First solar lab in state to be built at UA system college in Hope

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 503 views 

The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana (UAHT) will establish the first solar education lab in the state as part of a new program to train accredited solar technicians.

The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees on Thursday (Jan. 28) approved the solar lab at UAHT’s Hope campus. The board also approved installing a 1-megawatt solar array on 7 acres at south end of the campus.

A key component of the project is the installation of the smaller hands-on solar learning lab, according to a news release.

“This solar lab will be integrated into the new Certificate of Proficiency in Solar Energy Technology program that the board approved last year,” said Laura Clark, UAHT interim chancellor. “The lab will be modeled after the state-of-the-art Solar Energy International (SEI) lab in Colorado and will allow our students to take their classroom instruction and apply it by actually installing and uninstalling several types of solar arrays. The lab will be the first of its kind for photovoltaics in the region and fills a current need for accredited technicians in Arkansas.”

The Certificate of Proficiency in Solar Energy Technology curriculum is adopted from SEI, which provides classroom curriculums and lab training in solar energy. Using the curriculum, UAHT will become an approved training provider for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). It’s a widely recognized certification organization for professionals in the field of renewable energy, the release shows. The certificate provides the necessary training to install, construct, maintain and operate solar electric systems. The classroom curriculum for the program is expected to start in the fall 2021 semester. The certificate is integrated as part of the path to completing the Associate of Applied Science in Power Technologies degree at UAHT.

“Becoming an approved NABCEP training partner means our graduates are eligible to sit for the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification Exam to earn their PV Associate Credential,” Clark said. “The PV Associate Credential is the opening pathway for graduates who want to move into specializations such as design, inspection or solar fields engineering. The credential also opens the door for UAHT to add these additional educational tracks for credit and non-credit certifications.”

The American Electric Power Foundation provided a $200,000 grant to help pay for the lab. Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power (AEP) is the parent company of Shreveport, La.-based utility Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO)

“Forward-thinking education programs such as this will not only provide students with vibrant careers but will equip them with the skills necessary to provide both clean and affordable power to their communities,” said Jennifer Harland, manager of external affairs for SWEPCO.

Entegrity Energy Partners of Little Rock will design and build the solar project. Also, FirstSolar and OMCO Solar are donating solar modules and racking equipment to help complete the lab.

“With the growth we are experiencing as a company and the growth of the solar industry in Arkansas and surrounding states, Entegrity is excited to partner with UAHT on this project and have access to future accredited graduates to grow our workforce,” said John Coleman, regional director for Entegrity.

The array, which comprises a collection of solar panels, will provide electricity to the college and allow it to become more environmentally friendly, according to the release.

Between 2019 and 2021, Arkansas moved from 36th to 25th in national ranking for solar installations, according to the Solar Industry International Association. Arkansas has 42,561 homes powered by solar and 26 solar companies in the state. This growth is projected to continue over the next five years as solar prices have fallen nearly 45% in the past five years.

“The solar power industry employs a wide range of occupations in major industry segments including research and development, manufacturing of solar power materials, construction of solar power plants, operation of solar power plants and solar power installation and maintenance,” Clark said. “Industry expansion is expected in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, which will create new renewable energy jobs. The solar lab will give our students a real hands-on learning experience that will allow them to be competitive in this growing job market.

“We are extremely excited about this project and what it does for our college,” Clark added. “This approval by the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees is a significant endorsement of UAHT’s innovative commitment to our continued leadership in power production education, energy workforce development, the growth of our campus educational facilities and fiscal responsibility for the long-term operational health of our institution.”

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