Last year was the first time solar jobs decreased since The Solar Foundation’s first Solar Jobs Census in 2010, but some companies are doing their part to make sure the people-power matches the solar power in this industry. Here are some standout solar companies making a difference.
Cypress Creek Renewables
Cypress Creek has donated money to community colleges in places where it’s most active. Its philanthropic goal is to help “prepare the workforce for these jobs in solar, whether it’s with Cypress Creek or if it’s with one of our electrical or construction vendors,” said Ally Copple, senior manager of public affairs at Cypress Creek Renewables.
Its latest $16,500 grant to Cape Fear Community College’s Sustainability Technologies program will go toward scholarships, instructor pay and the cost of students sitting for the NABCEP exam.
Copple said as Cypress Creek has become one of the bigger players at the national scale, the company is “really trying to do our part to train the future energy workers.”
E Light Electric
E Light prides itself on being the only company in Colorado with a Department of Labor-certified electrical apprenticeship training program in-house. In other apprenticeship programs, students would go to class after their normal workday. Here, apprentices are trained during working hours—meaning they’re paid to learn, said David Wright, vice president of preconstruction. The company uses this program to recruit and retain employees.
Apprentices at E Light learn all the necessary material to pass the Journeyman Electrician exam—and they also get hands-on solar training they likely wouldn’t in other apprenticeship programs.
Solar training could come in handy in jobs down the line for these electrical students in Colorado, which is ranked eighth in the country for solar resource and jobs per capita by The Solar Foundation. And students aren’t just learning abstract solar concepts. Wright said E Light teaches them about row values, wiring harnesses, MC4 connectors, string inverters compared to central inverters and more.
“It just makes for overall big-picture awareness,” said Wright.
Solar States is working with Philadelphia utility PECO and the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center to launch an intensive 10-week solar training program for underserved citizens in North Philadelphia.
“There’s a real need for skilled solar installers in the area, and so we’re looking to meet that need,” said Solar States founder Micah Gold-Markel.
He said the program is for those who are unemployed or want to learn a new skill. The goal is for Solar States and other area installers to hire the top students in each cohort.
“Every little part of the solar array, they’re going to understand so that when they come out, they’re not just going to be people who can hand up solar panels or do the layout, but they’ll know from the roof all the way through to the AC side of things how this stuff works,” Gold-Markel said.
PECO financed the venture and is paying Gold-Markel and another experienced installer to teach two 15-student classes how to install solar. Classes will be held close to public transportation to make them accessible to all. Gold-Markel said this is one way to make sure low-income people aren’t left out of the green energy movement.
When Sunstall CEO Helge Biernath sent out cold letters to try to get an internship in the United States when he was a student in Germany, he was met with silence and rejection.
“I remember how frustrating that was because I think from the four companies I applied to, only one got back to me and said, ‘No we’re not doing that,’” Biernath said.
So when he started his own company stateside, he decided to give other international students the chance he didn’t have. Sunstall offers three-month to one-year internships where international students can experience all the aspects of working at a solar company—from managing in-office tasks to traveling to different states to work on solar installations.
Biernath said it’s not for the faint-hearted or for people who just want to spend a luxurious summer in San Francisco. One intern he recalled was not thrilled about going to Minnesota to install panels in the bitter winter. But Biernath has had plenty of fearless interns that made the venture worth his while.
Origis Energy uses philanthropy to be a good steward in communities where it installs solar. The company has donated to the Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida and the Lamar County Education Foundation in Mississippi.
Origis also supported STEM-specific programs when it partnered with Cooperative Energy to donate $125,000 to the Mississippi Scholars and Tech Master programs. The programs emphasize a STEM curriculum and tech-prep coursework for those who want to enter the workforce after graduation.
“We are seeing a high demand for many skilled, technical positions in the energy industry alone, but there are a multitude of other industry sectors where high-paying jobs are available,” said Johan Vanhee, managing director of business development for Origis Energy, in a press release.