CUSTER, Wis. With the U.S. economy still in the tank and the ranks of the unemployed still growing, many visitors to this year's Midwest Renewable Energy Association's Energy Fair came here looking for work or a career change.
Engineers and other professionals flocked to sessions on subjects like "green-collar careers" at the 20th annual event in this bucolic central Wisconsin community. Renewable energy experts stressed the job-creating potential of emerging solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.
Meanwhile, vendors, mindful of the still-high up front costs for renewable energy systems, emphasized what they claimed is the shrinking time needed to recoup the cost of investment in new energy systems.
Workshops were heavy on the nuts and bolts of renewable energy, ranging from how to become a certified installer to the latest building codes and tax exemptions for energy-efficent homes and retrofits. Much of the discussion here was driven by Obama administration plans to pour billions of dollars into renewable energy programs aimed specifically at creating green jobs.
Job seekers were told they should have an intergrated set of professional skills covering electrical, electronics and even plumbing. One expect, Jason La Fleur of the green energy education group Eco Achievers, estimated that 110,000 solar energy installers will be needed over the next year.
Solar installation tops a growing list of green jobs that La Fleur said includes "eco-preneurs," urban planners and sustainable systems managers. Engineers already possess many of the skills needed to fill these new jobs, he added.
Among the growing list of solar exhibitors here, some claimed they were expanding production and attempting to build as many energy systems and components as possible in the U.S. A spokesman for solar water heater maker Velux America Inc. (Greenwood, S.C.) claimed the company has expanded production three times in recent months. He added that the company manufactures most of its components in South Carolina.
See our Energy Fair slideshow here.