Florida Memorial University wants to be at the forefront of Florida’s clean energy growth. Last Monday, industry representatives, experts and local leaders met at the university for its fourth roundtable discussion on the benefits of clean energy for students and Miami-Dade County residents.
The university is part the Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Community Development Action Coalition. The emphasis of the initiative is to expand access to clean energy in communities where HBCU are located.
“We have to be a solution center,” said Jaffus Hardrick, interim president of Florida Memorial University. “I see Florida Memorial as a strong and key partner in helping to develop talent to be able to meet many of the gaps in this particular industry.”
In 2017, the Department of Energy along with HBCU-Community Development Action Coalition signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the vision of the clean energy initiative.
According to their MOU, the Department of Energy and several HBCUs will work together to accelerate the growth and access to renewable energy jobs, as well as develop workforce training programs, and dedicate resources to increase energy literacy and energy education, among other clean energy-related goals.
“Florida is starting to live up to its name as the sunshine state,” said Andrea Luecke, president of the Solar Foundation. In the past, state policy has stifled efforts to explore the benefits of solar and clean energy sources. However, lawmakers are starting to see the brighter side of relying on the sun to provide energy for homes and businesses. “Recently the Florida Utility Commission approved a new advancement to allow for rooftop residential leases, which is going to help increase rooftop solar energy by many times,” Luecke said.
Legislation allowing for more access to solar panels and clean energy sources will help spur new market activity. “Sunrun and Vivint, two major national companies, have come to Florida because of this new legislation,” Luecke said. “We are expecting a 300 percent increase in install capacity over the coming years.”
The increased use likely create jobs in different industries, mainly engineering, construction, sales and marketing, according to the experts in the panel.
Florida Memorial University, and other HBCUs around the county, will prepare students and community members for the influx of jobs and opportunities the solar and clean energy industry will create in the future.
Hardrick, believes the university will be a solution center when it comes to clean energy. “Florida Memorial wants to be that hub that will begin to prepare talent and help solve problems of this community.”
During the roundtable experts spoke about the financial and environmental benefits of clean energy and the importance of introducing such benefits to the Black community.
“Energy is our economy and to get institutions involved in this starts from K-12 all the way to college,” said James Campos, director of economic impact and diversity of the Department of Energy. “It is important that we reach out and provide avenues and information and increase access to all able bodies in this sector.”
The Solar Foundation found that in 2016 Florida had about 8,200-10,000 solar workers. In the near future, some 19,000 could be created directly or indirectly associated with solar and clean energy, the foundation reported. Florida recently passed Massachusetts in terms of solar jobs ranking. Florida is now number two behind California in solar job growth, according to the reports.
The construction style of homes with large flat roofs make communities around South Florida the optimal place for solar panels and clean energy.
Hardrick wants Florida Memorial University to be the place where students and Miami Gardens residents can benefit from the changes that the solar industry might bring. “We want to be the place where people can come and get trained,” said Hardrick. “We want to create certificate programs to train individuals with the skill set that’s needed to meet the workforce demands in this particular space.”