Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SolarTech and San Jose State University

From the SolarTech weekly newsletter, October 18, 2010

SolarTech and San Jose State University - a Winning Team!

Building on a successful collaboration earlier in 2010, two teams of business students from the Sbona Honors Program at San José State are now studying aspects of residential solar adoption on behalf of SolarTech and its members. A team of finance students is validating the estimates of various PV calculators, while a marketing team is asking consumers about their reasons for adoption (or non-adoption) of rooftop solar panels.

Cooperation by SolarTech members in these studies - as well as planned interviews and surveys of solar HR managers - will help SolarTech and the industry advance their goal of promoting solar adoption in California.

The finance team of Chris Chow, Y Nguyen and Nick Sabbatini is comparing the predictions of public calculators such as NREL’s Solar Advisor Model for a range of California locations. They are also seeking actual performance data and will be testing the sensitivity of the various calculators.

The Sbona Honors Program sends SJSU’s highest performing undergraduate business students into the field to help clients solve a real problem. For the finance project, Jeremy Neigher of Clean Power Finance has been volunteering his time to serve as the SolarTech client representative, providing both industry knowledge and client feedback to the students.

A similar role is being played by Bob Couch of Orogen Marketing, who is working with the SJSU marketing students: Faith Ebrahimi, Irene Foelschow, Morgan Hancock, Jennifer Sarvian and Tam Tran. The team has drafted a consumer survey about homeowner adoption motivations, and is negotiating for access to a representative mailing list.

The students were selected by Prof. Bill Devincenzi and Prof. Rob Vitale from their respective honors classes. Both teams are also getting feedback from David McFeely of SolarTech and Joel West of SJSU.

In the Spring, teams provided by Prof. Devincenzi and Prof. West studied the features of the solar calculators and surveyed local government attitudes towards streamlining installation permits. The studies are available on the SolarTech website (free for members, nominal fee for non-members) and summaries are available on the SJSU Solar Workforce blog: solarwork.blogspot.com.

Finally, another group of students will be studying the staffing needs of Bay Area solar companies, both large and small. The 43 students are undergraduate human resources majors taking a HR staffing class taught by Prof. Lauren Ramsay.

The students will be interviewing HR managers — or in some cases, business owners — to discuss their most important job categories, and the knowledge, skills and abilities required for these jobs. The interviews will both provide in-depth insights into workforce needs and also prepare the next generation of HR professionals to work in the cleantech sector.

Beginning in early 2011, SJSU plans a follow up from the interviews with a series of quarterly surveys of California’s solar industry employers. The surveys are being run by Prof. Meghna Virick, as part of the two-year SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative (SWIC).

For more information about SJSU’s collaboration with SolarTech, contact Joel West at Joel.West@sjsu.edu.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The pulse of solar employers

At the Solar Workforce Project, we have two main tasks over the next two years: developing curriculum for white collar workers and systematically contacting employers to understand their workforce needs.

Right now, the HR task is front and center. Dr. Meghna Virick, associate professor of HR Management, is in charge of contacting the HR managers, while I’ve taken responsibility for building a database of solar employers (aided by a bevy of student assistants.)

We plan to use multiple methods to provide a convergent picture of solar workforce needs. Survey responses from a representative sample of California solar employers will allow for scientific inferences to be drawn for the entire state, while interviews with selected employers will help us understand the “why” and “how” that are hard to capture in a survey. Of course, any results that we release must protect the confidentiality expectations of our respondents.

The big push over the past month has been to build the employer database, starting with the Bay Area and expanding statewide. We began with several lists, and then added and deleted companies as we learned more.

The database will include a wide range of companies, including manufacturers (wafers, panels, modules, balance of system) — whether their manufacturing is in California or elsewhere — as well as installers/integrators, PPA operators, equipment providers and others that play a role in the industry. There is no upper or lower limit on the size of the company, and we are also including foreign companies that have their US HQ in California.

I am personally classifying the companies for their role in the solar value chain, in case we later need to do a survey of integrators or thin film manufacturers. We may also need to go back and clean up the classification — for example, to segregate “pure play” firms (like Skyline, SolarCity, or Solyndra) from companies where solar is only part of the portfolio (like Applied Materials, Areva or National Semi.)

Building an accurate database has turned out to be a far more daunting effort than we’d imagined — not to get the company names, but to identify a qualified HR professional to contact with our questions. (At a very small company, the HR manager is the president or owner.)

Our urgent priority is sending about 45 HR students into the field to interview the HR managers. Prof. Lauren Ramsay has graciously loaned us her Workforce Planning, Staffing, and Training class to conduct the interviews. Our hope is not only to understand local employer staffing needs, but also to help train future HR professionals to understand a growing cleantech industry — both from their own research, and from what the class learns as a group.

Later in 2010 or early in 2011, we plan to start our quarterly employer surveys to address questions of interest to SolarTech and other members of the state-funded SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative. These surveys will be analyzed, and the results reported here, at the SolarTech or SWIC website, and eventually in academic research.

If any employer has questions about our survey — or wants to volunteer to join — they should contact Meg or me with any questions or ideas.

Photo: Dr. Meghna Virick, from her official college web page.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

SWIC officially launched

We got word Wednesday afternoon that the State of California has signed the contract with Nova to fund the SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative.

While the state committed $19 million in Green Innovation Challenge funding for six projects with its June 29 announcement, the expedited award schedule left a few details unresolved at the time of the award.

Approval of the SolarTech project plan had relatively smooth sailing, probably because of the previous Industry-Driven Regional Collaborative (IDRC) that also involved SolarTech and De Anza College.

The SJSU part of the SWIC will focus on two activities: curriculum development, and a series of surveys of solar industry employers.

Stay tuned for more info…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Catching the Green Wave at SJSU

When the Solar Workforce Project came to SJSU, one of the advantages — to EDD, SWIC and to us — is opportunity to leverage the broad base of sustainability programs here. Even if only a portion of these sustainability efforts align to the SWIC (or GIC) goals, nonetheless having an existing interest is a real asset for the Solar Workforce Project to build upon.

The issue of environmental sustainability (there is also business sustainability) has been directly researched in my department for the past three years. More generally my coworkers were already studying and promoting environmental business concerns since I arrived in 2002-2003.

The university has created an over-arching Sustainability @ SJSU initiative, headed by Prof. Katherine Cushing. Prof. Cushing and her student assistants are working with faculty, staff and off-campus groups such as the City of San Jose’s Environmental Services department.

The earlier this month, the Spartan Daily highlighted one of the newest sustainability programs. In Spring 2011, the “Green Wave” class at SJSU will train students to do energy audits on campus and in the city of San Jose. The students will also evaluate or recommend solar energy where appropriate.

Another major sustainability push by SJSU this academic year comes from a $150k NSF grant in which an interdisciplinary team of students will develop a Zero-Emissions house. Led by Dr. Jinny Rhee, associate professor of mechanical engineering, the team is reporting its progress on a dedicated Facebook group.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

SolarTech releases COB student finance study

The SJSU Solar Workforce project is a partnership of the College of Engineering and College of Business with the larger SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative. The former draws on Jim Mokri’s existing class on Solar Engineering.

The latter builds on the relationship between the COB and SolarTech created in Spring 2010 through the efforts of two teams of unpaid interns from the Gary J. Sbona Honors Program. One of the teams was of finance students, and the other was of management students.

The results of the finance study were released Wednesday. The report — “Solar PV Financial Calculators: Study and recommendations for public domain financial analysis tools” — is now posted to the SolarTech website.

The focus of the study is at the heart of the economics of renewable energy. To quote the press release:
All solar projects come down to three simple questions:
  1. what is the resulting cost per kilo watt-hour as compared to other procurement options;
  2. what is the expected return on investment; and
  3. what cash-flows or payback period can we promise investors?
The goal of the study was to study the existing public domain calculators on solar return:
The report was written by Sheirly Caruline, Melissa Kieselbach and Adam Steadman, working with Todd Grenich (head of the the SolarTech finance committe) and David McFeely, head of its external grants program.

This is a great example of how our Sbona Honors students work to solve the problems of local companies and other organizations. The program provides an elite group of 80 students (out of 5,000 undergraduates) to better position themselves for industry careers. I’m proud to be one of the three honors faculty in the Organization & Management department.

In parallel to the finance team, the management students worked on a study of the permitting process by local government agencies. I’ll post a link to that study once it's released by SolarTech.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Green Innovation Challenge awards

On May 26, Governor Schwarzenegger announced that the state Employment Development Department would award up to $20 million in grants as part of his Green Innovation Challenge:
The intent of the grant funding is to encourage industry leaders to find innovative methods designed to meet the needs of businesses to not only fill immediate employment needs, but also for the development of a partnership and infrastructure flexible enough to support employment growth for up to 10 years.

Successful applicants will have business-led partnerships, which may include entities in higher education, workforce development, economic development, employee and scientific associations, along with venture capital entities or other organizations important to making the technology successful in the short and long term.
Applicants had a June 9 deadline to file a 10 page proposal in one of five areas: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative/renewable vehicle (and fuels), energy storage and water efficiency.

On June 29, the state announced six winners totaling $19 million, of which three are from the Bay Area. The winners were:
  • SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative (Sunnyvale): $4 million for renewable energy, with an emphasis on PV and solar thermal
  • Northern Rural Training and Employment Consortium (Chico): $3.5 million for renewable energy in covering 11 counties
  • San Jose/Evergreen Community College: $2 million to train workers to build new energy efficient home
  • San Diego Biofuels Initiative: $4 million for biofuels based both on crops and algae
  • San Mateo Community College: $3 million for EV/hybrid maintenance at three community colleges in the SF and LA areas
  • Los Angeles Valley College: $2.5 million to both survey existing water usage and develop best practices for water efficiency
While the funding has been earmarked, each team has to submit an implementation plan to the state before the respective contract can be signed.

SolarTech-Nova-FHDA official announcement

Contact: Shonda Ranson, 408-730-7661

June 30, 2010

NOVA, SolarTech, partners receive $4 million Green Innovations Challenge Grant

Sunnyvale, Calif.— The SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative (SWIC), a partnership of NOVA, SolarTech and DeAnza-Foothill Community College District, was awarded $4 million to prepare the south San Francisco Bay Area to meet the labor needs of the fast-changing cleantech industry over the next two years. The winning plan will train and place 245 workers from the region in various jobs related to renewable energy. As part of their winning proposal, NOVA and the other members of SWIC will be targeting workers who are currently unemployed due to company layoffs or closures. The training to be provided will be determined based upon industry feedback to better ensure that participants will be competitive for local green jobs.

“These challenge grants will give industries in the green economy the ability to develop training programs that they know will address their workforce needs and put people back to work,” Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) Secretary Victoria Bradshaw announced at the June 29 press conference in Oroville, Calif. “Working with community colleges and other partners, thousands of workers will receive the skills needed to keep the green economy expanding now and into the next decade.”

“This award is a crowning achievement for our organization and our partners on several levels”, said Doug Payne, executive director of SolarTech. "It validates our vision to see tighter integration between industry, workforce and skills roadmaps across the entire solar value chain.”

“This grant is more than just running people through training,” explains NOVA’s director, Kris Stadelman. “While ‘clean’ and ‘green’ are tossed around frequently, the reality is that the industry is always changing, hard to define and even harder to staff. The purpose of this collaboration is to fix the labor supply and demand imbalance by creating a flexible, adaptable and accessible process that connects job seekers, educators and employers,” Stadelman said. “We’re going to take that process, test it, then share it to get these critical players working together anywhere and everywhere.”

The Green Innovations Challenge was part of a highly competitive State effort to target green jobs, which was announced in late May by Secretary Bradshaw. Only five other initiatives were funded in this highly competitive, statewide challenge in which $19 million in State funds were granted for industry-driven green jobs development.

About SolarTech:

SolarTech provides innovative expertise to accelerate local solar markets. Since 2006, SolarTech has been developing standards and best practices, working collaboratively to integrate programs across six key solar market development areas: permitting, installation, performance, workforce, interconnection, and finance. In 2009, SolarTech reached over 6,000 industry professionals as the only organization facilitating integrated, private/public collaboration through annual summits and symposiums on these six core initiatives.

About NOVA:

NOVA (North Valley Job Training Consortium) is a nonprofit, federally funded organization dedicated to providing innovative, high-quality, customer-focused workforce development services. NOVA works closely with local businesses, educators and job seekers to ensure that its programs provide opportunities that build the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to address the workforce needs of Silicon Valley. For more information about NOVA, visit www.novaworks.org.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The SJSU Solar Workforce project

On Tuesday, the state of California announced the award of $19 million in grants for the Green Innovation Challenge. According to the official press release:
“California is already seeing green job growth but we must continue working to accelerate this trend. These Challenge grants will encourage innovative green companies to train and hire Californians to further our state’s leadership in the green economy,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “It is the private sector that will ultimately lead California out of this economic crisis, and I urge our industry leaders in the green economy and their partners to identify the skills future employees need, build creative programs to train them and then put them to work.”
The state awarded two-year grants to six public-private partnerships: two on renewable energy (headquartered in San Jose and Oroville), two on alternative fuels/vehicles (San Diego, San Mateo), one on energy efficiency (San Jose) and one on water efficiency (Los Angeles).

SJSU is one of the subcontractors to the $4 million San Jose-based SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative, which is led by
The SJSU project is a joint effort of the College of Business and College of Engineering, and expects to be preparing bachelor’s and master’s level graduates for careers in solar energy or other Silicon Valley-based renewable energy/energy efficiency firms.

We have a temporary web page, and will be using this blog to post news of our project.

If you have any questions about the project, please feel free to contact Prof. Joel West.