The Future Looks Bright: New Solar Array Boosts Sustainable Efforts at CVTC
Sunflower? More like solar flower! Check out CVTC's newest efforts to boost renewable energy production and education
A recent donation to Chippewa Valley Technical College shines a bright light on the college’s efforts to educate students about renewable energy.
Solar energy – as well as geothermal and wind energy – was already part of the curriculum for students in CVTC’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) program. Now, these students have even more opportunities for hands-on education thanks to an 80-kilowatt photovoltaic system that was installed recently at CVTC’s Energy Education Center, 4000 Campus Road, Eau Claire.
“I think there’s going to be a ton of job opportunities for these students in renewable energy.”
Jake Geissler, an instructor in the HVACR program, said the system will help students learn about different types of solar panels, as well as the racking needed to install them, the inverters that make their power usable, and battery technology. “Solar is in its infancy,” said Geissler, himself a CVTC graduate. “I think it’s going to explode. I think there’s going to be a ton of job opportunities for these students in renewable energy.”
CVTC offers a one-year technical diploma in renewable energy, which teaches about geothermal, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, and wind systems – all of which are available for them to work with on campus. Knowledge of these renewable systems is also part of the curriculum for CVTC students pursuing one-year diplomas as air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration technicians, in which students also learn how to install and service traditional heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems.
CVTC’s new solar energy system was donated by the Wisconsin-based Couillard Solar Foundation, which was founded by Chippewa Valley native Cal Couillard. A 1975 CVTC graduate, Couillard was always interested in using the power of the sun: He designed and built a home that used passive solar energy, and he had photovoltaic modules installed on the roof of his manufacturing company in Edgerton, Wisconsin. When Couillard sold that company, Componex Inc., a few years ago, he created the foundation, with the goal of helping nonprofits join the renewable energy revolution. Among the more than 100 solar energy projects the foundation has completed was the addition of solar panels to North and Memorial high schools last year.
Earlier this spring, Couillard said he was drawn to donate to CVTC because of his personal connection. “I want to jump-start the technical colleges,” he said. “If you want to have an educated workforce that knows how to install solar, you need to get into the technical colleges. And I wanted to go back to some of the places that put me where I am today.”
Students from several Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program classes helped install the system in May alongside professionals from Next Step Energy.
“Not only was it solar experience for the students, it was just great work-based learning for them without having to leave the campus,” Geissler said.
Photovoltaic panels come in several types, two of which are represented in the new array. Several panels are one-sided and others are two-sided to generate more electricity. The panels pick up direct sunlight but also reflected sunlight, like rays from snow.
CVTC students will be able to monitor the output of the two kinds of panels to calculate how their energy production compares.
When it’s fully operational, the solar array will be tied into the electric grid. Combined with existing renewable production, the Energy Education Center will now produce about 40% of the electricity it uses.
And, like the sun itself, the future is bright for HVACR students, Geissler said. “I think the biggest thing for the students right now is what the job availability is, because there’s such a push for it,” Geissler said of the movement toward renewable energy. “Things change, times change, trends change, and we try to take the students to where they have the best chance of a long-term career.”
To learn more about CVTC’s renewable energy program, visit www.cvtc.edu/academics/programs/renewable-energy.