Students in Solar Energy Course Exploring How to Live 'Off the Power Grid'
Aug. 20, 2021 - Dean Adams of Laurinburg has property in Pennsylvania that he has leased to a solar farm. In order to learn more about solar energy and how he may use it for his house, Adams enrolled in Richmond Community College's Solar Energy Systems Technology class this summer.
The eight-week class introduces students to the concepts, tools, techniques and materials needed to understand systems that convert solar energy into electricity. Topics include site analysis for system integration, building codes and advances in solar technology. Students also practice building a small solar energy system.
"I had no idea it would be this simple," Adams, a paramedic for FirstHealth, said about the class. "I thought I'd be lost, but everything has been really easy to understand."
Instructor for the class, Joe Roche, comes to RichmondCC from Kansas City, Mo., where he oversaw the development of programs from an energy grant. He has Bachelor of Science in Electronic Engineering Technology and a Master of Education in Adult Education. He is also a certified solar energy installer and a journeyman electrician.
"It's been a lot of fun teaching the class because we basically spend most of the time in the solar shed building the solar system and adding parts to it," Roche said.
The solar shed is a small building that serves as a hands-on lab for the class.
"The little shed has electricity, but it's not connected to anything. Just the solar energy panels and the battery bank inside the shed," Roche said. “There are many other modifications we can make with future classes."
Dr. Devon Hall, Dean of Applied Sciences & Engineering for RichmondCC, said homeowners would greatly benefit from taking the class.
“Given the aging of the current electrical grid, alternative sources of energy such as solar is something responsible homeowners should learn about,” Hall said. “Students learn how to build their own environmentally friendly, silent, and economical solar system that can come in handy during a power outage.”
Hall also said many RV owners are installing their own solar system because it allows them to explore off-grid locations while also providing an emergency power backup system if needed.
Tristin Clark of Lumberton is taking the class because he has experience installing solar panels and underground conduit. He worked for Strata Solar for three years after high school, and the technology intrigued him. He currently works for an agricultural plant in Maxton, but he may use the skills he is learning in the solar energy class to return to this type of work.
As for Stan Jacobs of Rockingham, he is a retired electrician who couldn't resist taking a class that only cost $90.
"That was a good selling point for me, and I've really enjoyed it," Jacobs said. "I'm trying to figure out how to put some of the stuff in the house on solar without having to go through the trouble of getting it all on solar. It's cheaper if you can do some of it and cut down on your power bill."
Jacobs said he would encourage more people to take the solar energy class.
"Education is something nobody can take from you," he said.
The next Solar Energy Systems Technology class will be offered starting Sept. 11. The hybrid class will meet every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for eight weeks, with online work also required. The class will be offered at a greatly discounted rate of $62.50. To sign up, call (910) 410-1706.