Report Identifies Energy Efficiency Personnel Bottleneck, Calls for More Training

The energy efficiency services sector is set to boom, but a lack of qualified personnel could jeopardize that growth, according to a new report (PDF) from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The report argues that increased training in, and awareness of, energy efficiency methods in the building design and construction trades will be necessary.

“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 the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Berkeley Lab.

Three main bottlenecks

The two-year long survey of the industry identified three bottlenecks to growth in the number of qualified personnel to design, implement and construct or modify energy efficient buildings. First is a lack of experienced energy efficiency program managers, not surprising given that the field has only recently begun to take off nationally.

Second is a lack of qualified efficiency engineers. That is a particularly tricky problem, because many engineering jobs are taken by foreign-born engineers who will have gotten their education elsewhere, and are thus immune to increased emphasis on efficiency programs at American universities–although it also poses an opportunity for American engineers to compete with foreign competition on something besides price.

The third bottleneck is a general lack of awareness among the building and construction trades of the coming boom in energy efficiency work. These are the guys (and girls) who actually build the HVAC systems, install insulation, etc, and they constitute 65-70 percent of the energy efficiency workforce.

The report’s number one suggestion is to expand education and training for the construction trades, working energy efficiency know-how into existing curricula at trade schools. Increased education for professional classes, like engineers and other specialists, will also be necessary, along with short-duration on-the-job training to introduce workers to possibilities in the field and give them working knowledge.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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