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Homeowners to engineers learning solar

Homeowners to engineers learning solar

The solar energy courses at Hudson Valley Community College are mostly filled with tradespeople look

The solar energy courses at Hudson Valley Community College are mostly filled with tradespeople looking to acquire new skills or gain valuable training to enter the workforce.

But some of the students are more like Choppy Wicker.

The 54-year-old enrolled in HVCC’s photovoltaic courses because he wanted to learn how to outfit his Rensselaer County farm with solar panels. He took the intermediate and advanced classes last summer and is now developing a residential system that will allow him to power his home with sunlight.

Wicker is a licensed electrician who owns his own strategic marketing consulting firm, Sherwood Marketing. He said that solar power has interested him for a long time and that he’s used smaller solar panels to run appliances and small-scale systems such as his home-security system.

“I’ve wanted to get into solar all my life,” said Wicker, who took the photovoltaic courses through HVCC’s Workforce Development Institute. “It seemed like a great concept — use the sun, it’s all around us. My goal was to become a director of marketing for a great big solar company.”

Hudson Valley Community College offers training in renewable energy for academic credit, but also provides credit-free courses through the school’s Workforce Development Institute that target people looking to start a second career and gain business and industry training. This is the seventh year the institute has offered non-credit courses in photovoltaics, and staff say that the number of students who are taking the courses with the goal of installing a PV-system at their home is growing. A photovoltaic system uses one or more solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.

“We want to make sure that individuals in the community know that the training is for them as well,” said Marlene LaTerra, who coordinates the Workforce Development Institute.

Hudson Valley’s photovoltaic program is composed of three courses. Wicker said that most of his classes met in the evenings and were spread out over the course of about a month.

LaTerra said that the credit-free courses offer a faster track to gaining the same skills taught in the academic classes and provide students who don’t feel ready to commit to a degree program with an opportunity to learn new things, she said. Local employers also send staff to HVCC’s non-credit courses for training.

Steve Karr, who owns the Schenectady-based renewable energy company Epergy LLC, has been teaching credit-free photovoltaic courses at HVCC since 2010. He said the courses draw a diverse population with a variety of goals.

“Some are interested in doing a home project,” Karr said. “Some are contractors. Some are strictly learning to become educated consumers. Some are engineers.”

Another do-it-yourselfer is David Ritrovato, 48, an Albany resident who enrolled in HVCC’s photovoltaic courses because he wanted to install a system in his 1853 house in Albany’s South End.

“I plan to retire in six years and I’m looking ahead to the future,” Ritrovato said. “When I heard that people are spending as much as 20 percent of their household budget on energy, I decided to do this.”

Ritrovato is a science teacher at Scotia-Glenville High School, and most of his classes include a unit on alternative energy. Though he’s currently on a leave of absence, he expects to bring his newly acquired knowledge into the classroom.

Wicker has started experimenting with eight photovoltaic panels at his Pittstown farm in an attempt to figure out how best to maximize use of the sun’s energy. “Should the panels stand on the roof, or on a post?” he asked. He said he expects to install his system later this year, and that it will connect to the power grid so that whatever power he doesn’t use can benefit others.

“My wife and I are very environmentally conscious,” Wicker said. “We don’t like seeing the world so dependent on gas and oil and nuclear power. Why do we have all these transmission wires when we’ve got all this power landing on our roof?”

Wicker’s training has also led to a new job. Two weeks ago, he started working for Monolith Solar Associates in East Greenbush in sales and marketing. So far, he loves it.

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