How the Military is (Indirectly) Fueling the Solar Industry

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 10:28
Posted in category Energy Efficiency

Obama Solar MilitaryIf ever there was a champion of efficiency, the military would be it. Energy efficiency is no exception to this generalization. As The Solar Foundation (TSF) and Operation Free tell us in a recent Veterans in Solar report, the U.S. military has scaled up its use of distributed renewable energy technologies, at home and in combat zones, to strengthen energy security and improve operational costs and capabilities.

Always occupying a certain crest on the waves of technological innovation, the American military has made efforts toward energy independence, bolstered by a Department of Defense (DoD) mandate to use renewable power for 25% of total facility energy consumption by 2025. Bases across the United States have already installed over a 130-megawatt capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. It is a strategic move in an effort to mitigate risk and make our military less vulnerable, but it has a seamless side-effect: job-ready veterans.

With so many servicemen and women gaining solar experience during their time in the military, it makes sense that nearly 10% of solar workers in the United States are veterans of the armed forces. According to the TSF Solar Jobs Census, veterans are proportionately more represented in the solar workforce than in the economy as a whole. Most of these veterans (39%) work in installation, while 27% work in manufacturing, 14% work in sales and distribution, 6% work in project development and the remaining 14% perform some “other” function in the field.

Many veterans have the ability and desire to join their compatriots in solar energy, but were not involved in PV installation during their service, thus lacking the technical knowledge and skills. No matter. NABCEP exam preparation and solar installation training are more accessible and affordable than ever, and they are often funded by government grants for veterans who are entering or re-entering employment. CleanEdison trains countless students for professional certifications, often working with government and non-profit entities to secure grant funding for veteran trainees.

Chains of command, standards and procedures, disaster response drills — troops know how to stay prepared. Perhaps this is why they’re so well represented in the solar workforce. With the anticipated advancement of the industry, at over 15% job growth within the next year, entering this sector now is a safe plan of attack for ensuring long-term employability. As Congressman Scott Peters put it, “The solar industry offers our veterans the unique opportunity to use the knowledge they learned serving our country in a rapidly growing sector that is vital to both our national security and economic future.”

The example of the military is a useful lens through which to examine the potential impacts of the renewable energy sector as a whole. No soldierly rank is negligent to the threat posed by our dependence on fossil fuels. If only the same could be said of our citizens. When it comes to the march toward energy security – the development and implementation of renewable energy technologies – if we don’t stand at attention now, we may never be at ease.

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    Martin Smith
    Martin Smith is a blogger at CleanEdison. Originally from a California desert, he's been powered by the Sun since the 80's. Martin has been focused on sustainable business initiatives since 2010, and looks forward to the future of clean technology.