Renewable Energy Education

RE Outlook 2003 – By any measure, 2002 was quite a year for Renewable Energy. Fueled by new scientific evidence on climate change and longstanding energy security fears, renewables are once again generating significant interest around the world.

RE Outlook 2003 – January 15, 2003 – By any measure, 2002 was quite a year for Renewable Energy. Fueled by new scientific evidence on climate change and longstanding energy security fears, renewables are once again generating significant interest around the world. Along with this heightened interest comes a corresponding need for Renewable Energy education at all levels from grade school to professional. The newest approach toward Renewable Energy education is that of online courses. With limited hands-on workshops available, online education in renewables has the power to deliver a virtual classroom to anyone with an Internet connection. Topics range from photovoltaic system design to implementing renewables in the developing world. The courses make use of online message boards and email to facilitate classroom communication. Organizations currently offering independent online learning include Solar Energy International (SEI) and SõL Energy. Look for online Renewable Energy education to expand rapidly as more people embrace distance learning over the Internet. While online courses provide a great overview of renewable technologies, there is still no substitute for actual fieldwork. Thankfully, hands-on RE workshops seem to be popping up all over the place these days. Courses run the gamut from designing and installing PV and small wind systems to making your own biodiesel fuel. Women-only workshops are also rising in popularity. On the West Coast, the Solar Living Institute offers a range of short courses at their center in Hopland, California. You also might want to check out (SEI), who teach hands-on Renewable Energy workshops at their Carbondale, Colorado facility and around the United States. At the professional level, installer PV certification has been generating a lot of interest – and a bit of controversy – of late. Led by the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Power, which doesn’t actually provide this optional Renewable Energy certification itself; rather, it provides accreditation to the training programs and educators who teach Renewable Energy professionals. Advocates of certification believe it helps ensure practitioners are taught the skills needed to safely design and install Renewable Energy systems. Opponents argue that stringent codes and regulatory infrastructures already exist, and certification may overburden the small installer with unnecessary bureaucracy and costs. Currently two organizations in the U.S., SEI and the Florida Solar Energy Center, are accredited ISP training institutions. On the other end of the educational spectrum, Renewable Energy is also finding its way into grade schools around the country. In New York State, NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Association) has launched its School Power…Naturally Program in 50 schools around the state. Schools in the program receive funding for a 2 kW solar array, plus educational curriculum offering students the opportunity to learn about Renewable Energy. Many other states are beginning to incorporate Renewable Energy education into their schools as well. As worldwide interest in renewables continues to grow, RE educators at all levels appear ready to meet the challenges to come. About the Author: Alex Hillinger is principal consultant with sustainability marketing firm Bull By The Horns Marketing. He can be reached at alex@bullbythehorns.org
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