Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New jobs in alternative energy coming, will require trained workforce

Job opportunities in solar and wind technology are expected to increase maybe not at the speed of light but at a definite jog. The renewable energy industry in the U.S. has grown more than tenfold in the last decade. The economic and environmental benefits of clean energy are catching hold. Texas already leads the nation in wind power generation, with 10,085 MW of capacity in 2010. And the state has vast untapped solar resources, especially in West Texas, although solar photovoltaic energy generation has been slower to take off, partly hampered by a lack of transmission lines. 
With its natural resources, cost-effective technologies and workforce, the state is poised to be the leader in solar as well as wind energy. Ernst & Young's latest quarterly Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index ranked Texas in the top 5 states committed to growing energy infrastructures, along with California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Colorado. Another 2012 report shows Texas and California leading in planned renewable energy projects. The state would also benefit from the proposed, 400-mile "Southern Cross" high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line connecting Garland, Texas, to the Southeast.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that almost 100,000 Americans work in the industry and estimates that solar energy could support over half a million U.S. jobs by 2016. The number of projects providing solar energy more than doubled in the U.S. from 2008 to 2010, with enough solar energy generated to power 3.2 million homes in 2010. Grid-connected PV installations also grew 100% between 2009 and 2010.

By 2020, most states are requiring that 20% of energy consumption come from renewable sources. One study has estimated that a 20% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) would create more than 38,000 new jobs in Texas by 2025, and much of the job creation would be in rural Texas. The state already has nearly 175 companies focused on the solar energy industry. Today it
s easier than ever for the average person to integrate solar technologies into their home or business. Advancements in solar panel technology and inverters are making it less expensive for citizens to offset part of their electric usage.

And some communities are offering rebates and incentives to encourage citizens and small businesses to do just that! For example, Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative in Texas encourages its members to invest in clean energy and provides them with information and resources on wind and solar energy systems, energy-efficient appliances and HVAC systems as well as available incentives and rebates. Its efforts were recently recognized by a Growing Green Award from the Texas Growing Green Communities initiative and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA).

The renewable energy industry is maturing and coming into its own. As the costs continue to decrease and incentives increase, more companies will need trained technicians to install and maintain these residential, small business and utility systems. The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) has begun a technical training program for entry-level employees who could handle basic installation and maintenance of these solar and wind energy systems. The first course offered will be the 40-hour apprentice-level certification course in solar installation. TEEX is the first training site in the Brazos County area affiliated with the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium (TREEC), which is sponsored by the State Energy Conservation Office. 

The TEEX solar installer course prepares participants to earn the apprentice-level Solar Photovoltaic Installer Certification through the Electronics Technicians Association (ETA) International. The TEEX curriculum is certified by ETA and students can take the certification exam on the last day of the course.

To kick off the training program, a new vertical-axis wind generator and solar hybrid street light has been installed outside the TEEX utilities and energy training facility on the Texas A&M Riverside Campus in Bryan, Texas.

This hybrid, environmentally friendly street light is believed to be unique in the Brazos Valley. The alternative energy device will not only generate and store energy to operate the light, but the street lamp has a wireless communication link that will provide information on wind and solar energy production and energy consumption by the street light. A wireless weather station is also integrated into the system and will collect data about wind speed and direction, along with solar intensity, temperature, humidity, and more.

TEEX is a member of TREEC, a group of Texas colleges and training organizations dedicated to investigating, developing and teaching curricula dedicated to post-secondary education in emerging energy technologies to meet the demand of the Texas workforce. Sponsored by the, TREEC's goal is to position Texas as a leader in renewable and sustainable energy commercialization through education.


Bill Stansbury is Training Director for Utilities and Alternative Energy, with the Infrastructure Training & Safety Institute, a division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service, which has offered vocational electric power training since 1940.