After serving in Afghanistan, U.S. Navy Reserve lieutenant Nat Kreamer returned home in 2006 determined to help build the nation’s renewable energy (RE) economy. “Veterans like me know firsthand that more clean, affordable, and domestic energy makes America and the world safer. We’ve been on the front lines of a natural resources war, and we know what sacrifices our current energy landscape involves. So we’re highly motivated to make this industry succeed,” says Kreamer.
It was during his service abroad that Kreamer conceived an idea to reduce the upfront costs needed for residential PV systems. Leveraging his civilian background in energy consulting and finance, he developed the power purchase agreement (PPA) business model and co-founded SunRun, which offers leases for residential solar-electric systems in 11 states. But Kreamer’s mission didn’t end there—today, he serves as the chief executive officer of Clean Power Finance, an online business providing software and financial services to solar professionals and investors.
Kreamer is one of many veterans helping shape America’s RE future. According to a joint report released by Operation Free (see “Returns” in this issue) and The Solar Foundation, the U.S. solar industry employs 13,192 veterans—that’s 9.2% of all solar workers in the nation. The first-of-its-kind report—Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future—highlights the contributions of veterans to the solar industry, using data derived from The Solar Foundation’s annual National Solar Jobs Census 2013.
“We are finally able to see, with hard numbers, what we have suspected for years: Veterans are huge assets to the clean energy economy. They bring technical skills and a relentless focus on accomplishing the ‘mission,’” says Jaclyn Houser, advocacy director of OF.
Compared with veteran employment in the overall economy (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans constitute 7.6% of all workers), the solar industry is a strong employer of former service members. The installation sector (39%) is the largest employer of veterans, followed by manufacturing (27%), distribution (14%), and project development (6%). The remaining 14% work at “other” related organizations—including government agencies, nonprofits, academic institutions, and companies focused on research and development, legal work, ﬁnance, and accounting.
Todd Venetz, a disabled veteran who separated from the Marine Corp. in 2010 after a decade of service and deployments to Iraq, drew on a veteran’s scholarship to pursue his bachelor’s degree at Penn State University, where he studied energy and sustainability policy. Today, he is a field coordinator in New York for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. “I feel it is my duty to do what I can to leave the world a cleaner, better place for our children, and that means doing what I can to reduce our dependency on fossils fuels,” Venetz says.
As a specialist in the Army National Guard, Sean Murphy spent only one year in Kuwait, but the experience was enough to inspire him to pursue training in solar energy. Unable to find meaningful work and consequently unable to pay for schooling, Murphy—a union electrician by trade—made a special deal with Solar Energy International in Colorado, where he did odd jobs in exchange for 8 weeks of PV installation training. The training helped him secure work as a solar installer for an engineering firm in Rhode Island, where he recently completed a 3.7-megawatt solar field in the City of East Providence.
The Solar Foundation and OF are working to develop resources and tools that connect employers and former service members. One such tool is an online database or web portal that will translate military experience for civilian employers, and help employers find veterans who match their needs.
To download the Veterans in Solar report, go to: bit.ly/SolarVetsReport.
To chart your path in solar industry, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Career Map at bit.ly/DOEsolarCareer.