New GCC Solar Energy Lab Set to Help Local Workforce Reap Benefits of Recent Energy Legislation

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gateway Community College’s Center for a Sustainable Future unveiled its new solar energy laboratory today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour.

Located on the college’s North Haven campus, the lab allows GCC to offer one of the region’s few solar installation training programs with a hands-on component. It also gives the region’s workforce a means to leverage the expected benefits of Connecticut’s sweeping energy legislation signed into law this summer, which contains numerous policies to promote solar energy deployment in the state.

The lab was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) and a $70,000 grant from the Northeast Photovoltaic Training Network at Hudson Valley Community College in Malta, N.Y., a regional training association funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that is part of the national Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN), which is administered by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

These resources allow GCC for the first time to offer hands-on, entry-level and advanced instruction on the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal and battery-based renewable energy systems. GCC has provided entry-level solar energy installation training to about 300 students since 2008 with a very limited hands-on component.
The lab includes classroom workspace and an exterior lab area outside that features solar PV panel arrays that are connected to the classroom, and a mock roof where students will practice installing, maintaining and monitoring solar energy systems. At full capacity, the lab’s solar photovoltaic panel array will produce 480 watts of electricity.

“This new solar energy lab is an example of Gateway’s combined commitment to delivering the relevant, state-of-the-art instruction that our region needs to keep its economy moving ahead while maintaining responsible stewardship of our environment,” said GCC President Dr. Dorsey L. Kendrick. “We send our sincerest appreciation to the Connecticut Clean Energy and Investment Authority and the Northeast Photovoltaic Training Network for their vision and leadership in helping us to make this lab a reality and, in turn, aid in the growth of sustainable and renewable energy in Connecticut.”

An omnibus energy bill seeking to lower electricity costs while making the state a national leader in clean technology was signed into law July 1 by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. In addition to establishing CEFIA and the new Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the legislation enacted a number of policies designed to stimulate growth in the solar energy arena. These policies will provide a significant and stable level of support for the widespread deployment of rooftop solar PV systems across the state and identify barriers to the development of a permanent Connecticut-based solar workforce through comprehensive training, accreditation and certification programs.

CEFIA President Bryan Garcia said GCC’s lab will help his agency achieve its goal of making Connecticut a national leader in the local deployment of clean energy.

“With this new lab, Gateway joins us as a strategic partner as we implement a new approach to building Connecticut’s clean energy economy,” Garcia said.  “Connecticut’s workforce will deliver comprehensive solar energy solutions that are competitively priced and of the utmost quality for households, businesses, and institutions.”

Nicholas Buono, SITN project coordinator for the Northeast region, said GCC’s new lab will help GCC’s solar energy training program become accredited by IREC, which in turn helps SITN achieve its goal of improving the quality and accessibility of solar installation training and expanding the trained solar workforce in the Northeast.

“Having a properly equipped lab where students can learn about solar installation and actually put that knowledge to work in a hands-on instructional environment is an essential building block to growing the solar energy industry,” Buono said. “Through years of experience, we’ve learned that class work must be combined with practical laboratory instruction to produce the highest quality workforce and that is what will happen here at Gateway thanks to this new lab.”