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New Two-Year Degree at Penn College Focuses on Renewable Energy

Pennsylvania College of Technology construction students lift into place one of the photovoltaic panels that will provide an ongoing lesson in conversion of renewable solar energy into electrical power.A new Pennsylvania College of Technology associate degree, the latest industry-aware major at an institution that grows “greener” by the day, will prepare students for careers in the renewable energy field.

Beginning with the Fall 2010 semester, the college’s School of Construction and Design Technologies will offer a two-year degree in renewable energy technologies. In a sequence of theory and laboratory courses over the four-semester curriculum, students can develop the practical skills to install, troubleshoot and maintain photovoltaic, wind-turbine and solar-thermal systems.

“Renewable energy will be a hot topic for years to come due to depletion of our natural resources and reliance on fossil fuels,” said Marc E. Bridgens, dean of construction and design technologies at Penn College. “With all the national and local emphasis on our “˜carbon footprint,’ it’s only natural that we get involved in teaching these up-to-date technologies.”

The market for knowledgeable employees should take off once those technologies become more heavily used in industry, commercially and in the private sector, he added.

“One of the applications students will cover is the practical issue of power generation,” Bridgens said. “They’ll look at invertors, generators, principles of thermodynamics and solar hydronics to answer the question, ‘How is that energy absorbed and transformed into useable power?'”

The comprehensive curriculum also covers building materials, blueprint reading, piping and other mechanical considerations and for those who might find themselves working aloft on a turbine tower a Safety at Heights course. That instruction eventually could translate into a tower-climbing certification, Bridgens said, a credential that would add a valuable advantage in a student’s job search.

The new major is, in itself, attractive due to its reflection of the industry’s growing need for energy-system technicians and other specialists. But the dean also noted that it’s an “excellent pathway” to no fewer than three Penn College baccalaureate degrees.

“This background will open the door for our students to segue directly into a bachelor’s degree in HVAC design technology, in building automation technology or in building science and sustainable design,” he said. About 30 students enrolled during this first year of the “green building” major, which promotes more energy-efficient construction methods and carries emphases in either architectural technology or building construction technology.

In advance of the renewable energy major, construction students already are getting a look at renewable energy through the recent installation of photovoltaic panels near the Victorian House on the college’s main campus in Williamsport. While honoring Williamsport’s 19th-century lumber heritage, the guest house designed and built by students in the mid-1990s is equipped with a number of modern energy-saving features: “smart” controllers, variable air-volume systems and ground-source heat pumps.

The array of panels, erected during the Spring 2010 semester under a Solar Scholars Grant from the Sustainable Energy Fund, will complement that “green” focus and provide an ongoing educational experience in renewable energy, electrical technology and related classes. Students from various majors will continually monitor the photovoltaic system’s performance through daily weather conditions, energy production and cost-savings analysis.

For more information about the School of Construction and Design Technologies, visit online or call 570-327-4518. For more about Penn College, visit on the Web , e-mail or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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