This story was originally written for the Powering a Brighter Future in Pennsylvania, a 2022 report on solar at Pennsylvania K-12 schools. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Energy Authority
Pennsylvania has been ranked as a top state for solar employment growth since 2015, and the state has a need to develop a stream of trained solar workers to fill these positions. Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), an independent body established in 2010 to leverage clean energy as a tool for economic development, stepped up to the challenge along with the School District of Philadelphia in developing a new generation of diverse solar workers in the area. In 2019, PEA provided introductory solar trainings to two cohorts of high school students to pilot elements of a new solar curriculum. This laid the groundwork to establish a first-of-its-kind Solar Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to help meet Philadelphia’s demand for a trained solar workforce.
Through the Bright Solar Futures program, we are building a diversified clean energy workforce – one that provides an on-ramp to meaningful careers for populations that are traditionally excluded from the clean, green economy and yet most burdened by the high cost of energy inefficiencies. These…learning opportunities are about bringing new communities into the work of addressing climate change.
– Shonique Banks, Pennsylvania Energy Authority, Director of Development and Workforce Initiatives
In Fall 2020, the Bright Solar Futures program was launched to provide young people in Philadelphia with the skills they need to fill solar jobs. The three-year CTE program, spanning 10th to 12th grade, engages students in 1,080 hours of class time to prepare them to earn the credentials required to become a solar installer, one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation. The development of the Bright Solar Futures program was funded by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is implemented in collaboration with a network of partners, including Solar States and YouthBuild Philly.
The program introduces students to all aspects of work in the solar industry: sales, design, and the technical components of installation. Instruction takes place at Frankford High School, where the recent opening of a state-of-the-art solar training lab represents a milestone in Pennsylvania’s equitable transition to clean energy. In addition to hands-on training in the lab, the students go on field trips to multiple solar sites and participate in paid summer internships.
The Bright Solar Futures program equips students with a marketable vocational skills, along with the confidence to pursue future clean energy careers. Upon graduation, students are prepared to earn three key industry credentials: OSHA10, which is required for any construction work; the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP®) Associate Credential, essential for applying to entry-level solar jobs; and the Construction and Skilled Trades Selection System (CAST) credential, required for some utility jobs.
Twenty students were actively enrolled in the program during the 2021-22 school year, and ten more 9th graders signed up for 2022-23, with the first graduating class expected in 2023. By connecting clean energy to the classroom, the Bright Solar Futures program jumpstarts careers for those who are positioned to benefit the most and grows the clean energy workforce of tomorrow. PEA has plans to scale the Bright Solar Futures program statewide and is packaging the curriculum so that it is easy for other school districts to replicate.
This program has enabled [students] to take control of their future in a way that will have a positive impact on their community and their environment…. Having a meaningful career path to work toward that pays well has given many of the solar energy technology students a sense of direction and a reason to try in school.
– Jordan Crolly, School District of Philadelphia, Solar Energy Technology Teacher
Pennsylvania Energy Authority has also worked with the School District of Philadelphia to bring solar energy systems to its campuses and reduce the hefty $45 million electricity bill that it pays each year. In 2019, a PEA study analyzed the solar potential of four schools in the district and found that the district could install 1.1 MW of solar on four buildings that would offset around 45% of the total electricity consumption at those schools. This has the potential to save the district over $1.8 million year-by-year for electricity.