A $1.25 million grant from the state of California is set to help train and certify more IBEW members to work on electrical storage and microgrids projects like this battery storage facility in the Imperial Valley.

Keeping ahead of the latest electrical technologies has helped IBEW members capture work and market share for 130 years. A timely new grant program for electrical storage and microgrid (ESM) system training in California will help members and locals there continue to stay ahead of the curve of the green energy revolution.

“The grant program, managed by the California Workforce Development Board, is making available $1.25 million to help boost training efforts toward the IBEW-led Electrical Storage and Microgrid Training and Certification (ESAMTAC).

“This certification will allow our members to provide customers with an extra measure of confidence that the IBEW electricians who are handling ESM installations will get every aspect of those jobs done safely and properly,” said International Vice President John O’Rourke, whose Ninth District jurisdiction includes California.

The IBEW and its partners at the National Electrical Contractors Association have been working over the last few years to put together the ESAMTAC initiative, with input from expert organizations such as the American National Standards Institute, the National Science Foundation and the Electric Power Research Institute, as well as professors at Penn State University.

ESAMTAC also has support from energy storage and battery manufacturers, along with contractors having experience with data centers, where safe battery installation and maintenance are crucial.

Microgrids are becoming increasingly attractive because they can provide power, usually from solar or wind, cleanly and efficiently to places like remote neighborhoods and college campuses that are not connected to the grid. Microgrids often combined solar and wind to generate power with batteries to provide liability.

An effective way to capture work in a new and emerging market like ESMs, O’Rourke said, is to help set the standards for that work and then gain certification in it. Doing so sets IBEW members apart from other contractors who claim, without evidence, that they are qualified to do the work.

“Pretty much every state now has some sort of renewable energy standard that they’re trying to achieve,” O’Rourke said. “We’re trying really hard to make sure all of this work goes to us.”

Some of the equipment needed for ESM training can be expensive, though, so having access to the grant money should help offset those costs and encourage Electrical Training Alliance centers in California to adopt the ESAMTAC curriculum.

Johnny Simpson, an international representative in the Ninth District who specializes in green energy issues, compared ESAMTAC training to the certification many IBEW members are getting through another program the union also helped develop: the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP).

“The certification in these things might not help you today, but the IBEW is successful when all of its members are ready for the future,” Simpson said. “We have to take every opportunity and put it all together.”

The grant money should also help accelerate the eventual growth and acceptance of the ESAMTAC program beyond the state’s borders, O’Rourke said. As ESAMTAC takes hold across the U.S., customers eventually will be able to search a national web database to find qualified and certified electricians and contractors, so getting trained and on that list is important for securing that future work.

Certification also helps allay customer fears about the electrical storage component, especially those who worry about possible leaks or overheating, Simpson said. Because it was designed by the IBEW and NECA, the ESAMTAC program fully integrates with our proven apprenticeship classroom and hands-on training, he said.

“Countless IBEW members already have been trained on these systems, in one form or another, as part of their existing apprenticeships and continuing education,” O’Rourke said. “ESAMTAC codifies it and helps all of us meet the challenges of staying informed on these evolving technologies.”

The $1.25 million ESM grant from the California Workforce Development Board is part of $10 million in so-called High Road Training Partnerships awards. ESMs and 10 other projects across various industries have been identified as playing a role in California’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This first round of HRTP grants come from California Climate Investments funded by the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.