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SALT LAKE CITY — The Beehive State is home to the second-highest solar economy in the nation and thanks to a new scholarship program, Utahns looking to enter the renewable energy workforce through solar energy will now have a funding pathway to do so.
AES, a global energy company working to accelerate the future of energy and a leading developer of utility-scale solar generation, has collaborated with Solar Energy International, a leading solar training educational nonprofit, announcing earlier this month their new partnership to provide solar workforce development services in Utah.
The collaboration between the two companies includes a scholarship fund for individuals, as well as consulting services for colleges and universities. Both aspects aim to stimulate local participation in the Utah clean energy industry through professional development and eventual entry into the solar energy workforce.
AES is providing funding for the scholarship, which will award financial assistance in the form of tuition fees for 20 Utahns to enroll in Solar Energy International's North America Board of Certified Energy Practitioners PV Associates online training package, which includes PVOL101 and PVOL203 online classes along with NABCEP PV Associate testing.
"This initial phase is a scholarship fund for 20 students to go through our NABCEP PV associates training package," said Will White, director of business development at Solar Energy International.
The North America Board of Certified Energy Practitioners is a nonprofit in the renewable energy field that certifies solar energy installers and others working in the solar industry.
The first class, PVOL101, can be thought of as "solar energy 101" and provides an introduction to solar energy and walks through "everything someone needs to know to kind of get started in the industry," White said.
PVOL203 focuses more specifically on batteries and systems that require battery technology.
Combined, these two classes contain most of the information that someone would need to pass the associates test.
"The associates (test) is a credential that people can use to show that they have some experience of knowledge of solar and it helps them get jobs in the industry," White said. "This scholarship fund is really designed to help Utah residents get information they need to get into the solar industry, to take the test to get the credential and then we're hopefully working on transitioning them into jobs — that's the ultimate goal."
After AES scholarships are awarded, recipients will have access to Solar Energy International's online campus, where they can access their training from anywhere in the world to learn solar energy technology concepts, engage with online instructors and classmates and prepare themselves for their role in the solar industry.
While the scholarships provide a more direct, short-term influx into the solar industry, the partnership between AES and Solar Energy International is also providing consulting services to help Utah colleges and universities develop or increase their solar workforce training programs, bolstering their ability to provide students with industry-leading, safe and relevant solar education.
"That's kind of an additional benefit of our partnership that is kind of above and beyond the scholarships. The consulting part is more of a long-term (plan), helping organizations locally to develop training programs in the state," White said.
Utah universities and colleges that are chosen to receive consulting services will work alongside Solar Energy International instructors and curriculum developers to create or advance solar training programs that align with their educational mission and the workforce development needs of the industry.
"We look forward to supporting AES's local and national goals by offering world-class solar educational training to the next generation solar workforce. These corporate partnerships really help the industry positively impact regional communities and reduce barriers-to-entry in the clean energy workforce where people live and work," said Elizabeth Sanderson, executive director of Solar Energy International.
Those that are representing, or working on behalf of, a Utah-based university or college who would like to apply for consulting can email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Aligning opportunity with influx
Utah has a strong history of producing energy through fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas and crude oil are the top three forms of energy produced by the state, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.
Still, solar has the potential to thrive in Utah.
Utah's solar capacity rapidly increased midway through the last decade, with rooftop solar going from one megawatt in 2009 to 130 in 2016. A state renewable portfolio goal requires that investor-owned and municipal utilities, as well as electric co-ops, use renewables to account for 20% of their adjusted electricity sales by 2025 — but only if it is cost-effective for the company to do so, according to a report from Stacker.com.
Ben Abbott, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at BYU, said that Utah has some of the best solar resources in the country.
An important factor when looking at employment in solar energy, White said, is that not all opportunities in the field require an educational background.
"It's a lot of opportunity for good, high paying jobs for people who haven't gone to college or haven't gone to trade schools," White said.
"They can go through our classes. ... So that's enough information to get them started in the industry and the employers are willing to give on-the-job training to supplement that as well. There is a lot of opportunity there (in Utah) for job opportunities and job growth," he added.
"Utah is my home, and this partnership with SEI is important to me because it will create opportunity for people in the state and the communities we live in," said Leo Moreno, president of AES. "Achieving our clean energy goals requires that we invest in building a larger, well-trained clean energy workforce to meet increasing demand for renewable energy. The AES-funded scholarship and this workforce development program help meet this need while also providing a model for other states seeking to develop their clean energy workforces to support the accelerating transition to clean energy."
Utah residents who would like to learn more or apply for the scholarship can do so here.