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Ramping Up Energy-Efficiency Workforce Training to Meet Demand

A new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) study has found that the speed with which employment will grow will depend in part on how effectively the nation deploys training and education programs for the energy-efficiency workforce.

Worker wearing a protective mask while blowing insulation into an attic.

"There is a shortage of formal training programs in energy efficiency, and an extremely high demand right now, thanks to the infusion of funding for energy efficiency from the growth in ratepayer-funded utility programs and federal and state budgets devoted to efficiency," says Charles H. Goldman, a scientist in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Because of this growth, Berkeley Lab researchers decided to examine whether education and training programs were adequate to meet the next decade's workforce needs. The study began in 2008, before the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The new report defines an energy-efficiency services sector (EESS) that consists of several distinct occupation types. They include:

  1. Program administrators who plan and manage energy-efficiency projects and programs;
  2. Energy-efficiency consulting firms who assess facility energy use and recommend efficiency retrofits, implement energy-efficiency programs, or design homes and facilities to be energy efficient;
  3. Construction and installation firms and tradespeople who build new structures, or retrofit existing homes and buildings for energy efficiency; and
  4. Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) who develop and construct comprehensive energy-efficiency projects and monitor and verify that energy-efficiency retrofits deliver energy savings.
Study Scope: Manufacturing & Distribution to Planning & Project Management to Consulting & Auditing to Construction & Installation to Evaluation Monitoring & Verification to Operations & Maintenance

Study scope of the energy-efficiency services sector (EESS).

The study scope does not include those who maintain and operate buildings (such as building owners, managers, and operators) or companies that design, manufacture, and distribute energy-efficient equipment. "The narrow focus of this study is designed to allow us to estimate the size of the workforce that provides energy-efficiency services," says Goldman, "and determine whether the education and training programs designed to retrain existing workers and train new workers in this market segment are adequate to meet the coming demand."

The study also does not address the renewable energy workforce, or any energy supply-related market segment.

"A key purpose of this study," says co-author Jane S. Peters "is to define the energy- efficiency workforce sector, including occupations, employer needs, and current education and training approaches, which has not been explored in detail in past studies."

Workforce Growth Anticipated

In a yet-unpublished companion study, the research team estimates the size of the energy- efficiency workforce at about 120,000 full-time equivalent workers (or person-year equivalents, PYE). Because many people in the sector only spend part of their time conducting energy efficiency-related activities or only work part-time, they estimate that total employment in the sector is about 400,000 people. Modeling the expected growth of the sector given current and estimated future funding, the team expects it to grow to anywhere from 220,000 to 380,000 PYE by 2020, which may represent about 1.3 million people.

The research team interviewed more than 350 program administrators, education and training providers, implementation contractors, ESCOs, professional and trade association representatives, and sector experts. This included interviews with almost 200 representatives of the major building trade unions, industry associations that represent professional groups (such as architects and engineers) or technicians involved in the building and construction industry (such as sheet metal workers; electrical contractors; and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning [HVAC] contractors). These include the American Institute of Architects; American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; Associated General Contractors; Association of Energy Engineers; Insulation Contractors Association of America; National Association of Home Builders; and others.

The research team identified 492 higher education or training programs and conducted a screening analysis to identify engineering, architecture, policy, building trades technical training, and interdisciplinary programs whose curricula met minimum criteria of a specific emphasis on energy efficiency. Researchers interviewed staff at 33 of the educational programs.

Three Primary Bottlenecks Identified

First, there is a shortage of trained, experienced energy-efficiency program managers—senior management staff with years of experience. As a result, mentoring opportunities for the next generation of staff in energy-efficiency services firms are reduced.

Second, there is a shortage of experienced energy-efficiency engineers, in part because not enough formal training programs are available. "Many engineers are also unaware of energy efficiency as a career path," says Goldman. "Moreover, training for mechanical and electrical engineers provides little specific emphasis on efficiency in how to design HVAC systems energy-efficiently."

Finally, says Peters, "the building and construction trades and contractors have limited awareness that the energy-efficiency service sector is poised to grow significantly, and that their skills will be required as part of this growth." The building and construction trades also face other barriers to growth, including an aging, retiring workforce and a limited number of skilled trainers in some regions. She adds: "Not surprisingly, states that have been operating energy-efficiency programs for years, such as California, and those in New England and the Pacific Northwest, have a better training infrastructure and a larger pool of construction trades trained in implementing energy-efficiency projects than states that are just beginning to pursue energy efficiency."

Strategies for Expanding Training and Education

The research team makes several recommendations to enable the EESS workforce to keep up with projected demand:

  1. Provide energy-efficiency education and training targeted at building and construction tradespeople.
    • Building and construction trades constitute as much as 70 percent of the overall workforce in the EESS, and there is a notable lack of awareness that the sector is poised for significant growth—especially in states without long-running, ratepayer-funded programs.
    • It will be especially important to integrate building and industrial process system efficiency into existing curricula.
  2. Coordinate and track training efforts within states; share best practices across states.
    • With stimulus funding, many states are initiating or ramping up training activities to target the EESS. However, it is still challenging to identify which training and education programs provide specific EESS education; this information needs to be tracked systematically.
    • Establishing broad statewide education and training efforts (like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's collaboration with Hudson Valley Community College) may help to avoid duplication of effort.
  3. Increase short-duration, applied trainings to augment on-the-job training for existing EESS workers and to introduce new entrants to the field.
    • Much of the growth in the EESS will come from new entrants who already have applicable skills, such as contractors who become efficiency retrofit specialists.
    • There is strong demand for up-to-date training for those who are currently employed in the EESS but who need to update or augment their skills.
    • Mid- and senior-level engineers and managers also need more access to on-the-job and formal training, such as the training conferences offered by the Association of Energy Service Professionals and the Certified Energy Manager certificate program offered by the Association of Energy Engineers.
  4. Increase funding to "train the trainers."
    • Projected growth in training needs indicate that resources for training trainers is urgently needed.
    • The Building Performance Institute, which provides certifications for residential retrofit contractors, experienced a five-fold increase in the number of certifications between 2005 and 2008.
  5. Prepare the next generation of EESS professionals.
    • The interviews showed that most professional roles within the EESS require at least a four-year degree, but few colleges or universities offer energy efficiency-specific curriculum. Those that do stated that funding to grow these programs was extremely limited in most cases. Funding is needed to support new and expanded energy efficiency-related programs.
    • Industrial Assessment Centers have been a successful model to provide energy- efficiency services to industry and as a training ground for engineering students. Similar centers could be developed in conjunction with college-based engineering, architecture, planning, and policy-focused programs.

For more information, contact:

  • Elizabeth Stuart
  • (510) 495-2370
  • Merrian Fuller
  • (510) 486-4482

These findings are detailed in "Energy Efficiency Services Sector: Workforce Education and Training Needs," written by Charles H. Goldman, Elizabeth Stuart, and Merrian Fuller of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Jane S. Peters and Nathaniel Albers of Research Into Action, Inc. [PDF]

It was funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program; and Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Permitting, Siting, and Analysis.

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