By Amy Hudnor
Solar PV Program Coordinator
Kennebec Valley Community College

Instructor Keven Vachon is embracing the meaning of experiential education at Mid-Maine Technical Center, a technical high school in Waterville, Maine.

Keven Vachon and MMTC electrical students with the solar training unit they built
Keven Vachon and MMTC electrical students with the solar training unit they built

Using knowledge he gained from training from Kennebec Valley Community College, a northeast Regional Training Provider in the Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN), Mr. Vachon taught his electrical technology students about solar by having them install a PV system on the school’s roof.  The 400 watt system of eight solar modules will ultimately be tied to the grid and will help reduce the school’s electric bill.

Students, like Jacob Archer, have enjoyed the realistic experience of working on a solar installation.  “I plan on becoming an electrician and this is exactly what we do. It’s not some mock up thing that we’re just doing for practice…it’s actual work that I would do as an electrician.  It gives you a sense of pride because you’re building something and it’s going to be remembered that you built it.”

Students also built a solar training unit, which can be used by future classes.  The training unit is designed to teach the electrical aspects of solar, with components such as the charge controller, disconnect, and inverter all within in easy reach.

Solar array installed by students at Mid-Maine CC
Solar array installed by students at Mid-Maine CC

Using Yankee thriftiness and MacGyver-like ingenuity, they built the training unit from scratch, welding the frame together and using parts of a drafting table to create the tilt for the two attached solar panels.  Mr. Vachon said, “We were able to spend less than $2,000 to build, versus seven or eight thousand to buy.”

Students at Mid-Maine Technical Center come from a variety of high schools in the region to gain skills in electrical technology and other fields.  Mr. Vachon already has plans for the new crop of students he’ll teach in the fall.  “We’ll be going to Lawrence High School, another one of our ‘sending’ high schools and installing a system on the roof up there.  We’re getting right into it, and the students seem to like it. We’re getting some hands on experience in some cutting edge technology.”

Images: Amy Hudnor, KVCC