NCCETC and PowerAmerica Awarded 2023 Cleantech Innovation Award for Diversity in Cleantech

NCCETC and PowerAmerica have been awarded the 2023 Cleantech Innovation recognition for “Diversity in Cleantech”.

The Cleantech Innovation Awards are given annually by the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) to recognize organizations that actively contribute to environmental sustainability by implementing clean technology. The Diversity in Cleantech award “recognizes an organization or initiative that has made significant contributions to ensuring the cleantech workforce reflects the people it serves, pursues organizational approaches that are inclusive of a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, or actively supports employees’ sense of belonging within the organization” (RTCC).

The 2023 Diversity in Cleantech award recognizes both NCCETC and PowerAmerica, a member of Manufacturing USA, which focuses on semiconductor manufacturing and next-generation power electronic technologies. PowerAmerica was awarded a $5 million grant in 2022 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as part of its Rapid Assistance for Coronavirus Economic Response (RACER) program. The NIST-RACER grant was given to PowerAmerica, with NCCETC as a sub-recipient, to aid Native American communities in better preparing for future disasters and emergencies. This call for action was necessary after seeing how these communities were disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a widespread lack of electric utility infrastructure, which is necessary for supplying vaccines and other essential medicine and supplies.

Since receiving the grant, PowerAmerica has been working to develop a solar-powered microgrid that can be used to provide power to field hospitals and allow for vaccine refrigeration. Additionally, PowerAmerica is creating semiconductor-based charging systems for drones that will deliver supplies rapidly, along with a low-cost, energy-efficient air quality control system that can detect pathogens. To build resiliency among the Native American community, collaboration with Native American leaders and colleges is also their focus.

As the solar workforce is currently 73% white males, providing solar training to a diverse group of professionals allows for more representation in the industry. The Center has spearheaded the effort to engage, recruit, and train participants from Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTIs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those that identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Key professions include educators, engineers, builders, electricians, contractors, and roofers.

The trainings were customized to provide solar and electrical education that meet the specific needs of tribal communities, and were offered virtually to allow for nationwide accessibility. The courses offered this past summer included both FSPV: Fundamentals of Solar Photovoltaic Design and Installation, and Solar Storage. Both courses align with the Solar PV Associate program of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), which offers a credential exam. To date, 14 of the course participants have registered to take the PV Associate exam after completing the summer FSPV course.

Darrick Lee, a technical instructor for the Energy Systems program at Navajo Technical University and a current graduate student at Arizona State University, attended both courses that were offered this past summer. Along with his experience in the university system, Lee works with nonprofits that provide solar installation in different parts of the Navajo reservation for families in need. He registered for the courses after learning that they were paired with the NIST-RACER grant, as he is a part of the RACER program working to develop drones capable of delivering vaccines and medications. Specifically, he worked on the refrigeration capabilities of the drones, ensuring they were low-power to increase the efficiency of the battery. Although Lee is experienced and teaches similar content to the training courses, he enjoyed being a student because it refreshed his knowledge of the topics, and allowed him to add to the content he currently teaches at the university. He appreciated the structure of the class, stating “the presentations were really well oriented” and recommends the courses to all of his students. Lee says the courses put him on the “fast-track” towards taking the NABCEP certification exam, which he hopes to take in the near future.

When the Center expanded their reach to those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, Nathaniel Guzzo registered for both courses to broaden his skills. He is an HVAC specialist at Truckee Meadows Community College and has been working in the trade for four years. Guzzo says the instructor was “extremely knowledgeable” and provided a good mixture of hands-on instruction as well as theoretical concepts which was valuable as there were students ranging in experience levels. During the practical portion of one of the courses, participants were able to design a system, tying everything they had learned together. In addition to advancing his knowledge of electrical systems, Guzzo also valued the opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment stating that there are not many people he feels comfortable with in the HVAC trade, “to know that a lot of the people in that group were coming from a similar point of reference was immensely comfortable”. He says the only way the industry changes for the better is to broaden its reach, which “would help lead to a better quality workforce, because when the workforce looks, talks, and acts the same, new ideas don’t come out as readily”.

NCCETC continues to ensure that the cleantech workforce reflects and represents the people it serves, and strives to create positive impacts on the environment, economy, and residents to create a more resilient future. The Center will host additional training courses in February and March 2024. To hear more about the 2023 Cleantech Innovation Awards, click here.