Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP)

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The Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) funding program tackles soft costs by addressing gaps in solar training and energy education, both within the solar workforce and in professions that play a crucial role in solar deployment. It will support the continuation of current SunShot training programs, including Solar Ready Vets and Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment. This program ensures that solar instructors are well connected to solar employers, veterans are connected to solar training institutions, and engineering students are trained to add increased distributed energy to the grid. STEP will enable solar training and education for professionals in indirect and related fields such as real estate, finance, insurance, fire and code enforcement, and state regulations and establish new credentials in solar operations and maintenance. The STEP funding program was announced in May 2016. Read the announcement.

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Approach

The STEP funding program works to lower the soft costs of going solar, such as permitting, installation, and supply chain costs. These costs make up more than half of the price tag of going solar. STEP seeks to build on SunShot’s foundational workforce quality and capacity building. The program will enable a strong, diverse, and well trained solar workforce, which will lower hiring costs for employers. By ensuring the solar workforce has access to up-to-date and credible information they need to do their jobs, consumers will have assurance of solar installation durability and production.

Objectives

STEP will help to advance America’s solar workforce by providing innovative training programs that will help to meet President Obama’s goal to train 75,000 in solar energy by 2020. These jobs will help increase solar adoption and improve solar installation times by educating the ecosystem of professionals, not just the solar installer. From realtors and appraisers to insurance companies and code officials, having an efficient, well-trained workforce familiar with solar will improve inspection compliance, expedite system permitting, reduce liability and insurance costs, and increase consumer confidence.

Awardees

North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners

Project Name: Personnel Certifications for the Design, Installation, and Maintenance of Photovoltaic Systems
Location: Clifton Park, NY
SunShot Award Amount: $1,119,195
Awardee Cost Share: $186,600
Project Summary: The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is developing three new industry-validated personnel certifications for individuals working in photovoltaic (PV) operations and maintenance and in mid-scale PV system design and installation. These new certifications fill the need for third-party validation of the skills and competence required for the solar labor force, as represented in professional credentials in these sectors. NABCEP is also improving and updating its current PV Installation Professional Certification program and examination. In addition, NABCEP aims to have certified at least 100 new solar professionals in these programs by completion of the award.

The Solar Foundation

Project Name: Solar Ready Vets®
Location: Washington, DC
SunShot Award Amount: $1,947,730
Awardee Cost Share: $41,250
Project Summary: The Solar Foundation is the new national administrator for the Solar Ready Vets® program. This project takes an innovative approach to providing transitioning veterans with promising civilian career paths in solar energy while also providing the solar industry with highly qualified and motivated workers.

The Solar Foundation

Project Name: Solar Training Network
Location: Washington, DC
SunShot Award Amount: $2,107,862
Awardee Cost Share: $34,295
Project Summary: The Solar Foundation is administering the Solar Training Network, which connects solar workforce trainers, solar employers, and individuals interested in working in the solar industry. This project leverages the experience and expertise of its team members to develop and expand training and workforce capacity building nationwide. It builds on the success of an earlier SunShot program, the Solar Instructor Training Network.

Elevate Energy

Project Name: Training Real Estate Professionals to Find the Value of Solar
Location: Chicago, IL
SunShot Award Amount: $445,027
Awardee Cost Share: $23,422
Project Summary: Elevate Energy educates residential real estate agents, appraisers, and appraiser regulatory officials about solar energy systems through web-based, continuing education classes. The lack of current solar information for these professionals is slowing demand for residential solar by decreasing its contribution to resale value and often presenting challenges to home sellers with solar installations. The project also works to add an expanded solar component to the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, a suite of services used by real estate professionals to establish contractual offers on properties, facilitate cooperation with other brokers, and distribute listing information.

Interstate Renewable Energy Council

Project Name: Integration of Solar Training into Allied Industry Professional Development Platforms
Location: Albany, NY
SunShot Award Amount: $2,200,000
Awardee Cost Share: $0
Project Summary: This project creates an engagement strategy to facilitate the integration of state-of-the art solar training into existing professional development platforms for firefighters and fire code officials. This includes using integrated technology solutions, such as online 3D interactive simulations and mobile tools and resources. Through this training and professional development platform, IREC hopes to train more than 10,000 firefighters and fire code officials by the end of this project, who will be able to communicate the information to another 90,000 people.

Trust for Conservation Innovation

Project Name: Solar Training for Design Professionals
Location: Oakland, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $799,949
Awardee Cost Share: $0
Project Summary: This project supports the development and dissemination of solar reference materials and training for building design professionals. The Trust for Conservation Innovation works closely with its partner organizations, the Building Codes Assistance Project and the Center for Sustainable Energy, to complete this project. The project targets multiple interrelated audiences in the building design field, leveraging the similarity of educational materials needed, while establishing consistency in and amplifying understanding.

National Conference of State Legislatures

Project Name: State STEP Partnership – State Solar Energy Training and Network
Location: Denver, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $950,616
Awardee Cost Share: $0
Project Summary: This project uses a three-phase learning approach to develop a solar training program for state regulators, legislators, and energy officers using traditional instruction, interactive games and simulations, and peer exchange. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) aims to train 45 policy and energy leaders at two in-person trainings, and another 150-200 legislators, legislative staff members, and energy officials via a series of four webinars. In addition, NCSL is creating a toolkit that will be promoted electronically to more than 10,000 legislators, legislative staff, and energy officials. This training program also connects these policymakers with experts from national laboratories, universities, and other providers of technical assistance.

Clean Energy States Alliance

Project Name: Training for State Officials to Make Solar More Inclusive, Affordable, and Consumer Friendly
Location: Montpelier, VT
SunShot Award Amount: $568,000
Awardee Cost Share: $64,846
Project Summary: The Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) provides resources and training for public officials, mostly at the state level, on how to deal with two issues that have important implications for the future cost and continued public acceptance of solar energy. The first issue is ensuring inclusive participation in the solar economy, especially for those with low and moderate incomes and those without solar-friendly roofs. The second issue is helping consumers find and use reputable, competent vendors and contractors.

George Washington University

Project Name: Multimedia Solar Knowledge Library
Location: Washington, DC
SunShot Award Amount: $430,727
Awardee Cost Share: $0
Project Summary: The GW Solar Institute at the George Washington University is developing multimedia solar energy training materials that can be used to train a spectrum of diverse audiences. The resulting solar knowledge library serves as an invaluable resource for other STEP awardees who are directly engaging and training communities as diverse as real estate agents, financiers, and state regulators and policymakers. 

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources
Location: Orlando, FL
SunShot Award Amount: $1,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $250,000
Project Summary: Foundations for Engineering Education in Distributed Energy Resources (FEEDER) was established under the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED) program in 2013 as one of three training consortia. FEEDER is administered by the University of Central Florida and consists of seven universities and eight utilities, as well as ten industry partners and two national labs. FEEDER undertakes research, curriculum development, and education and training activities in power systems engineering aimed at widespread adoption of distributed renewable energy resources and deployment of smart grid technologies.

Electric Power Research Institute

Project Name: Leveraging Industry Research to Educate a Future Electric Grid Workforce in the Western U.S.
Location: Knoxville, TN
SunShot Award Amount: $1,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $250,000
Project Summary: The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) along with university, utility, and electric industry partners establishes a Distributed Technology Training Consortium (DTTC) in the western United States. This new consortium, GridEd-West (The Center for Grid Engineering Education in the West), leverages the existing structure, knowledge, and successes from the EPRI-led GridEd-East team – a consortium established as a DTTC for the purpose of fulfilling the original objectives of the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED) program, which over the past two years has trained more than 4,500 students and professionals across the United States in power systems engineering.

Learn more about the SunShot Initiative's other soft costs funding programs.