Energy and environmental injustice have been persistent issues in the U.S., disproportionately affecting minority populations. To combat these issues, community colleges can play a crucial role in training minority students to become advocates for renewable energy and leaders in the fight against energy injustice.
The Biden administration has set ambitious goals for expanding solar energy, including installing an average of 30 GW of solar capacity per year by 2025 and 60 GW per year from 2025 to 2030. Achieving such an overarching goal requires a large and diverse workforce to make the U.S. a global leader in delivering quality energy efficiency and clean energy products to American homes and buildings.
For a successful and just energy transition in the U.S., it is crucial to prioritize justice and equity for all Americans, including those who have been historically underserved by energy policies. Community colleges can play a crucial role in addressing this issue by increasing community awareness about the economics of solar energy and providing affordable education and training programs that equip students with the skills needed to meet the growing demand for solar energy solutions. These programs can cover a range of topics, including solar panel installation, design, maintenance and energy storage, as well as project management, sales and marketing courses to prepare students for various careers in the solar industry.
Although there are challenges in training students for the rapidly evolving solar industry, many community colleges have taken significant steps to address the skills gap and meet the demands of the industry. By partnering with industry stakeholders, offering internships and apprenticeships, and providing hands-on training in state-of-the-art facilities, community colleges are not only preparing students for careers in the solar industry but also contributing to a more sustainable future and addressing energy injustice in minority communities.
Through a focus on justice and equity, community colleges can help ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition are accessible to all Americans, regardless of their background or socio-economic status.
A variety of solar energy jobs
Community colleges can offer solar training programs in both credit and non-credit modes, either online or through hybrid methods. To prepare students for various occupations in the solar industry, a survey of occupational titles was conducted, and the following list was generated:
Solar panel installers: These workers are responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing solar panels on residential, commercial and industrial properties. They require proficiency in using hand and power tools and knowledge of electrical and mechanical systems. Houston Community College (HCC) offers a solar installation program that prepares students for industry credentials such as the NABCEP PV Associate (PVA) Credential.
Solar designers and engineers: Solar designers and engineers create the layouts and plans for solar installations. They need a strong understanding of solar technology, energy efficiency and electrical systems.
Solar sales representatives: These professionals promote and sell solar energy products and services. They need to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and a deep understanding of the benefits of solar energy.
Solar project managers: Solar project managers oversee the planning, budgeting and execution of solar energy projects. They require strong leadership, project management, and construction and electrical systems knowledge.
Energy storage technicians: These technicians work on installing and maintaining energy storage systems, such as batteries, that store solar energy for later use. They need to know about electrical systems and have basic troubleshooting skills.
Solar energy system inspectors: These inspectors verify that solar energy systems are installed and operating correctly. They need to know about electrical systems and safety codes and can read blueprints.
Below are a few approaches that colleges can use, from efforts that can be implemented to address more immediate needs, to developing a longer-term strategy.
Community colleges can offer solar training and workshops — including short-term training programs and certifications for solar PV installation and maintenance — to promote the benefits of solar energy and address energy injustice. Partnerships with local solar companies and community organizations can also provide students job placement and internship opportunities. Hosting solar energy awareness events and workshops can help educate the community on the advantages of solar energy.
Last year, HCC hosted a couple of events targeting communities of color to create awareness of solar energy programs at our campuses. Guest speakers responded to participants’ questions regarding the economics of installing solar panels at home and any credit they receive on such projects.
To promote the growth of solar energy and address environmental justice issues, community colleges can develop and implement comprehensive solar energy training programs, including degree programs, that equip students with the skills and knowledge to join the solar industry. This can be done in partnership with local businesses, government agencies and community organizations to promote the use of solar energy in the community.
Additionally, community colleges can invest in the necessary infrastructure and resources to support the expansion of solar energy in the community, such as solar PV systems, energy storage systems and smart grid technologies.
To establish a strong foundation for solar energy education and growth, community colleges can take long-term actions such as setting up a Center of Excellence in Solar Energy, serving as a hub for research, development and training in the field. By working with local and state government agencies, colleges can help develop policies and incentives that promote solar energy growth and address environmental justice. Collaboration with other institutions can further enhance the sharing of best practices, resources and knowledge related to solar energy and environmental justice.
The rapidly changing solar industry challenges community colleges in training students. Curriculums and training programs must continually adapt to keep pace with the latest trends and technologies. Furthermore, many community colleges need help securing funding for the required infrastructure and equipment to provide comprehensive solar training.
Despite these obstacles, many community colleges are taking significant steps to address the skills gap and meet the demands of the solar industry. They are forging partnerships with industry stakeholders, providing internships and apprenticeships, and offering hands-on training in state-of-the-art facilities. As a result, they are preparing students for a successful career in the solar industry and contributing to a more sustainable future. By promoting solar energy awareness and providing training, we can contribute to addressing environmental injustice in underprivileged communities. This can be achieved by enabling greater access to clean energy, generating new employment prospects, enhancing financial stability, fostering climate resilience and empowering co