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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Now’s the Time for Clean Energy Skills

Clean energy jobs panel (clockwise from top left): Joanne Coons, Matt Desmarais, Devon Karpak, Josh Robin, Gwen St.Sauveur, Will White, and Tim Yandow. (Photo courtesy of SolarFest)

Mike Bailey

Just as at the start of the dot-com era in the ‘90s, and Sutter’s Mill over a century earlier, right now there is a unique opportunity to make a great deal of money while creating a big improvement in our future.

There is a world-wide shift away from fossil fuels happening right now, so SolarFest held an online workshop on January 15 with the Rupert Meeting House to explore the transition to green jobs. Moderated by Joanne Coons, adjunct professor at TEC-SMART, they heard from six people who have already found exciting and profitable career opportunities in the trillion-dollar clean energy field. The panelists described how they got the skills and the breaks needed in a wide cross-section of areas that make up the sustainable 21st century economy.

The session began with a recent study from New York State that shows the fields that are losing jobs, including gas stations and other carbon fuel businesses like oil and gas heating and automobile repair. Conversely, the employment sectors adding jobs include building design and residential and commercial weatherization, advanced heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), solar power and storage, electric vehicle charging, wind, hydrogen and biomass.

Right from the beginning it was clear that there is no one path to finding a new, rewarding and exciting career in these new fields. The speakers have come from incredibly diverse backgrounds; they studied electricity, English and engineering, worked in welding, carpentry and auto repair, are part of non-profit organizations or run their own businesses. With these varied paths to success, however, they are all curious and looking for new solutions, share a passion for exploring new challenges, and love the meaningful work to make a better world. Most importantly, they all said ‘yes’ when opportunity approached them.

So, where are the opportunities, who can participate, how do I get started? Let’s listen to the experts:

Matt Desmarais said “Governments across the U.S. and Canada are using heat pumps as a solution for climate change to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, there’s a huge demand for heat pump installers, engineers, designer and drillers…high schoolers with minimal skills are looking at $25 an hour with specialists getting $125 dollars an hour.”

Devon Karpak added, “Right now we’re trying to retrain after first, second or third careers — it might be college, it might be trade school, it might be an apprenticeship. All are valid and valuable pathways.”

The field of electric vehicles includes cars, buses, motorcycles and more. As Josh Robin explained, “This is absolutely the best time to get into the EV field, and this is a massive field. From the infrastructure side, you’re looking at electricians, engineers, and coding is huge; everything needs software. The absolute best advice is to surround yourself with people that share your enthusiasm and have knowledge that can help you grow.”

In the booming area of building science, Gwendolen St. Sauveur pointed out that, “Cities and states across the country are requiring all residential new construction to meet the DOE net zero energy program by 2030, so contractors need to be comfortable building energy efficient homes. My path has been very non-traditional, which gave me the skill set for the construction side, the architecture side, and the mechanical side. So, follow your interests, don’t be cookie cutter.”

“You know there’s lots of different jobs in in the solar field — an interesting and diverse industry where you don’t need really any experience; they’ll train you on the job,” said Will White. “You can obviously take classes from organizations like SEI, but then it goes into other things like design, electrical, mechanical, engineering, sales, marketing, procurement, HR, business development, and land use. There’s so much demand in the solar industry at this point it’s really amazing. And a little tip for those of us in the northeast — with a New Hampshire electrical license you can get reciprocal licenses in many other states like Vermont and Massachusetts without having to take another test.”

Tim Yandow reminded us about seeing the big picture. “All these great technologies, all these wonderful jobs that are out there…don’t forget the fact that these are not necessarily as accessible to everybody. Through the weatherization assistance program, we make sure that people of lesser means are not left behind in the energy efficiency divide. If I could provide one little piece of advice: if you’re interested in things then talk to the people who are already doing it, and who are passionate about it. Do things that are meaningful and interesting and purposeful to you. We have some big problems to solve and we need everybody to solve them.”

Want to learn more? Watch the complete “Transition to a Green Job” workshop at www.SolarFest.org.

Moderator – Joanne Coons; TEC-SMART Faculty at Hudson Valley Community College

Matt Desmarais – Heat Pumps; Energy Catalyst

Devon Karpak – Technology Education; Otter Valley Union HS

Josh Robin – Electric Vehicles; Cornice Technology

Gwen St.Sauveur – Building Design and Systems; BTF Residential Designs

Will White – Solar and Storage; Solar Energy International (SEI)

Tim Yandow – Energy Conservation and Weatherization; Efficiency VT

Mike Bailey, a Trustee of SolarFest, was formerly the Executive Director of Strategic Marketing Communications for NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

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