If California is going to meet its ambitious energy efficiency goals, it’s going to have to retrofit more than its building stock – the state’s workforce needs an overhaul, too, in the form of training, quality standards and incentives for jobs well done.
That’s according to a report released last month by the University of California, Berkeley and currently under review by state energy regulators.
The report – its mouthful of a title is, “California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Demand Response and Distributed Generation” – was mandated as part of the state’s long-term energy efficiency plan. Created in 2008, the plan includes ramping up the efficiency of the state’s HVAC industry, making retrofits available to low-income Californians and requiring new residential construction to be net-zero energy by 2020, with commercial construction hitting the same target by 2030.
Besides saving energy, the state’s green ambitions could drive more than $11 billion in public and private energy efficiency investments annually, which could in turn create more than 200,000 jobs, according to the report.
But despite all the hype surrounding specialized green jobs, the positions created will be distributed throughout the economy, focused mainly in the traditional construction trades.
“We’re trying to build clean energy economy on the backs of that workforce,” says Carol Zabin, a UC Berkeley researcher and one of the report’s lead authors.
That’s good news for trades walloped by devastating job losses in the economic downturn – Zabin estimates the state lost 400,000 construction jobs – but that also means it’s crucial to make sure those tradespeople are trained to do quality work, and that building codes and rebate programs enforce high standards, the study found.
The problem of improper installation and little accountability is most pronounced in the residential HVAC sector, an arena with huge energy-saving potential, but in which shoddy installation practices and little accountability squelch potential gains. Earlier studies have found up to 85 percent of replacement HVAC systems are installed incorrectly.
One answer, according to the report, is to tighten up permitting processes and create incentive programs that are focused on performance and worker certification.
“This issue of developing skill standards is a key recommendation,” Zabin says. “It makes training more efficient and rewards those who are concerned about quality.”
The report also suggests encouraging more collaboration among the 1,000-plus training programs already available through the state’s community colleges, community-based organizations and apprenticeship programs.
Of course, the report only covers California, a state that’s ahead of the curve when it comes to energy efficiency and clean energy policy, but is less advanced with its workforce policies, Zabin says.
Meanwhile, other states and cites are developing their own solutions to how drive high-quality energy efficiency retrofits, like Clean Energy Works Oregon, a public-private partnership aiming to retrofit 6,000 homes and 3.5 million square feet of commercial space in three years.
“The cool thing is it’s such a period of experimentation, with different models around the country,” Zabin says. “In a few years we’ll be able to see which ones work better.”