Salt Lake Community College students gathered at the Meadowbrook campus on Saturday, June 2 for a hands-on training lab to learn the about the newest green energy technology and gain practical experience by installing solar panels and grid systems on the mock system.
SLCC has seen a boost in a number of students earning degrees and obtaining certifications in the green energy fields. The rise in the number of students gravitating towards these fields is partly due to a grant funded by government called the State Energy Sector Partnership (SESP) grant.
“The grant is pushing people through that had no electrical background at all,” said Brok Thayn, SLCC Instructor of Solar Photovoltaics and Electrical Theory courses. “The grant helps these students know the theory but they’re getting practical information as well.”
The U.S. Department of Labor has funded the SESP grant to help students by providing free training to promote and create jobs in the green energy industry.The grant runs through to the end of the year and offers courses in many of the different aspects of the green energy. The grant pays for courses, books, bus passes and industry certifications.
Construction of this state-of-the-art Solar Program Training Yard was funded through three grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The goals of these grants are also to build a green energy workforce as well as to train new Solar Instructors throughout 14 states that are ready to deliver solar training back in their state.
Thaniel Bishop, Lead Instructor for the Continuing Education Solar Program, coordinated the construction of the Training Yard with collaboration from staff in both the School of Math, Science and Engineering and the Division of Continuing Education.
“Goals of the program”
Three instructors in the Photovoltaic course help guide students through the various degrees of training. Each of these instructors has a diverse background in education and specialties. Some examples of the training students receive in these courses are installation, safety, and wiring.
“The goals of our class are safety first of all, that’s our number one priority,” said Thayn. “When people come out here we want to make sure they are working safe. The next goal is every student that comes through here can get a job when they’re done. That’s the goal of the program.”
Before the grant, class sizes averaged around 20-25 students according to Thayn. Because of the grant and more demand for alternative energy, class sizes have risen to 35 to 40 with an incoming enrollment of 70 students next semester.
The hope was that 1100 new jobs would be created in the green energy field in 2012, as projected by Utah’s Green Jobs Survey. Some of the green energy jobs that were expected to be added this year were in production, construction, installation, and transportation. An example of a job would include a solar panel technician that would install, repair and even market this type of alternative energy.
“Promoting alternative energy”
The grant has allowed people to gain practical experience and has helped people get their foot in the door of alternative energy who maybe had no prior experience in the energy fields before.
“It definitely got me engaged with other people that are pursing the same career path and also employers, provided me education and prepared me to take the NABCEP exam,” said Angel Jackson, a former student who took advantage of the grant at SLCC. “It’s awesome that they are promoting alternative energy this way. It’s not something that’s big in Utah.”
The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) exam determines candidates’ qualifications including knowledge of the basics, applications and fundamentals of PV energy systems and installations. SLCC is an authorized provider of both the NABCEP Entry Level Exam and the NABCEP PV Installer certification.
Jackson feels that the program has a few kinks to work out but overall he was happy with the instruction and interaction he received during the training. He feels that Utah has a lot of competition in the energy fields.
With coal prices keeping utility prices low, Jackson doesn’t see enough emphasis on developing alternative energy. With the demand higher in other states, he sees providing and developing new alternative energy sources in Utah as a must. This can in turn increase demand in Utah, creating new jobs as newer technology grows, and improving the economy as a whole.
According to Thaniel Bishop the pass rate of the NABCEP Photovoltaics basic entry exam for participants of these courses at SLCC is about 85%. He said that this exam has about a 30-40% pass rate among those outside of this program.
Many employers are looking for people trained in these new forms of technology. Hunt Electric sent 30 of their employees through this program, training them on the latest technology in energy systems.
A variety of students enroll in this classes, including developers, architects, electrical engineers, home and business owners, plumbers and roofers. They are taking these courses for purposes such as design, installation, selling or personal use.
“You go through this program and you’re either selling it, putting it in, installing it, [getting] a job, whatever your goal is we try to work with that” said Thayn.“A lot of the people who come in here are unemployed and our push is to get them employed.”
Green job growth
The school is offering training through the grant with two certificates: Basic Energy Technician and Advanced Energy Technician. During the summer, week-long intensive trainings will be provided. There are many evening and online classes to provide flexibility to schedules.
“Job [growth in the photovoltaic industry is] exponentially exploding,” says Thayn. “Since 2008 the PV industry has doubled every year. [Hunt Electric] has doubled its size in the PV section. Last year we grew tenfold. If contracts go through we’re looking at another tenfold this year. That just speaks for one company but I see it consistently.”
Companies all over the United States are experiencing these types of growth, especially where the climate is warm and sunny. Houston-based business Green Street Energy has been and hopes to open up shop in Utah by the end of the summer. They are recruiting salespeople and PV installers, especially those with certified training.
“When efficiency meets prices of solar the hottest job market will be in solar energy,” said Carl Svedin, president of operations at Green Street Energy.
For more information about the program contact Jeremy (801)957-5345 or Rob (801)957-5264 from DWS to set up an appointment or visit jobs.utah.gov for details.