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College Station — As a part of its new Alternative Energy Training Program, the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) is launching its first 40-hour apprentice-level certification course in solar photovoltaic (PV) installation. The 40-hour course will be taught at the TEEX utilities and energy training facility on the Texas A&M Riverside Campus in Bryan, where a new vertical-axis wind generator & solar hybrid street light was recently installed.

Texas ranks first in the nation for its renewable energy resources, and jobs in the alternative energy field are increasing, said Bill Stansbury, Training Director for Utilities and Alternative Energy, with TEEX’s Infrastructure Training & Safety Institute.

“Within the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium, we are the only organization offering a vocational training course leading to a Solar PV Installer Certification,” he added. “We have a niche market in training entry-level installers of active solar panels. No one else has a 40-hour course like this.”

Those who successfully complete the Solar PV Installer Certification course will earn a Photovoltaic Installer Level 1 certification from the Electronics Technicians Association — International (ETA-I). The hands-on course will be offered to a maximum of six students per class and taught by certified instructors Robert Thompson and Joe Smith. TEEX has purchased three solar training units that emulate a typical residential or small business installation — whether stand-alone or connecting to the grid.

TEEX is the first training site in the Brazos Valley that is affiliated with the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium (TREEC), which is a group of Texas colleges and training organizations dedicated to positioning Texas as a leader in renewable and sustainable energy commercialization through education.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that almost 100,000 Americans work in the industry and projects that solar energy could support over half a million U.S. jobs by 2016.

With Texas’ natural resources, cost-effective technologies and workforce, the state is poised to be a leader in the renewable energy industry, Stansbury said. Texas already has nearly 175 companies focused on the solar energy industry, he added. In 2005, the Texas Legislature increased the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 5,880 megawatts (MW) by 2015 – about 5% of the state’s electricity demand – including a target of 500 MW of renewable-energy capacity from resources other than wind. The legislation also set a target of reaching 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2025.

Jay Warmke of Green Energy Ohio, the subject matter expert who helped TEEX develop the curriculum, said renewable energy is a growing industry with both economic and environmental benefits. He said the prices for solar energy installation declined 30 percent in 2010 and PV installations doubled. “Solar installations are growing at an exponential rate as prices continue to drop because of innovation,” he added. “And many states have mandated that 20 percent of energy consumption be from renewable resources by 2020.”

Stansbury says that the Solar PV Installer course is just the beginning of what he envisions as a full curriculum and a facility dedicated to vocational training for jobs in the alternative energy field. Already in development is the next course, which will cover installation of small wind generators, he said.

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