The clean energy sector holds immense promise for the future, not only for its potential to combat climate change but also for driving economic growth and job creation. However, historically, people of color and women have been underrepresented in this burgeoning industry. Federal investments in clean energy have unleashed billions of dollars in private sector commitments in manufacturing. And U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has made it clear that a Biden administration priority is ensuring that wave of investment helps women and minorities. The HBCU Clean Energy Initiative (CEI) explores examples of how education, mentorship programs, and supplier diversity are expanding opportunities.
Education and Skill Development
Education is the keystone for success in any field, including clean energy. Acquiring relevant knowledge is crucial. Seeking degrees or certifications in renewable energy engineering, environmental science, sustainable development, or even related disciplines can provide a solid foundation. As the clean energy sector intersects with numerous other industries, such as technology, finance, agriculture, and construction, women, and minorities with expertise in these fields can apply those skills in the context of renewable energy.
Educational initiatives like the one being created by CEI will focus on teaching fundamental skills. The organization recently won phases one and two of the Community Clean Energy Coalition prize, part of the American Made Challenge, which aims to bolster innovation and job creation in clean energy technologies. The prize money will enable CEI to begin implementing its plan to train up to 50 students and community residents in energy disciplines, including HBCU students from South Carolina State University, Claflin University, Denmark Technical College, and Dillard University.
Apprenticeship and Mentorship Programs
Labor unions, like IBEW and the Ironworkers Union are implementing a pre-apprenticeship program for young people from underserved neighborhoods in cities like Atlanta. These programs give workers hands-on experience in the clean energy sector, enhancing their skills and marketability. The Apprenticeships in Clean Energy (ACE) program is a coalition between CEI, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and other organizations to act as a recognized industry intermediary for registered apprenticeships. You can learn more here. You can also go to Apprenticeship USA, administered by the U.S. government which provides information about many other options.
Building a solid professional network through mentorship is another way to enter the clean energy sector.
One example is The Energy Scholars program sponsored by the Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington. This paid internship and mentorship opportunity is designed to equip dedicated and capable college scholars with the skills required to secure (and excel in) well-paid jobs in the renewable energy industry. The program has a curriculum spearheaded by industry-leading organizations that will help students from diversified backgrounds gain exposure to renewal energy career options.
Supply Chain Diversity
Another way to bring more women and minorities into the clean energy sector is by focusing on vendor diversity. Glenda Thomas, supplier diversity manager at Alabama Power, wants to drive economic impact in the communities they serve. One way to do that is to increase the diversity of their suppliers. Southern Company aims to accelerate diverse spending to 30% by 2025 and has already made significant progress towards that goal by increasing spending to 26% last year. Additionally, the company launched programs to mentor, develop and sustain diverse suppliers and identify new opportunities for businesses to work with the organization and its subsidiaries.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Entrepreneurship offers another route to enter the clean energy sector. With programs like the American Made Challenge mentioned earlier, businesses can receive prize money, technical support, and access to research to turn innovative ideas into commercial enterprises. Many other state agency programs fund clean energy start-ups, such as CalSeed, which is one of several initiatives funded by the California Energy Commission offering funding up to 600k. Entrepreneurs can learn about numerous other grant and incubation programs at Grant Watch.
The clean energy sector presents an incredible chance to create a sustainable future while fostering economic growth. Diverse perspectives will play a crucial role in this transformation. Through a combination of education, mentorship, supplier diversity and entrepreneurship, the sustainable energy industry can become a model of inclusivity and innovation, benefiting both people and the planet.
To find out more about how the HBCU CDAC Clean Energy Initiative is bringing clean energy to HBCUs and their surrounding communities, click here.
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