US President* Trump has yet to fulfill his promise of bringing back coal jobs, but it sure looks like his administration is trying to make things up by promoting solar jobs. In the latest development, the Department of Energy is putting up another $53 million in funding to support solar industry growth, and a $12 million slice of that pie is dedicated to solar jobs training programs that support veterans.
Military Veterans And Solar Jobs
The US wind industry is well known for matching veterans with job opportunities, and solar jobs speak to the same skill set: teamwork, leadership, familiarity with technology, and — depending on the type of work — physical fitness.
Veterans have another advantage when it comes to solar jobs: many have seen solar in action. Though the Department of Defense has been relatively slow to adopt on-site wind power, the nation’s defense facilities are bristling with photovoltaic panels.
Some veterans have also used PV equipment in action. For example the US Army has been experimenting with portable and transportable PV technology for use at forward operating bases and field excursions.
$12 Million More For Veterans’ Solar Jobs
Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not mince words in the new Department of Energy funding announcement. Here’s the money quote from the press release:
Developing new skills through workforce training is critical to expanding job opportunities in the renewable sector, which is why we are following through on our program to reach out to military veterans with new projects that will target this committed workforce.
The figure of $12 million is not much in the great scheme of things, but this funding builds on existing programs and resources, so a little could go a long way.
One of those existing resources is Solar Ready Vets, a program launched by the Department of Energy during the Obama administration. The program aims at giving veterans a running start on the job market, by enabling active duty military to get solar jobs training before they transition out of service.
It’s also worth nothing that the $12 million comes under the heading, “Improving and Expanding the Solar Industry through Workforce Initiatives.”
That “improving and expanding” business should set off a bunch of red flags among coal stakeholders, who have seen the Trump Administration pitch a string of failed proposals aimed at propping up the coal industry.
Where were we? Oh right, the $12 million. The monies are divvied up between trade associations and other non-private entities, to develop PV training programs based at community colleges.
The list of recipients includes Midwest Renewable Energy Association (Solar Ready Wisconsin), Blue Lake Rancheria in California (Multi-Sector Solar Career Training Initiative for Native Americans and Veterans), Safer Foundation in Illinois (Solar Energy Demand Skills Training Program), Illinois Green Economy Network (Expanding the Solar Workforce through the Illinois Community College System), The Solar Foundation (Washington, DC — this organization also administers Solar Ready Vets for the Department of Energy), and the Philadelphia Energy Authority (Bright Solar Futures).
In addition, the Tennessee-based Electric Power Research Institute received funding for its Grid Ready Energy Analytics Training with Data program.
More Solar Goodies In Store
But wait, there’s more. The solar jobs funding comes in the context of additional funding for early stage, advanced solar research. Here’s Secretary Perry again:
Innovation is key to solar’s continued growth in our nation’s energy portfolio. It increases our energy diversity and reinforces our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.
There’s that solar industry “growth” business again!
A pool of $27.7 million is earmarked for 31 early stage research on perovskites and other new PV materials, and another $12.4 million will go to 15 next-generation concentrating solar power research areas.
That thing about CSP should also keep coal stakeholders up at night. CSP refers to systems that literally concentrate sunlight from a field of mirrors onto a central point, where it can be used to heat a liquid, which is then used to generate steam. Since the heated liquid can be stored, CSP systems promise utility scale, 24/7 electricity delivery — just like fossil fuel plants.
CSP technology took its share of lumps early on, as critics found CSP systems overly complex and expensive compared to photovoltaic panels. Nevertheless, DOE became a huge fan of the technology during the Obama administration, and Secretary Perry continues to wax enthusiastic over the role of CSP in the sparkling green grid of the future.
More Bad News For Coal
For that matter, the whole $53 million funding pot is yet another piece in a mounting pile of evidence that Trump was blowing hot air during his 2016 presidential campaign, when he made all those promises to coal miners, their families and their communities.
The funds come through DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, with the overall aim of addressing the “affordability, flexibility, and performance of solar technologies on the grid,” partly by ensuring that the growing industry has a trained, work-ready hiring pool at hand.
As for coal, CleanTechnica has been tracking DOE’s delicate balancing act, as Secretary Perry offers up coal-saving proposals that placate the Commander-in-Chief with one hand, while he follows through on solar jobs and other Obama-era policies with the other hand.
The attempts to prop up the coal industry routinely make Perry look ridiculous — he was roundly panned for last year’s coal friendly “grid study” and FERC proposal, for example — but the end result is still good news for renewable energy stakeholders and a steady stream of bad news for coal.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to The Solar Foundation for an update on the Solar Ready Vets program, so stay tuned for more on that.
*Clarification: Funding for Solar Ready Vets has closed out. The new funding replaces it with new programs.
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Image: via US Department of Energy.