Solar has gone through an impressive journey, rising from new technology to the relevant part of total electricity generation and the dominant technology in recently launched projects. In 2012, according to the Office of Energy Information, about 2.7 GW of solar energy was active, and now, as of the end of 2021, 92.5 GW has been installed. This is an increase of more than 3000% in nine short years.
Now solar technology must go through another phase of rapid growth, driven by the high goals of clean energy procurement set at the federal, state, municipal and corporate levels. The Biden administration has set a target of 100% carbon-free energy by 2035, believing that this build-up should continue to accelerate if we are to achieve the target.
This equates to a lot of panels on the ground and on our roofs, but it also means a new generation of solar workers will need to be trained. This is the goal of Solar Energy International (SEI) to train and train skilled solar workforce to guide us through the energy transition. Elizabeth Sanderson, CEO of SEI, joined pv magazine discuss this growth.
“We as an organization are trying to help fill this pipeline. We have trained 80,000 people in 30 years, and in the next three years we will train twice as many, ”Sanderson said.
Sanderson said that by 2035, the U.S. will need 900,000 to 1.5 million solar-powered jobs to stay on the job. This is many times more than today about 230,000 solar workers. The range takes into account the fact that the US can support a new generation of jobs in domestic production.
Such growth is exciting, but there are some obstacles in the short term that the industry needs to overcome to keep growth on track. The highest obstacle, Commerce’s investigation of the alleged anti-circumvention violations of Chinese solar panel exporters, this is causing pain this year. Uncertainty caused by potential tariffs of 50 to 250% is forcing many developers to cancel projects, which in turn leads to job losses.
As a result, the Solar Energy Association has halved its deployment forecast by a year and said up to 100,000 jobs could be lost. Sanderson joins the industry, urging Commerce to quickly end the investigation in whatever jurisdiction they have to do so.
The Commerce decision should be made in August, but it will likely take longer to introduce tariffs if they are introduced at all. Until then, Sanderson said delays and cancellations represent an opportunity to reinvest in the workforce, making sure employees are well prepared for when installations start to unfold again.
SEI is actively expanding both online and hands-on solar training programs, which include training in energy storage and other ancillary components for the solar panel. He is also preparing for a new generation of jobs in domestic production, although Sanderson said current policies need to be improved to better support those jobs.
Sanderson said recent political action at the federal level is poorly in line with federal deployment goals. The Commerce investigation is jeopardizing many existing jobs, and it is not creating a long-term solution to support domestic production.
“You can’t cut the supply chain right now and count on a healthy industry,” Sanderson said.
She said policies such as the Solar Energy Bill for America, which is linked to political purgatory in the Back Better Act, and a long-term extension of the tax credit on solar investment would be more legitimate, a long-term industrial policy that could make a real impact on this new generation of solar quarries.
Sanderson said: “There can’t be just a stick, there has to be a big carrot and it has to be focused and not expect big deals [like Build Back Better.]”
Solar Energy International has global reach, training in North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. For the US, he has translated all training materials into English and Spanish and has a set of tools evolving to cater to a diversifying workforce.
The organization trains both with the use of online resources and has an increasing impact on practical training. SEI has gained practical learning experience over 30 years and continues to improve its practice by working with community colleges, universities, social organizations, private companies and others to set up long-term training labs.
SEI is also collaborating with Invenergy and Lafayette Square on a program called Reactivate, a shared solar platform that supports development in marginalized communities. He works with the organization to set up labs directly in these communities, creating individual practical educational centers in the community.
SEI’s work also goes beyond learning. He works closely with private companies to launch markets and support a healthy job market in the communities he prepares. The company is also involved in collaborating with the public and stakeholders, informing decision makers about the many benefits of solar energy.
Globally, solar panels are set to take center stage in the next couple of decades. How much 12 million solar workers can be employed worldwide in 2050, and as we build our carbon-free future, Solar Energy International will build its capacity to support educated, diverse and quality staff for years to come.
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