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.