Dr. Jerry Ventre — Lead Author
Engineering and Education Consultant, Former Director
Photovoltaics and Distributed Generation Division
Florida Solar Energy Center


Download PDF of Best Practices #5: Exemplary Solar Education & Training Programs

This chapter presents information on six exemplary solar education and training programs. These programs are complete, integrated, and well-organized and provide a solid foundation for those entering the solar workforce. They do not require significant background, experience, and prerequisites of entering students.

The programs include a construction trade apprenticeship program, three multi-course certificate programs, and two Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree program options. The number of instructional hours ranges from a minimum of 420 to more than 1,000. Each of the programs possesses distinguishing attributes that makes it exemplary and deserving of review and possible emulation by institutions that are considering new solar program development.

Introduction

As solar markets expand and technology advances, there is a continual need to upgrade education and training of the solar workforce. Although most solar instruction to date has been based on task analyses developed by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, it has too often been limited to one or two short and intensive courses lasting three to six days. Such courses limit student time for problem solving, decision making, and demonstrating the hands-on skills necessary in the workplace. In addition, students in these courses often lack the prerequisites and academic foundation necessary for effective learning. Almost all of these short courses and workshops can or should be categorized as continuing education (CED) courses. They should not be categorized as education and/or training programs.

It should be noted, however, that the short courses can be extremely valuable in increasing the knowledge and skills of individuals who have already been trained extensively and have the background and experience to absorb the information presented fully and easily apply it in the workplace. For example, a 40-hour course in PV systems installation can be of great value to a journeyman electrician who has repeatedly demonstrated the knowledge application and psychomotor skills required to work safely with electrical circuits and equipment. Such a course can give the electrician valuable add-on knowledge and skills specific to PV system installation.

CED short courses and workshops offered by organizations such as the Florida Solar Energy Center, Solar Energy International, North Carolina Solar Center, and Midwest Renewable Energy Association are excellent and have been the mainstay of solar training over the last three decades. They should continue to play an important role well into the future.

Although not created for this purpose, CED courses can be very useful for education and training institutions interested in developing for-credit certificate or degree programs. They can be used to: 1) gauge interest among prospective students in the subject matter; 2) provide faculty with valuable experience in teaching the subject matter; and 3) kick-start the process of developing more extensive certificate or degree programs.

Developing new, for-credit courses and programs can be a daunting task that usually requires a series of approvals by curriculum committees, department chairs, deans, provosts, and, possibly, state agencies. A course may also have to comply with the requirements of a common course numbering system—a process that can take more than a year. A new continuing education course or independent studies course can be developed and implemented in short order and be offered several times during the period it takes to pursue new, for-credit courses and programs.

The progression that we have seen and encouraged in renewable energy education and training begins with non-credit CED courses. These eventually evolve into more substantial multi-course certificate programs and may culminate in two- or four-year degree programs (as shown in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 Course Progression in Renewable Energy Education

This paper presents information on six exemplary solar education and training programs. These programs are complete, integrated, and well-organized and provide a solid foundation for those entering the solar workforce. They do not require significant background, experience, and prerequisites of entering students.

The programs include a construction trade apprenticeship program, three multi-course certificate programs, and two Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree program options. The number of instructional hours ranges from a minimum of 420 to more than 1,000. Each of the programs possesses distinguishing attributes that makes it exemplary and deserving of review and possible emulation by institutions that are considering new solar program development. The programs are described further in the following table.

Table of training programs, types, and number of instructional hours

 

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