MCC renewable energy academic program gains momentum

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 7, 2012

 Macomb Community College renewable energy program adviser Lisa Richter explains how the wind turbine trainer works.

Macomb Community College renewable energy program adviser Lisa Richter explains how the wind turbine trainer works.

Photo by Maria Allard

WARREN — The green movement certainly has caught the attention of many, including Macomb Community College officials.

With several business owners, schools and companies opting to go green, there is going to be more demand for workers knowledgeable in the field of renewable energy and alternative fuels.

That is why in 2009 MCC officials began offering a renewable energy certificate program to help students become skilled in the areas of geothermal energy, biomass technology, sustainability, solar energy, wind energy and more.

Under the program, students are exposed to five main components of renewable energy: wind, solar, biomass/alternative fuels, geothermal, and green building/sustainable design. New ideas are being created all the time.

“Things are moving so fast,” MCC renewable energy program adviser Lisa Richter said. “In this environment, we have the opportunity to keep up. The students have such an interest in it. They’re passionate about it.”

“Green” is a term used to describe a growing trend that favors using environmentally friendly ingredients for household, manufacturing and industrial cleaning while also finding ways to conserve electricity.

The 16-credit hour certificate program was designed for combination with one of six Macomb associate degree programs to build a future career in the field of renewable energy. The programs are automated systems mechatronics; maintenance technology; automotive technology; climate control technology; construction technology/building construction; and entrepreneurship and small business.

In just a few short years, the program has taken off. Through federal grant money and some capital college funding, a renewable energy tech lab — including various pieces of equipment for hands-on learning — was installed last fall at South Campus in Warren.

“This lab really does give our students some unique skill sets based on what we offer,” MCC manager of media relations Howard Hughey said. “We put a lot of forward thinking into the jobs that are out there now and coming.”

Part of the time, the students use textbooks to understand various theories, and part of the time, they experiment with hands-on assignments using the various equipment in class. Along with the new lab, there is a classroom for lectures and bookwork.

“We are teaching students to generate electricity or build homes more economically by not relying on fossil fuels,” Richter said. “They’re able to learn how to become more energy efficient.”

Students, for example, can practice one method of capturing renewable energy by using the school’s geothermal system. The system is used to obtain the earth’s heat by way of wells implanted into the ground.

The equipment includes wind turbine trainers, solar panels, bio-fuels trainers, and what is known as a combination trainer, which allows the students to experiment with hydrogen fuel technology, wind turbines and solar panels. The combo trainers can be loaned out to high schools in Macomb County, Richter said.

Richter said the program includes a mix of students who just graduated from high school and those who already have been in the work force.

For instance, there have been a few aspiring chefs looking to discover more about alternative energy. The students — already enrolled in the college’s culinary arts program — wanted to learn more about ways to conserve energy and how to use alternative fuels should they ever open their own eateries.

Richter said the school also has welcomed builders looking to incorporate more alternative methods as they build homes. Some students have been architects that just wanted to better understand green technology.

According to a MCC press release, student Garrett Hoffman was directed to the program through his employer. He completed the program in May of 2011 with a focus on solar energy, which has helped him succeed in his current job, while re-launching his business as an electrician with a renewable energy focus.

“The knowledge and skills that I acquired through Macomb’s renewable energy program has allowed me to win jobs by providing value added to my customers,” Hoffman said in a prepared statement. “I am impressed with the knowledge of the staff and the curriculum that covered the full spectrum of the process from theory to installation. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking to build a career in this growing field.”

MCC staff worked with experts in the field of green technology to develop a comprehensive curriculum that would benefit students. There also is an advisory board that comprises industry professionals to offer suggestions for the program.

College officials are currently in discussions with a few four-year institutions to confer about articulation agreements to expand its curriculum and training offerings.

College officials will offer the online course RNEW 1000 this summer. The course is an introduction to energy, which begins June 11. The other classes will begin in the fall 2012 semester. For more information on the classes or how to register, call (586) 445-7191.