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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is setting aside $32 million to help promote new jobs and research in the nation’s solar energy industry in an effort to accelerate the transition to cleaner forms of energy.
Part of that money, $12 million, is set aside for projects to train solar technical professionals and to educate “other professionals in related fields such as real estate, insurance, finance and fire and safety,” a statement issued on May 26 by the agency mentioned.
The job-training project will include U.S. military veterans under a Solar Vets Initiative. All told, the Obama administration aims to train 75,000 new workers in the solar-power industry within five years.
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The DOE also plans to spend $15 million to help fund at least seven projects to develop new, less costly models of concentrating solar power collectors, which now are the most expensive parts of a solar power generator.
The remaining $5 million will be spent on at least three initiatives to collect and share information on how the solar industry works, including financial information and generating electrical power. The DOE statement said this will help improve “transparency and fair pricing” in the solar power industry.
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But the centerpiece of the overall DOE initiative is the jobs program. Installing solar panels is a job-intensive business. In fact, there are already more jobs in the solar industry than the coal industry, despite the former only making up a fraction of US electricity generation.
“To ensure the continued growth of the U.S. solar industry and our clean energy economy, it is critical that we support workforce training programs that will give American workers the skills they need for well-paying jobs and also make sure American consumers have access to highly-trained, credentialed professionals when they choose solar to power their daily lives,” Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said in the DOE statement.
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The money for the solar promotion initiative is being provided by a DOE program called the SunShot Initiative, whose aim is to increase solar power capacity in the country from less than 1 percent today to 14 percent by 2030. In the past five years, the agency said, SunShot’s Solar Instructor Training Network has enabled more than 30,000 students to join the solar energy workforce.
A parallel DOE initiative is the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED), a program designed to train power systems engineers to meet the growing U.S. demand for alternatives to fossil fuels. The better trained they are, the DOE statement said, the more efficient they’ll be both technologically and financially.
This isn’t the Obama administration’s first effort to give financial support to solar energy. The president was embarrassed two years into his presidency when the California start-up Solyndra, which promised solar energy through an unusual technology, went bankrupt in 2011 despite having received more than $500 million in loan guarantees from the federal government.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com