Green Colleges across the country are looking for ways to “go green” on their campuses. Not only do eco-friendly changes help the colleges look more appealing to potential students, but many are finding that certain types of installations can go a long way toward reducing their operating costs. As such, a recent survey conducted by USA Today found that almost half of all colleges and universities across the country have implemented some form of renewable energy on their campuses. Furthermore, a growing number of colleges are offering training in the solar energy field to their students.
Not surprisingly, the state of California is leading the way in terms of the installation of solar panels in their schools. At West Hills College, for example, plans are underway for a 6- to 7- megawatt solar farm. Just two years ago, plans for a solar farm of this magnitude would have been among the largest in the country. In Central Valley, California were the school is located, however, plans are already in the works for hundreds of megawatts of solar photovoltaic installations.
Once installed, the 39-acre solar farm at West Hills is expected to cover all of the power needs for the college’s three campuses. The farm itself will be located at a new college, which has been dubbed the “farm of the future” and is located on more than 200 acres of land near Coalinga. Once the project is complete, West Hills will become the second state community college to go “grid positive,” which means the school will actually produce more electricity than it uses.
According to officials at Butte College, which is located in Oroville, California, their college is set to produce more solar power than any other college in the world once it finishes its current project. Still, at this point, it is not clear if Butte’s system will actually produce more than the system being put in place at West Hills.
Bakersfield College in Kern County, California is also on pace to significantly reduce its energy costs. The school expects its $8.3 million 1.1 megawatt solar project, which was completed on December 8, to provide about one-third of its power needs.
“It makes sense to use the clean, renewable resource of the sun to power our schools sustainably,” said Greg A. Chamberlain, who is the president of Bakersfield College in a recent news release. “Community college and school districts in California are seizing the opportunity to help the state meet its growing energy demand and renewable energy goals,” said Jim Pape, who is the president of the residential and commercial business group at SunPower Corp.
California State University, which is located in Fresno, is also taking advantage of renewable solar power to create energy for its school. The school already has a parking-lot array in place and has recently announced that 12 megawatts of solar power capacity were either already in place or would be finished sometime in 2015. So far, these projects are underway at 18 of the university’s campuses. These include:
• Channel Islands
• Dominguez Hills
• East Bay
• Long Beach
• Los Angeles
• Monterey Bay
• San Bernardino
• San Diego
• San Luis Obispo
• San Marcos
Los Angeles Community College District has also been working at installing at least 1 megawatt of solar PV capacity at each of its nine campuses. Already, eight of the campuses have some form of solar technology in place, with five having at least 1 megawatt.
Aside from the many colleges that are taking advantage of the sun’s energy to power their campuses, a growing number are also offering training in green technology. Students at West Hills, for example, helped to assemble a 5-megawaatt Medota solar plant. Kern Community College District, which is located in Porterville, California, is also offering a new green jobs training program. The program was made possible with the help of enXco, which is a France-based energy company that is currently working on several solar and wind projects.
With demands for solar energy workers growing throughout California as well as other parts of the country, those who complete green jobs training can expect to enjoy plenty of employment opportunities. In Fresno County, California, for example, plans are already underway to construct nearly 300 megawatts of solar power. Even larger projects on the sunny flatlands of the Central Valley are also likely in the future.
While sunny California is certainly leading the charge when it comes to solar energy, it is not the only state with colleges that are jumping on the solar energy bandwagon. Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts, for example, has already installed solar PV panels on top of a building that has received a gold rating through the Leadership in Environmental Engineering Design program. Furthermore, the college offers training courses in solar thermal, solar PV systems, site designs for energy savings and other similar areas.
As the federal government’s push for solar energy continues to grow stronger, the number of colleges getting on board with the idea is also likely to increase. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for example, calls for the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a Solar Instructor Training Network. The program, which is budgeted at $27 million and is part of a 5-year plan with the Energy Department, will be administered by the nonprofit Interstate Renewable Energy Council. According to the Energy Department, the initiative is “intended to create a geographic blanket of training opportunities in solar installation across the United States.”
Nine regions across the country have been selected as part of the program and each region is expected to select an educational institution to serve as its regional resource provider. In addition, these institutions will be called upon to provide training to the instructors who will then go on to train solar installers. The educational facilities participating in the program include:
• California Community Colleges in California
• Energy Institute at Houston Community College in Texas
• Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida in Florida
• Hudson valley Community College in New York
• Kennebec Valley Community College in Maine
• North Carolina Solar Center at North Carolina State in North Carolina
• Pennsylvania State University in Pennsylvania
• Salt Lake Community College in Utah
The Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Utah’s Solar Energy International and the Utah Solar Energy Association will also be participating in the program. In California, the Labor Management Cooperation Committee, the California Energy Commission and the California Center for Sustainable Energy will also be involved with the program.
“No area will need innovation more than in the development of new ways to produce and use and save energy,” said President Obama during a speech while touring Hudson Valley Community College in the fall of 2009 as the school as laying down the groundwork for its solar training program. “And you understand that here at Hudson Valley. I firmly believe that the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”