US government deploys $41M to train clean energy workforce

Across the country, new centers will receive funds to help train thousands of students and workers for clean energy careers.
By Alison F. Takemura

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Two students of color with black hair and orange hard hats look up during a free energy assessment of a factory.
Through Industrial Assessment Centers, students train to spot energy waste at manufacturing facilities. (Clemson University)

The Biden administration is investing $40.8 million into new centers to train students and workers for the rapidly growing clean energy economy.

The energy transition depends on a skilled workforce, one that can manufacture EVs and batteries, install electric heat pumps and pinpoint the ways that buildings and businesses can slash energy waste and reduce emissions. The coming job opportunities are massive. Taken together, three of President Joe Biden’s marquee pieces of legislation — the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and 2022 CHIPS and Science Act — could create up to 2.9 million new jobs annually, according to a September report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. But right now, there aren’t enough people trained to fill these emerging roles, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

To help prepare American workers for clean energy careers and meet some of that need, the Biden administration announced last week that with funds from the infrastructure law, it would help create 27 new centers to train people in energy efficiency, decarbonization and clean energy manufacturing. The centers, which build in part on an existing efficiency-workforce program, aim to train at least 3,000 individuals over the course of the three-year funding period.

We are thrilled to cultivate the next generation of clean energy professionals that will modernize buildings in their communities with the latest clean energy technology,” said Henry McKoy, director of the DOE Office of State and Community Energy Programs, in a statement. Not only will these students and workers help revolutionize the future of green buildings, but they will help us all achieve our energy goals and fight climate change.”

The training centers are spread out across the U.S., at community colleges, technical colleges, trade schools, training institutes and universities from Oceanside, California to South Charleston, West Virginia.

Seventeen institutions have been selected as Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs), expanding the current network of 37 facilities, to train individuals for jobs that can streamline manufacturing operations. The training centers, which each have their own tailored programs, will prepare students and workers for a variety of career paths focused on industrial energy efficiency, including roles like energy auditors, building-energy managers, insulators, industrial electricians, EV and lithium-battery technicians, and heating, air conditioning and refrigeration professionals (who are fired up about heat pumps).

First established in the 1970s, IACs provide students hands-on training. One of the key ways these centers do that is by bringing students and instructors to the factory floor to provide free energy audits to small and medium-sized manufacturers, helping them cut energy use and costs.

These assessments are valuable because the industrial sector has a huge energy appetite. It accounts for about a quarter of U.S. energy consumption and 30 percent of its CO2 emissions, the DOE shared with Canary Media.

Trainees have been able to help reduce that footprint while making manufacturers more competitive. On average, each IAC assessment has identified opportunities for manufacturers to save at least $140,000 in annual energy costs and reduce the equivalent carbon emissions of over 180 gas-powered cars, according to the DOE.

Ten institutions have also been selected as inaugural Building Training and Assessment Centers. The DOE’s BTAC program grew out of the IAC program and shares the goal of saving energy and slashing emissions, but aimed at commercial buildings more broadly, as well as public and school buildings. The DOE has seen strong demand for trainees who can provide these services, according to Mary MacPherson, program manager at DOE.

To bring a diversity of individuals into the energy efficiency and green building industry, the training centers will cater to all levels of experience, MacPherson said, really empowering them to learn at the skill level they currently have.”

Several of the centers, which are all located at universities, are partnering with community colleges to jointly develop curricula for their students. Some centers are partnering with high schools to give students opportunities for technical internships and the ability to earn college credits. Other centers will help working professionals level up their skills and certifications.

And for the first time, the IAC program is investing in centers outside of universities to train students and workers for high-quality jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, said Jeremy Avins, supervisory program manager at the DOE.

One new IAC training center will be administered by the training arm of the insulators union, the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, for example. The center will train unionized insulators and apprentices around the country to conduct insulation audits for mechanical systems, such as ductwork, piping and high-powered industrial equipment.

Thirteen of the 27 new training centers are at institutions federally recognized as serving an especially high percentage of students from minority groups, and more than 75 percent of the funds will go toward disadvantaged communities. These commitments bolster the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative — its promise to deliver at least 40 percent of the benefits from climate and other investments to disadvantaged communities.

The new infusion of funds is expected to help directly support the training of several thousand individuals, but the wide-ranging partnerships that will be formed, Avins said, could catalyze the clean energy careers of significantly more” students and workers.

Alison F. Takemura is staff writer at Canary Media. She reports on home electrification, building decarbonization strategies and the clean energy workforce.