It’s happening in America, in Canada, and all around the world. People are getting the training and education they need to transition from jobs in the fossil fuel industry to jobs in solar power and other renewables. The transition to clean energy will bring with it tens of thousands of new jobs in North America alone.
In Alberta, Canada, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has courses for people who want to learn about solar power. They are teaching people how to become solar panel installers and system engineers. One of their recent graduates is Brandon Sandmaier. With two young children at home, Brandon wanted to stop working in the Alberta oil fields and get into another field that would help make the world a better place for his kids to grow up.
After graduation, Brandon went into business with another NAIT graduate. Their new company, Generate Energy, is now a thriving solar power business. Unlike the oil business, which has collapsed in Canada along with falling oil prices, Brandon says his business is expanding rapidly. At NAIT, there are 8 applicants for every seat available in their solar energy program.
Generate Energy focuses on rural communities. Sandmaier says he is surprised how many baby boomers are interested in adding solar power to their homes, especially since it may take many years to see a return on their investment. “They see it as valuable and a legacy,” Sandmaier says. “They’re very interested in having this technology and being a part of this movement.”
As provincial training director with the International Brotherhood of Electricians in Edmonton, Todd Chrunik sees the enthusiasm for solar firsthand. He says younger members in particular see renewable energy as a natural progression for the electrical trade. The interest in the union’s solar training program has a waiting list “as long as your arm,” Chrunik says. “They know this is the future and they’re excited, they really are.”
Scott Crichton is a recent graduate of the IBEW training program. “It’s starting to create a whole new industry that people just weren’t quite ready for 10 years ago,” he says. “It’s an amazing time. One of the coolest things I’ve seen is that you get one house with solar panels on it, then everyone else on the street takes an interest in it and they want to do that too,” Crichton says.
In Colorado, which may be the fracking capitol of the world, the state’s Department of Labor and Employment is funding a solar industry training course for unemployed oil workers. It is putting up $400,000 to recruit and train 350 people for various jobs in the solar industry. Candidates can choose either a single introductory course or a full curriculum that includes 200 hours of training in the Solar Professionals Certificate Program.
The training program is operated by Solar Energy International. Its spokesman, Chris Turek, says the company recruited coal miners because of their focus on safety and experience with mechanics and electrical engineering. Those skills can easily be transferred to the solar industry, he said.
“People are becoming more and more open to it because they’re starting to realize it’s just another part of the energy sector,” Turek said. “At the end of the day, we need electricity, and that need for electricity is just growing.”
There’s a tipping point coming, people. Can you feel it?