Almost three years ago, several DOE offices released funding to help first responders and building safety officials ensure that relatively newer energy technologies like solar panels and electric vehicles operate safely and that they can effectively respond when things go wrong. Today, over 75,000 unique visitors have visited DOE’s training websites so far – twice as many as expected – which underscores the speed of today’s energy transition and how much the clean energy workforce needs the safety-focused, real-world guidance that EMPOWERED provides.

The Education Materials for Professional Organizations Working on Efficiency and Renewable Energy Developments (EMPOWERED) funding program is a collaborative effort from the Building Technologies Office (BTO), Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), and Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) that provides educational materials, quick reference guides, inspection and safety resources, and free continuing education unit (CEU) credit-bearing training courses for safety-focused professionals.

One of EMPOWERED’s awardees, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), focuses on Responsive DERs Educational Solutions for Building, Fire, and Safety Department Officials, and for the past three years, IREC worked to increase the knowledge of DERs technologies among first responders. In addition, they provided job-specific skills to code officials who inspect PV, energy storage, grid-interactive efficient building technologies and electric vehicle supply equipment and provided resources that respond to these ever-evolving technologies.

So far, IREC has created two websites: CleanEnergyClearinghouse.org, which offers over 24 free educational resources and CEU bearing courses, and CleanEnergyTraining.org, home to 30 clean energy courses, which users are visiting far faster than DOE anticipated. Nearly 4,000 people have created accounts on CleanEnergyTraining.org, and over 7,200 have registered for courses and another 1,000 have attended webinars.

Kimberly Norman-Rosedam is one of them. “I’ll often refer to the courses and videos when I’m doing a plan review and have a doubt about something that I’m looking at,” said Norman-Rosedam, a third-generation contractor and building official. “I love how the course videos break down the different aspects of inspections in a step-by-step manner and how they test a person’s knowledge along the way. This is important to make sure the person watching understands the concepts. Also, the Clearinghouse website is a very helpful resource, and I am often referring back to it.”

Solar activities account for 80% of Doug Wansor’s duties. Wansor is the chief electrical inspector for Broward County, Florida, and he and the structural plan reviewers and first responders he collaborates with all leverage these resources to stay updated on the latest industry best practices for DERs. “I like the IREC courses because they simplify training,” Wansor said. “EMPOWERED offers a great entry-level product at no charge. As a code official, I have to maintain my continuing education units (CEUs), and I use [EMPOWERED] courses to get my CEUs with the International Code Council.”

The success of initiatives like IREC’s Responsive DER Educational Solutions for Building, Fire, and Safety Department Officials project speaks volumes about the program's efficacy. As IREC reaches the two-thirds mark, the notable accomplishments, surpassed goals, and positive feedback highlight the tangible impact of these resources.

Engineers reviewing building site plans.

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