Fall is when IREC releases its annual report, Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Future. These 35 pages are not just a litany of our activities but dig into deeper reasoning of what we’ve done over the past 12 months; why it’s important; who we’ve touched; and where it leads. Do take a look.
From both our national workforce and regulatory experience, here are six trends we see heading into 2015.
Trend #1. Pillar Polices Meet Concrete Pillars
This is a story about change that doesn’t have an ending yet. It involves many story lines. The one I refer to here is net metering, not to get into the weeds, but to offer a way of moving forward.
The patchwork (and success) of net metering programs around the country has bumped into an attempt to convince decision makers and consumers that renewables lead to higher prices, with one group of customers subsidizing another. It’s been an argument we’ve heard for years from utilities and consumer advocates.
In July, the State of Nevada published a report that investment in local solar generation delivers real savings to the grid and to other taxpayers. There are savings from avoiding distribution upgrades, which provide benefits of net metering to non-participating ratepayers. And, there are the societal benefits beyond the grid that this report recognizes – such as public health. This report is notable but not perfect. For example, there are benefits beyond health related ones – jobs and downstream economic benefits, grid security, water savings, to name some. We hope that other net metering impact studies account for these very important mutual gains.
So, let’s move away from the catchy but incorrect tagline that “net metered solar customers are freeloaders” and promote net metering as a “full benefits package.” Net metering is a fair way of compensating solar customers for the benefits they deliver, beyond one single roof.
This brings us to a solution at hand presented in IREC’s Regulator’s Guidebook on Calculating the Benefits and Costs of Distributed Solar Generation which gives a path forward by proposing standard valuation methods for the various benefits and costs of distributed solar – whether through net metering, value of solar tariffs, feed-in tariffs, or incentive programs.
This proposed reasoned consistency through standard methodology could eliminate a potential hodgepodge of conflicting and uneven valuations.
Trend #2. Increased Scrutiny
The good news is the escalating growth of the clean energy market. Success brings more attention and wider visibility, and with it, vulnerability. We’re no longer under the radar. Bad news – mistakes travel quickly. A roof fire on the east coast gets immediate national attention. An irate customer has a national platform through social media.
Even with a perfect balance of good products, profitable pricing, and proactive policies, poor workmanship can crash a market in no time. Pre-emptive moves through industry-accepted quality assurance systems become part of a resilient and healthy market.
The clean energy industry has established ways to minimize performance risks. Through nationally accredited credentialing bodies, we have ways of validating competency, performance and services.
Take a look at the Clean Energy Credentialing Coalition, which include the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, the Building Performance Institute, the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation, the Small Wind Certification Council, and IREC. It’s impressive. These organizations and the industries they represent have stepped up to the plate when it comes to quality assurances.
Through the growing number of safeguards in place, we avoid consumer and investor backlash. And interestingly, we standout even compared to more legacy industries when it comes to the quality streams we have built into the market.
Trend #3. More than a Bill-Paying Consumer
Quality assurances gain even more significance as the role of the energy consumer is changing from little or no role to a more central one. Energy consumers are no longer passive. Concern with environmental impact and wanting resiliency from extreme weather events (for both personal and community protection) has led to increased consumer engagement.
Consumers are now “hosts” of systems, with micro power plants on their roofs and property. They are taking advantage of innovation both in policy and technical advancement. Shared solar is just one example. Consumers are in fact driving distributed energy resources.
#4. Better Grids – and all of their moving parts
This brings us to what will most likely be above the fold news in 2015 – new grids and what it will take to make them better.
A modern grid needs to cover it all: system reliability, customer engagement, distributed energy and storage integration, rate design, energy efficiency, wires and no wires.
While utilities and consumers are part of the future grid, regulators are at the center of this new world. New rate designs can send price signals to customers. Unbundling or breaking out rate components, revenue decoupling along with performance-based ratemaking and time-based rate programs can become powerful tools.
Then there’s access, not just interconnecting distributed energy into the grid, but integrating it into the planning and operation of the grid.
And, effective access to consumer data becomes another regulatory challenge up ahead.
#5. Re-Defining the Workforce
As the clean energy sector grows, along comes more and different types of jobs needed for what is becoming complex industries. There needs to be ways to align the new jobs with the training so workers with the needed skills can be hired quickly.
We want to avoid skill gaps – they obstruct strong markets.
It’s no longer just a “clean energy job” that builds the occupation map. All of the professions that “touch” clean energy – from electricians and plumbers to building contractors, real estate appraiser and roofers – they need training that supports specialty skills. Side-track competencies are needed for a whole host of allied industries.
Of course, training has a way of going awry really fast if the learning and working worlds aren’t in sync. So in tandem, both the training providers and the industry need to constantly redefine the workforce and the skills that are needed.
Training has to keep time with changing markets and be nimble enough to change curriculum when needed, not play catch-up.
Trend #6. Assuring Market Value
Closing the loop, there’s another aspect of assuring quality and the value it brings to our market.
No longer are arbitrary statements of competency enough. Unconfirmed claims of quality don’t cut it. The national trend calls for reliable third-party assessments. We reach this through credentialing programs. But, how do we know if the credentials mean anything?
Certifications, accreditations, certificates – all of these intermingling and sometimes confusing competency designations need to show value. They need to show proof that they measure some specific competency and performance. This is where third-party validation comes in.
IREC is a third-party reviewer of clean energy training programs and instructors. We do this through standards and a rigorous assessment program. We are an accredited American Standards Developing Organization.
NABCEP, BPI, SRCC and SWCC all have received accreditation proving they are in compliance with international and national standards and are offering certifications that are credible.
It gets a bit complicated but essentially, if a certification demonstrates some level of competency or performance of an individual or product, then an accreditation of those organizations that offer certifications takes the guesswork out of finding meaningful and quality programs that award credentials.
Among its other important values, a credentialed workforce can lower the price tag for clean energy employers and ultimately consumers. Accredited training makes recruitment, screening and hiring straightforward. Certified workers result in less overtime, less downtime, and fewer call-backs.
These trends and their many threads will certainly keep us busy in the year ahead. It’s an intriguing and exciting time and IREC is glad to be part of it.