Clean energy isn’t one size fits all
When Daniel Herr tried to get a job at the Clean Energy Center in Reno, he didn’t go banging on their door with his résumé. He gently knocked, asking a few questions about them, just out of curiosity. He learned about their work researching, designing and installing wind, solar and solar thermal systems. Then, as people do in such conversations, they asked Herr about himself. A few months later, when a VP of operations job opened up, CEC decided to hire 26-year-old Herr.
Though he had some knowledge of renewable energy at the time, he didn’t have solid experience in it, but he did have an engineering degree and a background of working in land development. (“Developing a wind park is like developing real estate,” he says. “You have to get community by-in; there are environmental concerns.”)
That was about a year ago. Herr admits that under similar circumstances today, Clean Energy Center may not have hired him. When CEC posted three jobs last fall, they received 120 résumés.
“The industry has gotten past the point of taking people who know nothing about the technology and taking nine months on the job to train them on it,” says Herr. “The number one thing is hands-on experience.”
It helps to have experience in an array of energy sources—from conventional to solar to wind and geothermal. When Clean Energy Center started on Earth Day in 2008, there weren’t many clean energy companies around that were “technology agnostic,” as CEC owner Rich Hamilton calls it. For customers who think they want to install a renewable energy system but aren’t sure which kind, CEC will research which system will work best for them, and then do the installation, as well.
Now, several electric companies are adding clean energy options to their offerings, and many solar companies are offering wind services, too.
Herr says there are several ways to get hands-on experience. Some involve going back to school, like taking renewable energy classes at Truckee Meadows Community College or University of Nevada, Reno. But there are also workshops people can attend, some of which are free.
Clean energy companies, including CEC, have given free public talks about renewable energy. Western Nevada Supply has presented free solar hot water classes. Some of these companies are hoping to sell their products through this sort of outreach, but these talks can help inform someone interested in getting into the industry. Trade groups also offer courses in alternative energy. And Nevada has played host to international solar and geothermal conferences, though there is typically a registration fee for them. Then, of course, there are good old fashioned books and websites on clean energy, which Herr spent time studying before walking through CEC’s doors.
Within CEC’s small staff of 12, let alone the entire renewable energy field, a number of backgrounds and jobs are represented: There are tech-savvy construction workers, electricians who’ve crossed into solar and wind, people in permitting, design, sales and marketing. These people don’t necessarily need new degrees to do renewable energy work, but they do need to be solidly informed about it.
“You need technology-specific training for all of them,” says Herr. “That’s really what it’s boiled down to.”