Look at how far we’ve come. Can we sustain it?

In 2004, when NC Solar Center launched the Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series, the idea was to create a series of comprehensive, immersive and interdisciplinary workshops that would push the growing community of renewable enthusiasts out of their garages to get them to make a living out of their passion. Even then, North Carolina had one of the best tax credits in the country, and NC GreenPower was the darling program that would expand the market for these green technologies. 

That was before the REPS was on the books. The solar and wind business community that existed were mostly self-professed hippies living at the “bleeding edge”. These early adopters did everything for the company – from selling the systems to designing, installing, and business accounting. It was a lot to do!

Fast forward to today, and we can see the tangible effects of policy changes and political support. Just notice the evolution of the credentialing process and the needs of the renewables workforce. We’re not just installers anymore, but also trainers, financial analysts, sales personnel and marketing specialists. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) had recently updated its categories so that it is no longer a “NABCEP Certified PV Installer”, but now a NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professional to recognize that while not everyone on the installation team gets up on the roof, they are nonetheless deeply involved in the process.

On workforce and training, I am excited to see the movement to incorporate alternative technology concepts into existing degree programs. While there is still an inclination to concentrate training on the technical and installation aspects of renewable energy, I foresee a time when there will be more non-technical renewable courses available at colleges and universities. While most non-technical workshops focus on the sales and marketing side of solar as it falls nicely in line with NABCEP’s PV Technical Sales Certification, in the near future more business and project development approaches will be coming to the fore. Somehow, we’ll need to find a way to train the job creators.

The Certificate in Renewable Energy Management (CREM), which is a 40-hour program at the NC Solar Center, is one such course that is unique in that in covers some technical, policy and financial aspects of the industry. Actually, I thought it was unique, until I got a brochure for a “Solar Executive MBA” 2-day course.  The course covers similar topics, such as financing projects and best practices for sales. And while the CREM program tries to be more comprehensive and less PV-centric, this class is definitely a Solar MBA class for the MBA-type person. You should check it out, too.

As a renewable energy training provider, these developments in the industry make me giddy with excitement…and then some trepidation. The NC industry had grown exponentially since 2008, despite the Great Recession, largely because of state legislation and federal support. These can change in a blink of an eye (or an election year). How can we sustain this growth and market evolution? I’m all ears, folks.

Author: Lyra Rakusin, Workforce Development Specialist, North Carolina Solar Center

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