KRIC helps solar skills expansion in the Columbia Valley

Bill Swan holding a solar panel

According to Bill Swan, owner of Greenman Sustainable Solutions, a rapid decline in solar prices is closing a once-prohibitive cost gap and is making solar one of the fastest growing industries in the region.

“The industry is booming and there are a lot of opportunities for young people,” Swan said. “It’s an exciting, growing scene right now, and with a growing focus on carbon-reduction, the timing around renewables is really interesting.”

Greenman provides goods and services in renewable energy, water harvesting and site management both before and after construction projects. The company consults with residential customers, municipalities and small- to large-sized businesses on how they can utilize solar photovoltaic technology to use energy from the sun.

Thanks to the BC Innovator Skills Initiative, delivered by KRIC and funded through the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC), Greenman was able to bring on a student for the summer in 2014.

The program provided $7,500 towards the funding of a student.

“The program provides a couple of key benefits, the first being the practical aspect of having an extra set of hands to help with installations and site visits. The second benefit is more philosophical because I personally believe that there are incredible opportunities for young people in the field and this is a great opportunity to expose a bright young mind to a possible career.

“It’s an interesting living, a technically challenging one, and it aligns with your values around the environment – it’s a nice field to get into.”

The student who’s been working with Bill is Graham Kinley, a post-secondary student at the Justice Institute of BC, who was thrilled for the opportunity to work in the renewable energy field.

“In the last couple of months I've been lucky enough to work with Bill Swan of Greenman Sustainable Solutions on a variety of different solar projects through a grant from KRIC,” Kinley said.

“This grant has allowed me an excellent opportunity to learn about everything from assessing a house for solar potential to the process of building a solar farm capable of supplying a Megawatt of power to the grid.”

Kinley said he’s also learned the different aspects of the business and realizing the rapidly improving economics of installing solar.

Bill Swan predicts a shortage of labour in the solar sector in coming years. “For instance, the partners on the SunMine have hired 15-20 employees this year just to handle this contract and some larger ones in Alberta and they’re having trouble finding the layers,” he said.

“We need to grow a lot of industries but now we need to start growing some of the most appropriate ones. It’s a personal view that we have to invest far more into the renewables sector for real ecological reasons.”

In the Columbia Valley, at least, the ecological reasons are making more and more economic sense. “This grant gave me an opportunity to explore an industry that I might not otherwise have been able to participate in,” Kinley said. “The knowledge and skills that I’m learning now will be a great asset as the world becomes more and more aware of the benefits of solar. 

Thanks to KRIC, I've been given a wonderful opportunity to diversify my skills and prepare for this rapidly emerging industry.”

As Bill explains, with the price of photovoltaics coming down so dramatically thanks to innovations coming out of China (and other countries).

“We can now install solar systems that will cost seventeen cents per kilowatt hour and with BC Hydro now paying as much as twelve cents, the gap has closed considerably and that’s where the activity is coming from now. The way I put it to my customers is, if your electrical utility came to you today and asked if you wanted to sign a 10-year contract for $0.17/kw, would you take it?”

“It allows you to inflation-proof your home or business against increases in energy prices.”

With a relatively small, but growing rapidly, solar industry in BC, and the US government having stated that they want to become a solar powerhouse, the opportunities for young people are immense.

“If you’re looking for a career that will be interesting, technically challenging, provide good compensation and aligns with your values around the environment – take a look at solar.”

Source: KRIC newsletter

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