IREC’s 2021 Highlights and Impacts
2021 was a busy year full of exciting projects, milestones, and new synergies at IREC! Despite the challenges of the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, at IREC we’re heartened to reflect on the many wins we achieved to advance our vision of a 100% clean energy economy. None of this would have been possible without the help of our many partners, collaborators, and supporters like you.
Following our official merger with The Solar Foundation, IREC has doubled its staff and quadrupled its impact. That is clear looking back at the myriad accomplishments from each of our teams.
From our work to build the clean energy workforce, to our efforts to advance clean energy at the local level and improve the regulatory landscape to enable rapid clean energy growth, join us as we reminisce and celebrate our highlights from 2021! To help support even more clean energy achievements in the New Year, make a donation to IREC today.
Building the Workforce
In March, IREC and its partners launched the Green Buildings Career Map, an interactive tool highlighting the breadth of rewarding career opportunities in building energy efficiency.
The Green Buildings Career Map features 55 jobs in energy efficiency for buildings across four different industry sectors, as well as over 300 potential advancement routes—all developed with input from industry subject matter experts. By helping interested job seekers learn about quality jobs related to energy efficiency in buildings, the Green Buildings Career Map will help foster a robust and inclusive pipeline of qualified workers to meet employer demand.
Solar Ready Vets hosted two virtual career fairs in 2021 with our partner Hiring Our Heroes (HOH), connecting 400+ veteran job seekers with solar employers. Interest in solar careers is growing: The event in April was the most well-attended virtual event HOH had held to date, with over 400 military job seekers and 25 employers in attendance!
In early 2021, the eleventh annual 2020 National Solar Jobs Census report was released with the Solar Energy Industries Association, continuing over a decade of this report serving as the definitive measure of solar energy industry employment in the United States. Overall solar employment dropped from 2019 due to pandemic restrictions and increased labor productivity. More positively, the report also showed an increase in solar workforce diversity across nearly every demographic category.
In May, IREC and partners announced the launch of a three-year, $2.1 million project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), to reduce barriers to widespread adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) by providing education and resources to expand the knowledge of 30,000 safety professionals.
Building, fire, and safety officials play a critical role in enabling the safe, widespread, and rapid deployment of new technologies that make the grid more sustainable and resilient. These include energy storage systems (ESS), electric vehicles (EVs), and grid-interactive energy efficient building technologies. However, these emerging technologies have outpaced codes and existing educational resources, creating an urgent need for up-to-date guidance for this audience.
By increasing the familiarity and confidence of these key stakeholders to permit and inspect DERs, the project will reduce barriers to widespread DER deployment.
With support from IREC’s Solar Ready Vets team, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) developed new options to make it easier for transitioning military service members to earn key credentials that support career advancement in the solar and solar-plus-storage industries.
Five new “Veterans Pathway” Fast Tracks to Certification were established in 2021. The Veterans Pathways were developed under the Solar Ready Vets Network, a national solar workforce development initiative led by IREC that connects transitioning service members and veterans with training, career development resources, and jobs.
By recognizing relevant skills and experience gained through military service, the new pathways make it easier for veterans to qualify for NABCEP certifications and advance their solar careers.
In October, the workforce development team launched two new training courses for code officials on how to use SolarAPP+, an online platform that automates the permitting process for residential rooftop solar projects. SolarAPP+ automates the review of system designs for safety and code compliance, saving time and cost by reducing permitting department workloads.
In How to Use SolarAPP+ For Rooftop Solar Projects, users learn how to input project specifications for four different inverter technologies. In Inspecting a SolarAPP+ System, users learn how a code official can use the SolarAPP+ inspection checklist to perform an efficient and effective inspection of solar PV systems permitted through SolarAPP+. Currently, all code official courses, including the SolarAPP+ trainings, are free! Additional courses on SolarAPP+ will be added in 2022.
In December, IREC and the National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE) announced the creation of a new cross-sector initiative to improve clean energy education, training, and job placement efforts and outcomes. The National Clean Energy Workforce Alliance, supported with grant funding from Bank of America, will align the efforts of key stakeholders across the clean energy and energy efficiency industries to effectively grow an inclusive clean energy workforce. It will also ensure that this job growth translates to opportunities and economic gains for communities that need them most.
The Alliance will virtually convene employers, training providers, organized labor, and community-based recruitment and support organizations and energy justice organizations. Sign up here to learn how you can get involved.
Twenty-five new (34 total) Solar Ready Vets fellows were placed in professional and management roles with solar employers this year, supporting a smooth transition from active duty to leadership roles in the solar industry. The Solar Ready Vets Fellowship is offered to employers at no cost and implemented by the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program with support from IREC and the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Over 2021, IREC has worked with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop a new series of self-paced online courses for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes and ensuring their health and safety.
The first courses will be launched in Q1 2022, at the same time that new federal funding is set to dramatically expand the program.
In the Community
The IREC-led SolSmart program recognizes cities, counties, and regional organizations for making it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. Our national team of experts provides no-cost technical assistance to help communities become “open for solar business.” In recognition of their achievements, our communities receive designations of SolSmart Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
SolSmart reached an exciting new milestone in April: Over 400 municipalities, counties, and regional organizations have achieved designation, plus another 25 communities advanced to a higher designation level. SolSmart communities can be found in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—representing 99 million people.
The more than 400 SolSmart designees have reduced obstacles to solar energy growth, expanded local knowledge, and increased solar deployment in their communities. Read our community fact sheet to learn more about SolSmart designees and their accomplishments.
The SolSmart program released an updated version of the national Simplified Permit Guidelines for residential solar in October, including new guidance on permitting for residential battery storage. These state-of-the-art guidelines are intended to help local governments develop an efficient and streamlined permit process for typical solar PV and storage projects.
Local Solar Equity Guidance
SolSmart also released new guidance to help local officials apply an equity lens toward their plans to expand solar energy use. While some communities are already taking the lead on energy equity issues, others may not be sure where to start. Our hope is that this guidance will provide a roadmap for communities that seek to integrate equity principles into their solar energy development goals.
Helping Puerto Rico Rebuild
In Puerto Rico, IREC works with multiple partners and stakeholders to assist in the long-term transition to a renewable, resilient, and just energy future. Every day, our island-based staff is working with a network of local partners to install solar panels and microgrids, promote local resilience, and expand the options for solar-plus-storage financing mechanisms for all sectors of Puerto Rico.
In 2021, IREC worked with the rural community of Castañer to design and issue an RFP for a new solar microgrid project, which will power essential community services such as a supermarket, post office, and bakeries. We also worked with the community to select a local developer to implement the project. This is the first of two planned microgrid projects, which will serve as models for other community resilience initiatives in Puerto Rico and across the United States.
Another way IREC’s Puerto Rican Solar Business Accelerator (PRSBA) is advancing a clean energy future in Puerto Rico is by addressing the island’s solar finance needs. We released the Puerto Rico Solar Finance Report which identifies current trends, practices, barriers, and unmet needs to investing and financing solar energy and battery storage in Puerto Rico. We also established alliances with professional organizations in the financial industry, and launched the Solar Finance Innovation Committee to develop proposals for improving and expanding available solar financing options.
At the Plaza del Mercado de Río Piedras in San Juan, IREC partnered with the Hispanic Federation to install a 250 kW solar energy system on the rooftop. Río Piedras is Puerto Rico’s most important market, serving as a food distribution center for farmers across the island. As part of the project, IREC worked with the installer, NEO ERA Energy Solutions, to prioritize the hiring of a diverse workforce that includes women and the LGBTQ+ community. This installation provided an opportunity for many newly trained solar workers to gain experience in the industry.
The Sustainable Energy Action Committee (SEAC), led by IREC under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, brings together diverse clean energy stakeholders—from installers and manufacturers to electrical inspectors, building officials, and others—to develop consensus-based solutions to code enforcement and permitting challenges that affect the installation of clean energy systems.
SEAC Adopts Recommendations on Codes and Standards
Following an in-depth gap analysis to identify key issues affecting the installation of clean energy projects in the U.S., SEAC adopted several recommendations to improve related codes and standards, and submitted them for consideration by the relevant codemaking bodies. These include proposed changes to the following codes:
- Changes to the International Fire Code to clarify requirements related to heat detectors for energy storage systems and protecting energy storage systems from vehicle impact in residential garages (these proposals have received preliminary approval from the International Code Council);
- Changes to the International Building Code to clarify requirements for PV fire rating in solar shade structures (i.e., freestanding solar structures such as those over parking spaces) and the requirements for solar shade structures on top of parking garages;
- And, changes to the National Electrical Code (NEC) to update PV system figures so terminology and requirements are applied consistently, revise language on Source Disconnecting Means, and to oppose a proposal to create a new Section in the NEC that did not advance safety.
SEAC also adopted the recommendations related to changes to UL Standards 1642, 9540, and 9540A (all related to energy storage systems). The recommendations provide clarity and consistency between standards, and resolve some issues that have been causing confusion among authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and installers.
In December, IREC announced the launch of a new clearinghouse website housing educational resources and recommendations related to the permitting and inspection of clean energy systems. The website includes an extensive library of SEAC resources related to clean energy permitting and inspection.
It also includes a wide array of other clean energy permitting and inspection resources. These include links to model codes, training courses for code officials on how to inspect solar PV systems, and training for firefighters on how to safely respond to fire on a solar-equipped structure.
In the Regulatory Space
With support from the Barr Foundation, IREC published Key Decisions for Hosting Capacity Analysis. This first-of-its-kind report is designed to help regulators, utilities, and clean energy advocates understand the variety of issues and decisions that need to be considered as a public-facing hosting capacity analysis (HCA) is developed.
An understanding of these issues can help ensure that the resulting HCA is useful in informing the integration of more DERs on the distribution grid.
Improvements to Xcel Energy’s HCA Map
In Minnesota, with McKnight Foundation support, IREC helped establish meaningful improvements to Xcel Energy’s HCA map, which can help customers and DER developers reduce their interconnection costs by identifying areas on the grid that require fewer or no distribution system upgrades.
In California, IREC secured a number of significant improvements to the Rule 21 interconnection tariffs, which will help DER developers better plan their projects to respond to grid conditions and will improve the energy storage interconnection process.
IREC’s contributions include improvements to the way energy storage projects using power control systems will be reviewed. IREC helped develop a pathway for using Integrated Capacity Analysis (ICA, known as hosting capacity analysis in other states) in the interconnection process. We also helped pave the way for improved load ICA—ICA maps that show where additional load, like electric vehicle chargers, can be added without the need for costly grid upgrades. The load ICA will be a valuable resource to advance electrification in transportation and other sectors.
IREC officially merged with The Solar Foundation in July, welcoming The Solar Foundation’s staff and programs into a single, expanded nonprofit dedicated to the rapid adoption of clean energy. With the merger of the organizations’ staff and operations completed, all of The Solar Foundation’s programs are now housed at IREC. The combined organization supports the accelerated growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency and a 100% clean energy future that is reliable, resilient, and equitable.
IREC began hosting Customer Grid Edge (CGE) in March—a committee of experts that seeks to improve interoperability between energy service providers and customer-sited equipment including renewable energy, energy storage, and microgrids. CGE was founded in 2008 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) and the GridWise® Architecture Council (appointed by the U.S. Department of Energy) to address issues at the interface between smart grids and customers.
IREC was fortunate enough to expand staff by hiring seven new team members! Meet them below.
- Amy Saurer – Assistant Director of Training and Development (Workforce)
- Andrew Light – Program Manager (SolSmart)
- Leslie Graham – Director of Development
- Scott Townley – Director of Finance & Administration
- Midhat Mafazy – Regulatory Program Engineer
- Dr. Janell Hills – Director of Workforce Programs
- Pagan Poggione – Program Director (Workforce)
Thank you for looking back with us. We are excited to continue to build the foundation for clean energy and energy efficiency in 2022!