Legal Pad and Pencil

I still find pulling out a yellow legal pad along with a few sharp pencils productive as a way of jotting down notes, ideas and doodles. Tis the season to do so as we start at the top of a new year.

My top yellow pad one liner – it looks like 2015 will be the time for new models – refers to new policy, technical and operational ones. Things could be shaken up or at least stirred.

Let me bring you into a conversation the IREC team had just a few weeks ago.

Sara Baldwin Auck, head of IREC’s Regulatory Program, points to 2015 as the year of movement with respect to the grid of the future. Sara says it’s time to sink our teeth into the current issues and the new ones hovering on the surface. She sees these issues as sticky, messy and delicate ones (Sara’s blog, Moving Forward: Regulatory Trends Shaping a Clean Energy Nation digs into these issues). As the roles of utilities, consumers and regulators are redefined, Sara sees 2015 as the “Year of Outcomes” that will shape the next decade.

We have many undercurrents brewing at IREC’s Workforce Hub, with two core issues which can lead to new and innovative models.

Laure-Jeanne Davignon, director of IREC’s Credentialing Program, talks about the cost vs. quality nexus and how we ensure quality assessment without it becoming a budget buster. This is important and tricky. We don’t want to dilute the quality assessment framework in place for the clean energy sector. However, a more nimble, less costly, rapid response to market and occupation realities are needed for credentialing schemes. IREC is going to start tackling a slice of this by convening a national discussion on micro credentials. What are micro credentials? What are the structured processes needed to implement them? What are the technical solutions that can be adapted? Do they add clarity or confusion? Basically, a micro credential is an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate competency in a specialty area. Candidates may or may not be in the core profession, but some portion of their job might call for specific knowledge and skills to perform that part of their job competently and safely.

IREC’s Joe Sarubbi, who coordinates the SITN (Solar Instructor Training Network), coined the term “readied workforce” which ingeniously joins many concepts and strategies into one model. Here we look at training through the job lens. Where are the jobs now and down the road, and what are the skills, whether core or specialty ones, that are needed? One of Joe’s principles has always been the art of integrating solar learning into existing programs so that stand-alone training doesn’t dangle and fall with fluctuating markets. IREC’s standards and networks both circle around the “market value” theme where training, credentials and job competencies converge with employer needs.

From his many years of tracking solar market trends, IREC Vice President Larry Sherwood sees 2015 and especially 2016 as years of exploding growth in installations, in advance of the end or reduction in the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). But exploding growth can challenge quality installations. Larry sums up the big picture, where he sees longer term emphasis on residential and distributed installations. Translation: IREC’s fundamental regulatory and workforce programs are targeted in the right place.

So, as I sit with my yellow pad and pencil with notes and scribbles, I eagerly welcome in 2015 and the new models we’ll shape and try on for size in the months ahead. Looking forward, we see opportunities for constructive disruption as clean energy options become smart moves.

Sending my best wishes for the New Year. May the planet become saner and safer.

Image: Fotolia © Michael Flippo