UNC-CH received a $324,736 grant for a green energy internship program which will be distributed by the University’s Institute for the Environment.
The University is in the process of selecting the first 10 interns. They will be announced later this week, said Lindsay Leonard, internship coordinator for the Institute for the Environment.
The institute is expecting an even more competitive process in the spring, Leonard said.
In total there will be 62 internships created by the end of the 2012 academic school year, she said.
“There is the same regard for students across disciplines with different backgrounds and skill sets,” Leonard said.
Departments at N.C. State University received the largest portion of the grant totalling more than $1.7 million.
“Our goal is to create green jobs and to get students in engineering, business, finance and economics involved,” said Chelsea Conover, the energy crops specialist at the N.C. Solar Center for the university.
Working with solar panels and more
Different departments at UNC-CH and NCSU are deciding where they want to place their interns — they could be within the universities or outside.
One participating department is the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, which works with green energy entrepreneurial initiatives, said Jessica Thomas, managing director for the center.
The center will allocate interns to companies like Spotlight Solar, an entrepreneurial solar panel designer. They design solar panels for on-the-ground installation to promote awareness of solar energy.
“We make mounting equipment which supports solar panels in a very visually distinctive way,” said Craig Merrigan, founder and CEO.
An intern at Spotlight Solar would get the opportunity to learn about the dynamics of an emerging market, solar and renewable energy and managing a start-up company in a national roll-out plan, Merrigan said.
Jessica Bruckert is one of the two UNC students currently interning with Spotlight Solar. She is a part-time undergraduate student studying philosophy.
“Not every student may wish to be a social entrepreneur, but there does exist a change-maker path for every student, whatever their passion or concentration,” Bruckert said in an e-mail.
More jobs for graduates
Due to growth of the green economy, the state is now able to support wind, solar and biomass industries.
The state is expecting about 150,000 jobs to be created in the green industry by the year 2038, said Larry Shirley, director of the development of the green economy division of the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“Whatever your particular forte is, there is a lot of room for new business and growth,” he said.
Despite the recession, college graduates are finding niche specialties and jobs connected to alternative energy.
“It has continued to grow, even in the worst economy since the Depression,” Shirley said.
People no longer need an engineering degree to find a place in the growing industry. It demands a variety of skill sets and degrees, he said.
Trying to make up for losses
There is economic transformation in all green energy sectors from production to installation to inspection, Shirley said.
“There will be jobs all along the way of the supply chain,” he said.
The new technology will also create demand for updated programs at community colleges and universities, he said.
“Green economy will produce substantial job gains,” Shirley said.
“Whether it’s enough to make up for losses in the rest of the areas, we’re certainly trying to make it happen, but it won’t be just the green.
“It’s an important, substantial part but not the whole picture.”
But some doubt how much the alternative energy industry can alleviate high unemployment in the state.
The specialization of jobs in the alternative energy industry makes it hard for most North Carolinians to take advantage of the job growth, said N.C. State economics professor Michael Walden.
“It’s a very eclectic mix of technicians, professionals and manufacturing workers,” he said.
“We cannot rely on green jobs to solve the unemployment problem in North Carolina.”
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