also involved are SolarCity, Sunrun, SunEdison and SunPower.

solar jobs growth

Solar Jobs Boom Makes Keystone XL Pipeline Look Like A Tinker Toy

solar jobs growthCheck out the Solar Foundation’s latest solar jobs report for the US, and you’ll see why the folks over there are looking forward to another great year in 2015. The new state-by-state solar Jobs Census was just released one minute ago, and aside from the interesting factoid that the solar industry created 1 in 78 new jobs last year, it highlights the emergence of strong solar markets in so-called “red” states where lawmakers are not particularly known for being solar-friendly.

As for the Keystone XL pipeline, for now, let’s just say that the project would create about 3,900 temporary construction jobs and something on the order of 42,000 other temporary jobs all along the supply chain.

That sounds pretty impressive, but how does the solar industry stack up?


Solar Job Growth Benefitting Economy, Environment

solar-jobsSaying it revealed “very encouraging trends,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), today applauded the findings of The Solar Foundation’s latest State Solar Job Census.

“Solar energy continues to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States,” Resch said. “The latest state-by-state breakdown of solar jobs nationwide not only shows impressive growth by our industry – but it also reveals some very encouraging trends. Big gains in employment are no longer limited to solar-friendly California and the sunny Southwest. Employment is also booming in East Coast states, including Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Maryland, while significantly growing in the southern states of Texas, Georgia and Florida.

“From coast to coast, solar is having a huge impact on both our economy and environment. Today, the solar industry employs nearly 175,000 Americans and pumps more than $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy – and we’re just scratching the surface of our enormous potential.”

According to SEIA/GTM Research, the U.S. has an estimated 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States – or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey – with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015-16. In addition, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills.

From an environmental perspective, solar helped to offset an estimated 20 million metric tons of harmful CO2 emissions in 2014, which is the equivalent of taking four million cars off U.S. highways or saving 2.1 billion gallons of gasoline.


Illinois solar

Broad Coalition Coalesces for Clean Energy Jobs in Illinois

Illinois solarLabor, business, and environmental leaders have formed a unique coalition that will urge Illinois lawmakers to pass new standards for energy efficiency and renewable energy, leading to tens of thousands of new, local jobs.

Members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, including Environmental Defense Fund, argue that the state should not settle for an old stagnant energy system – one that struggles to meet new Environmental Protection Agency clean energy standards, raises electricity prices for families and businesses, and fails to create new jobs. Instead, we should move decisively toward a cleaner, more reliable, and affordable energy future that increases employment right here in Illinois.

More than 100,000 individuals across the state already work in the clean energy industry, exceeding the number employed in the state’s real estate and accounting sectors combined. That figure is growing at an impressive rate of nine to 10 percent annually. Coalition members predict even sharper job growth if lawmakers embrace their recommendations for spurring a clean energy economy in Illinois, including:

  • Revising the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to increase the share of power coming from renewable sources, like wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030;
  • Increasing energy efficiency standards to reduce electricity use in Illinois by 20 percent by 2025, creating tens of thousands of new jobs for people who design efficiency measures, weatherize buildings, and upgrade appliances and technologies in homes and businesses;
  • Supporting market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution. Members said that a new revenue stream could be used to invest in areas such as workforce development, low-income bill assistance, and research and development for new clean energy technology.

These principles and the work of the Clean Jobs Coalition are particularly relevant because of two recent developments. First, the U.S. Environmental Protection unveiled its proposed Clean Power Plan last year, which would set the nation’s first ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Meanwhile, Exelon is reportedly preparing to seek a bailout funded by Illinoisans for as much as $580 million to prevent threatened closures at some nuclear plants. Instead of watching other states capitalize on the Clean Power Plan and prosper, or stagnating the state’s economic growth by doubling down on aging power plants, this coalition aims to make Illinois the hub of America’s clean energy future.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of clean energy support among Illinoisans that reinforces what the Clean Jobs Coalition is advocating for.

Many Illinois leaders have gone on record supporting changes in energy standards. Before taking office, Gov. Bruce Rauner said that he supports expanded energy efficiency, restructuring the Renewable Portfolio Standard, and “increasing investment in clean energy.” In December, 53 state legislators signed an official comment letter signaling their support for the Clean Power Plan.

Recent polling shows overwhelming support for clean energy to meet Illinois’ future energy needs. Three out of four voters (75 percent) support increased energy efficiency, 67 percent support more solar, and 59 percent support wind. By contrast, just one-fifth support more nuclear power (19 percent) or coal (21 percent).

EDF is proud to join forces with other environmental groups, such as Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club; consumer advocacy groups, including Citizens Utility Board; labor unions, including the Chicago Building Trades; and businesses, including SoCore Energy and Schneider Electric, to spur a clean energy economy in Illinois – one that leaves a healthier environment for future generations and creates tens of thousands of new jobs across Illinois.

solar jobs

The Solar Foundation’s Andrea Luecke Holds the Statistical Key to Solar Jobs

solar jobsThe news made national headlines and had solar enthusiasts sending virtual high-fives through the social media sphere: The number of solar jobs in the U.S. grew by 21.8 percent between 2013 and 2014 — with 173,807 people now working in the sector. What’s more, the industry was creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than the overall U.S. economy. Bam.

The numbers came from The Solar Foundation‘s painstakingly compiled U.S. industry-wide annual jobs census report. The numbers were impressive, and throughout the coming year, solar execs and policy makers will no doubt be flashing the results of the independent, Washington D.C.-based nonprofit’s survey findings to help advance their causes.

At the helm of The Solar Foundation, making sure its census methodology is solid and highly defensible, is president and executive director Andrea Luecke. And that is no small task: The group’s 2014 job census efforts included 66,986 telephone calls and more than 25,655 emails to solar companies.

The Solar Foundation was founded in 1977 with a mission to increase the understanding of solar energy through research, education and trainingWhen Luecke took The Solar Foundation’s top position in 2010 — coming from a position as project manager for the City of Milwaukee’s solar energy program — the nonprofit had a $200,000 budget, and she was the organization’s only employee. It was also the same year the organization started working on its first national solar job census.

To help Luecke manage the many tasks at hand on a nonprofit budget, “I found an intern, then I found another intern, then I found another intern,” she said. “For a long time it was just me, and these part-time interns.”

During Luecke’s time at The Solar Foundation she has led the organization through an important period of growth. Not only has Luecke helped the nonprofit become the nationally recognized authority on solar jobs and those jobs’ economic impact through a host of research reports, she also oversees the nonprofit’s additional programs, including workshops and technical assistance for local governments and schools interested adopting solar.

Today, The Solar Foundation’s budget is more than $1 million per year, and the organization has seven employees, a handful of contractors, and “we still have our intern program,” Luecke said.

As The Solar Foundation prepares to release a report on February 11 that looks at solar employment on a state level, spoke with Luecke about the challenges the solar industry faces hiring during a time of abundant growth, the impact of gender diversity in solar, and her advice to people wanting a job in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.

How difficult is it for solar companies to find qualified people to fill positions in a time of rapid expansion for the industry?

The industry has been very fortunate over the last several years with the housing boom and bust. There was a glut of very skilled, very qualified electricians and roofing tradespeople available for the solar industry. They were so desperate for work that they were willing to work in the solar industry for potentially less money than they were being paid in the construction industry. That was certainly was the case in 2010 at the height of the recession.

But now, as the economy has improved, those skilled tradespeople are going back to the construction industry and leaving the solar industry without this ample supply of skilled tradespeople. So what employers are finding is it is increasingly difficult to find qualified workers. We aren’t yet at a crisis level, but it is getting worse and worse for companies to find people who match their skills’ expectations.

What’s the impact of hiring from a tightening labor pool?

Of course one of the impacts is on pay. As the supply of skilled and qualified workers goes down, those that are working in the solar industry are able to command a higher wage. So it’s driving up the wages, which is great for people absolutely. But labor is a large portion of the soft costs that go into the overall cost of installing solar, and we want to make sure solar remains cost-competitive because we want people to adopt it.

How are labor efficiencies playing into the ability to drive solar costs down? 

Our survey doesn’t get at where those efficiencies are taking place, but we assume in the installation labor due to new technologies, smarter racking, more intuitive wiring, as well as streamlined permitting. I think that’s really huge. Across the country there are initiatives to reduce the number of days or weeks to get a permit or interconnection application approved. All of that helps improve labor efficiencies.

We are becoming more efficient. In 2012, we saw efficiency rates at 19.5 jobs per megawatt of installed capacity. Now we are less than 15.5 jobs per megawatt. This is a really good thing. It proves the industry is stronger, more competitive.

The Solar Foundation has been tracking diversity in the solar industry in terms of both gender and ethnicity for the past two years. How is the industry doing on this front?

We have found that the solar industry is becoming increasingly diverse. All of the categories show improvement. Not only in terms of sheer number but also with percentages. We are headed in the right direction, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

As one of the few women holding a top leadership position in the industry, what does it mean to you personally to see more women in the solar workforce?

There is a very well-documented gender gap in solar. Women make up 21.6 percent of the solar workforce. Women are not as well-represented in the solar industry as they could be, and should be. Not only are they not represented in the workforce, but they’re not represented at the decision-making table.

Last summer there was a report that came out that said women make up only 4 percent of executive boards in the utility sector. To me, this signifies that women aren’t making the decisions, which I think has an effect on workplace policies, like FMLA, maternity leave and workplace culture. This is the 21stcentury. In my view, there’s no longer room for the old boys’ club.

The Solar Foundation has steadily garnered national attention since starting its solar jobs census. How have you enabled the foundation to become the leading authority on solar jobs and their economic impact in such a short time? 

It’s brute force, and I put in the time. I am incredibly persistent, and I really care about my staff. I really care about the projects, and I care about the industry. I’m very passionate about making solar a prioritized energy form, not just part of the energy mix. I also think it helps that we are in Washington D.C. We have access to the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Department of Labor. It’s a really good place for us to be, even though the industry is primarily in California.

There are many people who don’t have a background in solar but want to work in the industry. Any advice on how to land a solar job?

Go for it. There are so many occupations if you have a background in finance, insurance or business. If you don’t have any background, but you love solar, and you are passionate and you work hard, solar is hiring. It’s looking for people who have the right personality and fit. It’s not just about having the technical skills. There is not one cookie-cutter type of solar worker. We are incredibly diverse in our background. I think the glue that keeps us all together is our passion for making the world a better place. That’s certainly what brought me to solar.


NRG home solar

NRG Acquires Verengo Solar’s Northeast Sales and Operations Teams

NRG home solarNRG Energy executives weren’t kidding when they told investors that solar is a central part of their strategy to double the company’s earnings by 2022.

Today, the energy giant put resources behind those words by acquiring the Northeast sales and operations teams of Verengo Solar, a leading U.S. solar installer. The move underscores NRG’s commitment to expanding its presence in the rapidly growing residential solar market.

“It’s an ever-consolidating space in residential solar,” said Kelcy Pegler Jr., president of NRG Home Solar, in an interview. “With the corporate sophistication of NRG as a Fortune 250 company…it really puts us in an advantaged position to bring on team members, like Verengo, and leverage our position in the space to become the ultimate winner.”

Looking for a Solar Job? Ecotech’s E-Book Surveys the Landscape

520-solar-ebookDespite projections that solar will continue to grow, even the most inspired students don’t want to jump in the field without knowing more about what the industry has to offer — and what it takes to make a successful installer, field technician, power utility technician or engineer.

That information is the focus of a solar careers e-book recently released by Ecotech Institute, a four-year-old technical college in Aurora, Colo. specializing in renewable energy and sustainability. It offers programs — mainly two-year associate degrees — in a range of areas including solar, wind and power utility technology, as well as residential energy management and electrical engineering.

“There’s a lot of people out there who want an opportunity to do something that is more visceral than what you get in a typical classroom situation, and we’re definitely trying to cater to that crowd,” said Chris Gorrie, Ecotech’s president. “We really focus on the hands-on aspect of the trade, of being technicians.”

Gorrie says Ecotech strives to produce graduates who can meet the demands of industry. In a rapidly changing environment, that means keeping a close eye on the ground — as well as working with local advisory boards (set up for each program) and industry professionals so that Ecotech can adapt and respond its curriculum to those changes.

“They meet with us every year to talk about current trends in industry,” Gorrie said. “Their suggestions can range from which torque wrenches to use [on wind turbines] to the curriculum — for example, we dialed back on solar thermal and [went] to grid-tied PV because most of the industry was there.”

While the solar e-book — which has a sister publication focused on careers in the wind industry — is more of an introduction rather than an in-depth analysis of what to expect as a solar industry worker, the publication covers such topics as a “typical” day as an installer (spoiler alert: there is no such thing), salary projections for installers (which range from a low of $26,250 to a high of $57,980), and where the jobs are (hint: Go west).

And along with a directory of online resources, it lists the key technical skills needed to thrive in the arena, such as the ability to work with complex electrical and mechanical equipment, safety skills, basic math skills, and possession of physical strength and stamina. One also needs to be able to make critical decisions quickly, weigh the pros and cons of solutions, have good customer service skills and be able to delve into the details of complicated solar system installs.

Ecotech’s solar students get time in the real world to practice such skills by getting on the roof with Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that works to provide solar to communities that otherwise might not have had access to such technology.

“Students in their last term do a soup-to-nuts installation with Grid Alternatives,” Gorrie said. “Their time goes towards advanced NABCEP certification, the standardized accreditation for solar installers.”

With 400 students and over 30 faculty members, the school is small. Yet Gorrie says it’s growing — much like the opportunities in the renewable energy field.

One of these areas, he says, is in the power utility sector, an area where Ecotech is graduating its first class from its power utility technician program.

“We’re at a point in time where our power grid is being upgraded to the next level — there’s a lot of talk about smart grid and a lot of folks in that industry are beginning to retire,” he said. “So the graduating students will have a lot of really great career opportunities.”

2014 Solar Trends Report Shows Big Gains in Solar Installations, Green Jobs

520-solar-trendsAt last month’s Solar Power International conference (as well as Intersolar before it), many discussions revolved around the growing importance of solar standards and best practices. While workforce training initiatives and regulatory reform aren’t nearly as alluring as “solar freakin’ roadways,” hot storage technologies, or stories of well-funded start-ups trailblazing the economy’s way, it is clear that the work of the Interstate Renewable Energy Commission (IREC) has never been more important.

IREC, a national policy and standards nonprofit, has a long reach into clean energy industries, especially solar. Their wide-ranging programs train the trainers, they offer credentials in credentialing, and they were recently accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It could be said that the continued success of the U.S. solar market in many ways depends on the IREC’s work.

IREC released a report titled “Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Future” last month, in the midst of SPI. The group’s latest solar trends report explores the policies, regulations, and stories that will shape the economy moving forward, but the report is in essence an annual report of IREC’s work from the past calendar year. Beginning in regulatory reform, Trends then works through workforce topics (development, credentialing, education and training), and concludes with a U.S. solar market trends analysis.

Behind IREC’s national, state, municipal, and community-level efforts are mountains of independent research that informs their best practices. It’s this respected research that gives regulatory bodies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the confidence to work with and adopt the suggestions of the IREC. Similar to federal politics, when standards are adopted at the national level, they typically trickle down to the states. This was evidenced this year by FERC’s adoption of IREC modifications to their Small Generator Interconnection Procedures. Ohio approved similar procedures within two weeks of the FERC’s changes.

Another major win highlighted in this year’s Trends report was the IREC’s own accreditation by the American National Standards Institute. This (meta) designation allowed for IREC to have their Standard 14732 recognized as an American National Standard (for Accreditation for Clean Energy Technology Training). We will forgo the acronyms here and summarize the importance of this accomplishment: a respected national standard in training promotes a qualified workforce that is more quickly deployable into the fast-growing solar market. The more qualified workforce also helps to minimize costly mistakes, like an anomalous roof fire that can draw national headlines like a super magnet. As president Jane Weissman is quoted as saying, “quality is invisible; mistakes are not.”

“Black eyes in the industry have a long shelf life.” – Jane Weissman, IREC President & CEO

On the net metering front, a significant portion of IREC’s 2013 work focused on debunking the increasingly popular myth that net metering is more damaging than beneficial. As headlines about net metering freeloaders and the utility death spiral swirled around this past year, IREC presented a more solutions-based approach with its 40-plus page “Regulator’s Guidebook on Calculating the Benefits and Costs of Distributed Solar Generation.” The Regulator’s Guidebook proposes a new methodology for evaluating the benefits and costs of distributed solar, which will hopefully bring more consistency to the conversation.

Shared renewables (no longer referred to as “community solar”) is another burgeoning area of the industry that continues to benefit from IREC’s outreach. Again discrediting claims that renewable energy serves only those who can afford to be involved, IREC’s work with programs like California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) highlighted in the Trends report demonstrate how the involvement of low-income participants and roof-sharing renters can benefit all involved.

With innovations happening quickly at so many disparate corners of the industry, IREC has an impressively omnipresent reach. For each area of focus, their team has the daunting task of understanding and advising about today’s market… but must also be thinking down the solar freakin’ roadway. For instance, with regards to workplace education and training, the places where jobs exist today might not be where jobs exist tomorrow. IREC can’t predict the future, but their work to develop the IREC Credentialing Program late last year attempts to address the ever-changing demands of the solar workforce. The program was designed to be a highly portablecompetency-based credential for certified instructors and master trainers.

solar trends - GEAREDAnother important IREC program making moves since last year is the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment. What’s that spell? GEARED. What’s that mean? Basically, GEARED is a needed shot in the arm for the aging, phasing utility workforce — a reboot of the curriculum for power systems engineering programs for the next gen grid. Joining IREC in this effort are the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), as well as a newly formed consortia/acronym known as the Distributed Technology Training Consortia (DTTC). With a strong social-marketing push and a full schedule of student events, we should be hearing more soon about the development of this national framework.

If the reader of Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Future isn’t inspired after the first 25 pages, even more impressive numbers are delivered with the Solar Market Trends Report, the section which documents enormous gains in PV capacity in almost all sectors. Some highlights:

  • Utility-scale, up 48 percent in capacity over 2012
  • Distributed installations, up 17 percent in capacity and up 65 percent in number of systems installed
  • Residential, up 68 percent over 2012. Interesting to note here is California’s mammoth role in this percentage — without California, the national installation trend is in fact down from 2012.
  • Nonresidential (government, retail, military), actually went down about 10 percent in both installations and capacity.

While most gains are attributed to the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and other factors, such as lower total cost for distributed PV installs, state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements, and third-party ownership, the noticeable losses in the nonresidential sector can be chalked up to the end of the Treasury Grant Program in 2012, which took its toll in NJ, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

For as much negative coverage as Concentrating Solar Power has been receiving recently, the Trends report highlights the significant potential of three parabolic and “power tower” technologies (Solana, Genesis, and Ivanpah) that came online in 2013.

As the solar industry works away, heads-down in their respective corners of the solar world, IREC President Jane Weissman reminds us that “all of [IREC’s] points of action are linked and promote a responsive, safe, and resilient clean energy economy.” While Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Futureis an impressive catalog of IREC’s achievements of the past year, the report also demonstrates how mercilessly fast the industry continues to develop. It is no small task to stay ahead of this curve of innovation, but we can be confident that some of the brightest minds in clean energy are giving 100 percent to keep the clean energy economy in a straight, upward-trending line.

Expanded US solar trade case could cost American jobs, congressman warns

Republican Election Night HeadquartersA second US PV manufacturer has voiced concern that trade proposals could inadvertently classify its products as Chinese.

Congressman Erik Paulsen has weighed into the case by writing to the Department of Commerce to express his concern that Minnesota based tenKsolar could shed all 80 jobs if the proposals continue.

The department has suggested that solar panels with any major Chinese component be classified as a Chinese module for trade purposes. This has alerted US cell maker Suniva already.

Writing in defence of tenKsolar, Paulsen said: “While I firmly support the department’s mission of ensuring US competitiveness in the global marketplace, I am concerned that this particular action might be an unfair departure from the department’s normal investigations of unfair trade practices that could have unintended negative consequences on American business and American jobs.

Is it boom time ahead (again) for solar panel manufacturing?

Jon Callas, Flickr Creative Commons
Jon Callas, Flickr Creative Commons

The solar industry is in expansion mode, again. First Solar — the U.S. maker of thin solar panels, which is seen as a bellwether for the industry — said this week that they plan to boost their solar panel production by as much as 46 percent in 2015.

SolarCity, the solar installer founded by Elon Musk’s cousins the Rive brothers, is building its first solar panel factory in New York and expects to roughly double the amount of solar installations to between 920MW to 1,000MW in 2015, company executives said this week during a call with analysts to discuss its third-quarter earnings.

Seems like the boom is back! Or is it?

Solar firm prosecuted after roof fall puts installer in hospital

solar-safety-520The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has prosecuted a solar installer and a green energy firm in West Yorkshire for safety breaches following a severe injury to a worker who fell from a roof during a solar install.

The worker fell seven metres from a pitched agricultural barn roof, breaking seven ribs, his collarbone and bruising a lung. The worker, who had never installed solar before, lost his footing when it began to rain and he slipped off the roof.

Investigating the accident, HSE identified serious safety failings by Peter King, trading as Kingson Roofing, Building and Construction and Investment Renewables. The HSE found that Investment Renewables had subcontracted Peter King to undertake the installation of 56 solar modules on the roof. Both parties failed to identify and assess the risks associated with such an install.