In yet another step toward President Barack Obama’s quest for clean energy, the White House announced on Thursday that the solar industry will be training 50,000 new solar panels installers, including veterans, by the year 2020. SunShot Initiative’s Solar Instructor Training Network will be partnering with as many as three military bases this fall to create the veterans training pilot project. SunShot has trained more than 30,000 students in the U.S., and nearly 1,000 certified solar instructors since it was launched in October 2009.
The White House says this program is part of the initiatives involved in the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 300 million tons through 2030, also saving billions of dollars on energy bills. The training project will enroll as many as 30 active duty military personnel, described as motivated and tech-savvy, at each base. It is hoped that the lessons learned from the solar panels pilot program will enable military branches and the Energy Department to expand solar training access to interested veterans, through nearly 400 solar training partner institution throughout the country.
The announcement comes shortly before next week’s United Nation’s climate summit, possibly in an effort to strengthen the U.S. position on climate change, as heads of state are expected to arrive at the summit with commitments to curbing emissions in their countries. The proposals, however, are modest when compared to Obama’s overall goals for clean energy. The President has asked Congress to promote clean energy through legislation, investing in infrastructure projects and forcing reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but so far lawmakers have been unwilling to consider any major legislation regarding climate.
As part of the training the White House says that the veterans will learn the process of sizing and installing the solar panels, connecting electricity to the grid, and also interpreting and complying with local area building codes. The extensive training is geared to prepare them for solar industry careers in such positions as sales representatives, installers and system inspectors. Three of the largest solar companies in the U.S. have already committed to interviewing military graduates of the training program for employment. The solar industry employs more service members than any other U.S. business sector.
The White House states that since Obama took office there has been a 13-fold increase in installed solar power. The nearly 16 gigawatts produced today is enough to provide 3.2 million average American homes with power. Nearly 143,000 professionals were employed by the solar energy industry last year.
The Energy Department is also proposing new, stricter standards for the efficiency of certain air conditioners, at the same time the Agriculture Department is spending nearly $70 million on 540 renewable energy projects, including solar, that are focused on rural and farming areas. The Energy Department says that the air conditioner standards could reduce emissions more than any other standards for efficiency it has yet issued.
Veterans have been experiencing high unemployment rates. In August the national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, but the rate for post-9/11 veterans was 8.1 percent. The solar panels training program is expected to begin this fall with the training of active-duty military personnel, expanding the training to veterans after the first group is trained.
By Beth A. Balen