Light years ahead
Photo: Waubonsee Community College’s first Photovoltaic Systems class has completed its certification requirements. Brian Rozel (back, left to right), Jeff Armesy, Wade Wessels, Matt Grant, Chris Johnson, John O’Connell, Joe Smith, Mark Labedz, Alex Valerio and Jose L. Tovar. Richard Andrzejewski (front, left to right), Ken Darby, Andy Steimel and Instuctor Gregg Erickson. Courtesy Photo
WCC graduates first solar energy technologies class
by Lynn Meredith
SUGAR GROVE—With fuel costs rising, it’s comforting to know that the cost of one form of energy is actually going down.
Photovoltaic systems, or solar panels, have dropped in price from $15 per watt to $4 per watt. According to Waubonsee Community College’s Renewable Energy Technologies Instructor Gregg Erickson, the cost could soon get down to $1-$2 per watt.
That’s just one of the reasons 13 people ranging in age from 20 to 60 enrolled in WCC’s first Photovoltaic Systems class.
“WCC was attuned to the growing need for renewable energy. This became one good option to get the work force exposed and trained. It’s a versatile program. Some students are individuals looking to get to know and understand, so they can install their own panels, or there are those that this is a new avenue of career,“ Erickson said. “Within the program, the focus for most students was installation, but there’s quite a market to design or sell the systems.”
Elburn resident Rich Andrzejewski was drawn to the class from an article he read in the Elburn Herald. As a former media developer, he was looking for a new career. Andrzejewski found the three classes leading toward the certificate to be challenging, but necessary for the future.
“Personally, I feel that it’s the way we should go. We’re going to run out of oil. We’re going to run out of gas,” he said. “The one thing I discovered in the class is that it required me to use all my knowledge from my past schooling: electricity, astronomy, algebra, geometry. It’s a combination of all those when you’re setting up a solar panel.”
The students study how to site the panels and how change of season affects productivity. They need to be aware of how the sun rotates on its axis and how ambient temperatures affect the force of the sun.
“As far as the Midwest, our location is ideal for solar panels. Snow and solar panels are great because of the brightness of the snow and for keeping the cables cool. A sunny place like Texas is actually too hot,” Andrzejewski said.
WCC installed solar panels in 2010, a wind turbine last April, and an underground geothermal system, all at the college’s Sugar Grove campus. In addition to photovoltaic systems, the college offers small wind technology and geothermal (heating and air conditioning) certificate programs.
“We use the systems on campus as examples for the training and exposure to show season changes. We can gather information and keep records to see what the production is,” Erickson said.
The HVAC lab on campus is cooled and heated by the geothermal tubing. Erickson is available to give tours of the lab to anyone who is interested.
Erickson worked as an electrician for 40 years, and took training in photovoltaic systems, which he went on to teach to journeymen.
He is enthusiastic about the renewable energy programs and the benefits for the future. He says new panels are being developed that are made of a film that goes over glass, making them an integral part of the structure.
“You don’t have to look very far to see the benefits of renewable energy. Just look at Europe. They have incentives and a commitment to solar power. They are way ahead of us in the use in homes. Germany, Italy, the U.K. are very much ahead of us having systems in their homes. Jimmy Carter, when he was president, realized that oil is too valuable to burn, yet today most of our power comes from coal. And they are still making money off drilling,” Erickson said.
For more information, visit www.waubonsee.edu and Renewable Energy Technologies.