Anyone who casts a quick glance toward the ridge of Barbour and Randolph counties' Laurel Mountain, with its long line of towering windmills, can see that sustainable energy generation is more prevalent than ever.
Aware of this growing trend, officials at Randolph Technical Center are determined to equip students with the training necessary for them to succeed in the future.
The center's electrical technology instructor, Jeff Broschart, has spearheaded this intent by beginning to incorporate the study of solar and wind energy technologies into his classes.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Joe Hoover
Randolph County Technical Center’s electrical technology instructor, Jeff Broschart, stands next to the center’s new solar and wind energy training system.
Broschart said he has seen botched solar panel installations that were the result of a lack of training. He wants to ensure his students are competent.
"My students are going to be the electricians of tomorrow," Broschart said. "They need to know how to work with this new technology."
Accordingly, he has started to expose his students to both hands-on and theoretical study of solar and wind power generation.
Broschart's first step was to provide his students with a solar and wind training system.
Through a Program Modernization Grant from the Department of Education, Broschart was able to purchase a solar and wind energy generation simulator, called the Lab-Volt Solar/Wind Energy Training System, so his students could work with live technology.
"It does everything," he said. "It has functioning solar panels that can transfer energy from the sun or from heat lamps and it has a small windmill that can simulate wind speeds. It even has wheels, so we can take it outside on nice days."
In principal, the system works just like a full-size power system, Broschart said. The energy from the panels or the windmill is stored in a battery. Then the current is sent from the battery into the inverter to change it from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) by an inverter, which is necessary, Broschart said, because most appliances in American homes are designed to run with AC.
Then the current is distributed to a variety of meters and outlets, like it would be in a real-life system.
"This unit is great, because it allows students to work directly with solar and wind technology. They can really see how it all functions," he said. "Combined with the more theoretical studies that we are doing, which cover the mathematics and physics necessary to understand how these systems work, our students are going to be well prepared for the future."
The school recently acquired the training system and Broschart himself is still undergoing teacher training to familiarize himself with its intricacies. He said he hopes to complete his training by the end of April.
The future is not the only concern for Broschart and his students. Soon, they hope to begin incorporating sustainable energy into the school's power grid.
The conversion of their school's exterior lighting to LEDs powered by a small solar panel is one of the first projects they hope to tackle.
"LEDs use a fraction of the energy used by conventional lighting. We are really excited by the prospect of keeping them off the grid," he said.
It might be a while before Broschart and his students can start their project, because they first need to gather the necessary materials. However, Broschart said he is glad they are moving in the right direction.
Broschart's interest in sustainable energy is not only the interest of a dedicated teacher. He has a strong personal interest as well.
"I would love to go off the grid, myself." Broschart said. "But it can be very expensive. I do want to get started, though. I am thinking about installing a small system for my home's outside lighting."
Broschart also hopes to offer community members a chance to learn more about sustainable energy technologies.
If all goes according to plan, the Randolph Technical Center will offer community classes on sustainable energy in the fall.
"I think it is important for everyone who is interested to start learning how to work with sustainable energy sources," Broschart said. "The technology is going to become increasingly sophisticated and efficient. If you know how to use it, it will be a great way to save money and decrease your impact on the environment."
Contact Joe Hoover by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.