Feds want to add 75K new solar power workers

President Obama announced the expansion during a visit to Utah's Hill Air Force Base

Solar panels being installed
George Washington Solar Institute

The U.S. government has announced plans to help train 75,000 people to enter the solar workforce by 2020, including a number of veterans.

President Obama announced the expansion to a previous solar industry training plan  during a visit to Utah's Hill Air Force Base on Friday.

The new initiative is a significant boost to the program announced last year that had set a goal of training 50,000 solar power workers by 2020.

The new goal is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, which helps fund research, manufacturing and market creation. The SunShot Initiative's Solar Instructor Training Network works with 400 community colleges across the country for training, and claims to have already certified 1,000 solar instructors and nearly 30,000 students in the last five years.

Ultimately, the SunShot Initiative has a goal for solar energy to reach price parity with conventional power sources in five years.

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Workers install rooftop solar panels.

"They say they're about 60% of the way there because [of solar] panel prices.... They've come down 80% over the past five years," said Amit Ronen, director of George Washington University's Solar Institute.

The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years -- and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper, according to Deutsche Bank's leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah.

Part of the SunShot Initiative is the Solar Ready Vets Program, which uses funding under the GI Bill to train transitioning military personnel on 10 bases to enter the solar workforce.

For example, at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, veterans have already completed training and installed solar panels onsite. The program includes participation from Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, all of which announced pilot initiatives earlier this year and are serving as a model for the Solar Ready Vets program.

Military service members learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes. This accelerated training will prepare them for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors and other solar-related occupations.

The solar power industry created 31,000 new jobs last year, a growth rate that was 20 times the national average, according to the fifth installment of the Solar Jobs Census, released earlier this year.

Since the first Solar Jobs Census in 2010, solar industry employment has grown by 86%. There are now more than 705,000 jobs related to the solar power industry.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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