Solar Libre commits to creating a six-month solar workforce apprenticeship program for 20 women, providing the academic and technical skills to engage in the solar workforce in Puerto Rico. At the end of the program, women will obtain NABCEP certification and Solar Libre will assist in securing full-time employment for each student.
The classroom component of this program will include training in solar PV installation, 40 hours of preparation for the NABCEP certification exam, and professional skill development. Coursework will be led by two Electrical Engineering professors. All apprentices will take the NABCEP Solar PV Installation Certification exam during the fall of 2019. Students will also participate in weekly brigades for hands-on training installing solar with a practicing electrical engineer. All three Solar Libre instructors are NABCEP certified and will teach on a full-time basis. The brigades will install solar and storage on residences and community centers across Puerto Rico. A total of 100 sites will be selected based on community outreach to identify locations that will serve the most vulnerable residents in terms of health and socioeconomic status. Solar Libre prioritizes sites that still do not have access to power, community centers in towns that were hit the hardest by the storm, facilities that serve elderly, children, and/or disabled, and nonprofits. Solar Libre will work with the private sector and partners to secure donated equipment (PV panels and batteries) and identify sites to receive installations. Any extra donated equipment at the close of the program will be shared with other nonprofit partners.
By the end of 2019, Solar Libre aims for 100% of the women complete the program successfully and obtain full-time job placement. Solar Libre will utilize its strong relationships with the three largest solar companies operating in Puerto Rico, which have stated their support for the program.
February 1, 2019 to February 28, 2019: Conduct additional fundraising, complete the curriculum development, continue working with private sector and nonprofit partners to secure donated equipment, and identify sites to receive brigade installations.
February 28, 2019 to August 30, 2019: 20 students begin six-month Solar Libre Apprenticeship Program, full time Mon-Thurs with classes in the mornings and brigades in the afternoons.
September 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019: Intensive NABCEP Associate Exam Review Course; Solar Libre assists students with job placements.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the already-fragile Puerto Rican electrical grid. 80% of the island’s transmission lines were damaged and the entire island was without power (Reuters, 2017). Six weeks later, only about 30% of electricity had been restored (CNN, 2018). As long as Puerto Rican citizens’ wellbeing depends entirely on a centralized, fossil fuel-based grid, there is an ongoing risk that the tragedy of Hurricane Maria may be repeated.
As Puerto Rico attempts to recover from the hurricane, the issue of massive exodus and local brain-drain has been a challenge to the reconstruction process. A fundamental hurdle to the energy recovery has become clear: there is significant opportunity for work in the solar industry in Puerto Rico, but there are very few programs that train in solar installation or help young people begin a successful career in the industry.
The Puerto Rican energy sector suffers from a problem of gender disparity that affects the sector globally. Internationally, a survey found that women represent only 35 percent of the workforce at renewable energy firms (IRENA, 2016). At power and utility companies in Latin America and the Caribbean, only 17 percent of senior leadership positions and nine percent of executive positions are held by women (Ernst & Young, 2016). Because of these trends as well as increased economic pressures on women after Hurricane Maria, women in Puerto Rico have few paths to jobs in the emerging solar energy sector.
Building a more resilient and just Puerto Rico requires empowering Puerto Ricans to produce their own energy. Moreover, the creation of pathways for women to lead in the solar energy sector of Puerto Rico will ensure that this new economic opportunity is accessible to all - and that the energy transformation on the island is one that is inclusive and just.