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Obama Announces Plan to Train 75,000 Solar Workers

As part of President Obama’s plans to combat climate change, the White House announced a program on Friday for the U.S. Department of Energy to train 75,000 people to work in the solar power industry by 2020, many of whom will be part of a military veterans jobs initiative called Solar Ready Vets.

The announcement comes as the solar industry in the U.S. booms, adding more than 30,000 people to its workforce between 2013 and 2014. Another 36,000 solar jobs are expected to be added this year. Solar power project prices are falling and investments are streaming toward solar as one of the most promising low-carbon electricity generating technologies used to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving up global temperatures. 

A worker intalls a solar panel on the roof of a home. Credit: Green MPs/flickr

The Obama administration this week announced a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions nationwide by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels within a decade, and boosting the solar power industry’s workforce is part of achieving those emissions reductions, according to the White House announcement.

The goal to boost the solar industry’s workforce increases an earlier goal made last year to train 50,000 solar workers by 2020 using 400 community colleges nationwide to train both instructors and students. So far, that program, part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, has trained more than 30,000 students in the last five years, the White House said.

Solar Ready Vets aims to train servicemen and women transitioning from active duty to the private workforce in solar-related skills, including how to install solar panels, connect solar projects to the electric power grid and how to make solar projects comply with building codes. The training will be done at 10 military bases across the U.S.

Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, which publishes the annual National Solar Jobs Census, said that Obama’s announcement will not likely increase the size of the solar industry’s workforce but will instead ensure that the industry will be able to find highly skilled workers to fill jobs.

“We’re experiencing difficulty finding more skilled and qualified workers to install and do design work required,” she said, adding that the industry’s workforce has a “skills gap” as well-trained electricians and other workers go back to other construction jobs as the economy gains momentum.

Solar Ready Vets and the White House’s jobs goal will encourage people to join the solar workforce, but only more demand for solar power projects will increase the number of jobs available, she said.

Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute, said the White House’s plan helps meet the growing demand for solar industry workers.

“There’s a pretty good lineup between some of the skill sets between what is taught in the military and what is needed in the solar industry,” Ronen said. “What the administration is doing is trying to be matchmaker and get the trained people coming out of the military into this growing field.”

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