California blackouts will likely fuel career opportunities in energy storage

California blackouts will likely fuel career opportunities in energy storage

October 20, 2019

“The state’s unfolding wildfire and grid blackout emergency” is creating a new need for batteries for many residents and businesses to allow off-grid power use in a power outage.  We have already seen quickly increasing demand for energy storage for various reasons, and this new response to wildfire risk will hasten that trend.  This is creating middle-skill job openings at various kinds of companies in the renewable energy industry in Southern California and LA.

A resulting need is hiring and retraining to support more battery systems and related systems like solar — at California’s manufacturers, installers, and various supporting services companies, and those skills will even be needed on-staff at large facilities.  There will be job openings ranging from salesperson to project manager, electrician, engineer, inspection and quality control, construction management and many more.  But rather than focus on individual occupations, the focus should be on the skillset, which drives success in many occupations that interface with renewable energy systems.  This skillset will be needed by many current workers (upskilling), as well as initial skills development of job-seekers.  These skills are transportable and open up a variety of career opportunities.

Employers were already finding it “somewhat difficult” (over 50%) or “very difficult” (25%) hiring workers in the advanced energy industry in California this past year, according to USenergyjobs.org.  Just in the occupation of electricians, LAEDC is forecasting 9,000 job openings in LA County within a five year window.  This is an in-demand occupation that pays about $32/hr. in LA County.  And there is demand for many other positions as described above.

To meet this opportunity, businesses will do well if they partner with talent development systems to successfully hire workers. Businesses interested in partnering on work-based learning programs have been engaging with the California Community College system and other workforce development systems to help job-ready candidates gain experience on successful projects. [To learn more, email [email protected] at LAEDC, or [email protected], Regional Director Employer Engagement for Energy/Construction/Utility Sector at the CA Community College system]

The CA Community College system offers programs in this field and very recently has developed new curricula for microgrids and energy storage, to create fast-track programs in these areas of technology.  When those skills are coupled with competencies or certificates in areas like project management, electronics, advanced controls, general contracting and business, there are pathways into careers that work with renewable energy systems with thousands of job openings in LA County.  People can also add such certificates to move up the career ladder over time, increasing their wages and filling management needs at these companies. The California Community College Chancellor’s office identifies programs and certificates offered at local colleges at this link.  In addition, a chart (below) shows which colleges in the Los Angeles Basin offer related programs.

Putting aside the current issue of blackouts, there has already been a strong and increasing demand for energy storage (and related talent) in both residential and commercial markets for various reasons including new Time Of Use (TOU) electric rates.

In the bigger picture, as the state pushes towards 100% renewable utility power goals, there is a tremendous need to add energy storage of all kinds, to bank the excess energy from solar at mid-day.  That energy needs to be time-shifted to support peak demand from about 5-8pm, or 4-9pm as framed by SCE.  Bloomberg NEF sizes it up by forecasting global energy storage is expected to increase by a factor of 122x by 2040, and we know a lot of storage will be installed and managed here in California to meet SB 100 targets.

There are other solutions to shift electric load to the middle of the day, such as workplace EV charging, which will also create related job openings in infrastructure and services, of which there are several kinds of employers in SoCal, including the charger network companies and manufacturers in addition to the many types of companies supporting construction, installation and management of these systems.  [Learn more about LA’s advanced mobility industry at CCW / LAEDC’s e4 Mobility Alliance industry council meetings listed as events on homepage]

One thing seems certain, familiarity with advanced controls and software for advanced energy systems will be an increasing need, as these systems are installed and managed.  There will even be an increasing need for facilities managers to have skills in managing controllers for on-site renewable energy and energy efficiency systems.  To meet this demand, the college system in the Los Angeles Basin currently offers Building Automation Programs, Energy Systems and Environmental Controls Systems programs, and curricula is being developed for a Fundamentals of Automation program, which may be available soon in the LA Basin.  (see chart below for local programs)

To summarize the labor market in the energy sector, the Energy Skills Collaborative in July of 2019 published its California’s Clean Energy Workforce California Skilled Energy Workforce Market Assessment.  From that report:

“In 2018, there were almost 3.1 million jobs in energy-related occupations across all industry sectors and Emsi Labor Market Information (LMI) data forecasts another almost 275,744 jobs will be created in these occupations over the next 10 years in California, a 9% growth rate. In the short-term through 2022, almost 160,000 jobs are projected, a 5.2% growth rate.

Of these occupations, 12 are expected to have more than a 15% growth in employment over the next 10 years. Roughly 250,000 employees work in these 12 occupations.

Seven of the 12 occupations identified as high growth require either no formal education credential or a high school diploma, instead these occupations require on-the-job training (usually moderate- or long-term) or apprenticeship. Eleven out of the 12 do not require previous work experience, instead requiring training, either through an accredited institution or on-the-job with an employer, or education at a post-secondary level or bachelor’s level.”

For another supporting perspective regarding the blackout impact on storage demand, here is a link to an article in Greentech Media, the source for the quote in the first line of this article:

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/enphase-ceo-demand-for-solar-battery-systems-could-soar

Stay tuned for more about the topic of the talent pipeline for the renewable energy industry — in an upcoming video segment from LAEDC, featuring expert guests.

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Ask the author a question:

Lawren Markle
Sr. Director Communications / LAEDC, for
Center for a Competitive Workforce
[email protected]