North Alabama’s Only Renewable Energy Degree is at ACECET

ACECETCalhoun Community College is home to Alabama’s first and only renewable energy degree as well as a number of certification courses. Not only is this the first in the state it is one of only a few in the country.

The program, which was funded by a $3.47M Department of Labor grant in 2010, offers a renewable energy curriculum with a 2 year technical degree in renewable energy. Jerry Adams led the project which involved completely retrofitting an existing campus building. This involved tearing the existing building down the bones, but Jerry was happy to report that in doing so less than 20% of the removed materials went to the landfill. Most were recycled for other uses. The cement was sent to a company that breaks it down and recycles it, the asphalt shingles were recycled for road use. All of this along with the energy-efficiency improvements lead to the ACECET building becoming one of the first commercial buildings in the state to be LEED Platinum certified.

Jerry Adams showed me around the building, which is designed to be energy efficient with LED lighting on sensors throughout, a 3-phase 24 KW solar photo-voltaic grid-tied solar system that provides about 80% of the 11,000 square ft. building’s energy needs. Water collection units provide the non-potable water for the building (toilets, lawn watering, etc). One of the most extensive geothermal arrays in the Southeast powers the HVAC systems in the labs, and solar thermal units are used to heat the water for the building. Adams pointed out that “it’s all about teaching and learning tools for the students.”

ACECET is setting standards both at home and abroad as it serves as the standard for future programs across the country. I asked Jerry if the facilities people at Calhoun are taking notice and making changes across campus based on the program. His response was that they “have attended many of our classes and what they are learning from the ACECET experience is being reflected in energy savings with the other buildings on campus.”

solar thermal systemThe focus of the program is teaching renewable energy in a way that the students can put it to work in either the electrical field or the HVAC field, both of which are ripe for opportunities throughout the country. The program has seen over 100 students graduate so far, and expects another 50-60 in the fall. Short term (1 day or 1 week) classes are available that lead to certification, as well as BPI analyst building classes, and energy code classes.

I spoke with Shelton Wright, a current student of the ACECET program, and asked him to share his thoughts. He told me that he chose the Calhoun ACECET program because “They have a great program with excellent resources. The facilities are fantastic, with everything from PV panels, solar thermal panels, wind energy, and even hydrogen fuel cells and biodiesel. The labs are full of hands-on learning and the instructors are very knowledgeable and enjoy teaching.”

Shelton feels that the ACECET program is giving him the knowledge he needs for a career in the future. Students who have graduated from the program are now working across the country and across the world. Jerry Adams said that they have students working both locally and as far as Nicaragua improving energy efficiency across the globe.

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