DOE announces US$10 million for solar training programmes, launches five new Solar Ready Vets bases


President Obama at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, April 2015. Source: US Department of Energy

The US Department of Energy has announced that five additional military bases will be included under SunShot Initiative’s Solar Ready Vets programme, which connects skilled veterans to careers in the solar energy industry through an intensive, hands-on training course.

Furthermore, DOE is also awarding US$10 million under the Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) funding programme, which will help to advance the country’s solar workforce and meet President Obama’s charge to train 75,000 people in solar by 2020. 

US$10 million awards under STEP programme

The STEP programme addresses solar training from two angles; firstly through direct training for system installers and power system engineers, and secondly, by offering training in related fields such as for realtors, regulators, insurance and financial professionals and firefighters.

“We are announcing today 10 new STEP projects, in almost US$10.5 million dollars,” said Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, deputy secretary of energy at DOE. “They will help us to create that efficient and well-trained workforce and expedite system permitting and increase consumer confidence. This funding will expand the existing network to meet the needs of our rapidly changing energy portfolio.”

STEP also establishes a distributed technology training consortium in the western US to train grid operators under SunShot’s existing Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED) initiative, which has trained over 4,500 professionals in power systems engineering; with a particular focus on how to effectively integrate distributed energy resources onto the grid.

The overall aim of these awards is to address the needs of the growing workforce by ensuring that the next generation of solar workers has the expertise needed to build careers in the industry.

“We are trying to make it easier for Americans to deploy solar power; to ensure quality and high production from solar installations,” added Sherwood Randall. 

New Solar Ready Vets bases and training partner programmes

The five new military bases are located across the country and they meet the President’s goal to expand the programme to 10 bases within its first year. The new bases that are being added under the programme are:

  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey
  • Joint Base San Antonio in Texas
  • Fort Bragg in North Carolina
  • Eglin Air Force Base in Florida
  • Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii

“The bases were selected by DOE in partnership with the Department of Defence (DOD),” said Sherwood Randall. “It is a major opportunity for vets to play a vital role in our nation’s future and a way to contribute to economic growth and success of the country and the fight against climate change.”

In addition to the five new Solar Ready Vets training camp locations, the DOE also announced that The Solar Foundation would be the new administrator of the programme, with DOE continuing to oversee the project to ensure compliance with DOD requirements across the newly disbursed services and bases.

The existing cohorts under the training programme have already achieved great success; with 250 veteran graduates overall each receiving at least two interviews with solar companies on completion of the programme. The curriculum is based on what the employer indicates is necessary to ensure that jobs are available after training.

“We have learnt how important it is to ensure that the training is matched to the needs of the solar industry as it evolves,” said Sherwood Randall.

As the nation works to meet the President’s energy industry goals, DOE was creative in utilising the large population of skilled military professionals and seeks to continue to find opportunities for them to continue to contribute to the dynamic energy sector.

“We need a military that is ready to fight and one that is ready for life,” said Daniel Feehan, deputy assistant secretary of defence. “This acknowledges that everyone who is in the military eventually becomes a civilian. We should acknowledge that from the very first day in uniform. Solar Ready Vets does this.”

Solar Ready Vets is enabled by the DOD SkillBridge initiative, which allows transitioning service members to get valuable skills up to six months before they leave the military and fosters a sense of certainty. Under the programme, more than 90% of participants receive jobs in the private sector, allowing for a seamless transition.

“It also makes good business sense,” said Feehan. “SkillBridge allows businesses and other training providers to get early access to service members…companies really value the skills of veterans here; it’s not a case of generosity or morality. It makes economic sense to the company and brings a tangible and intangible skillset to the company; a degree of leadership that is very difficult to develop in the private sector alone.”

Moving forward, the Solar Ready Vets programme intends to open up many more bases, and continues to identify funding for this cause. Overall, the DOE intends to meet the needs of a dynamic workforce as well as the needs of clean energy companies and transitioning service members.

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