Here comes the sun: Lanier Technical College solar program grows to meet industry demand

by United Renewable Energy

Always looking for new opportunities to connect students to sustainable jobs, Lanier Technical College has set its sights on the solar industry.

Demand for solar energy has grown about 30 percent per year during the last 15 years, according to Solarbuzz, which tracks the industry worldwide as part of the marketing research firm, NPD Group. Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations increased by 7.3 gigawatts in 2009; up from 6,080 megawatts in 2008. (A megawatt is 1,000,000 watts; a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts.)

The firm projects strong industry growth in the Asian Pacific, European and U.S. markets for the next five years. More efficient and less-costly technology has made solar options more affordable at the same time the world has increased its demand for renewable energy sources.

Russell Vandiver, president of Lanier Technical College, wants Georgia to be part of that growth.

“Interest in solar power has been popular for periods and then waned, but this time we believe solar energy has the potential to be a long-term industry in Georgia, along with other renewable energy sources. We’re preparing the work force for it,” he said.

He cites ZF Industries’ decision to build a 25,000-square-foot plant in Gainesville as proof of the state’s ability to compete in the market. The facility will produce transmissions for wind turbines.

“The plant plans to hire about 220 [workers], and we’ll be training the work force through Quick Start,” Vandiver said.

Quick Start is the state’s program for training workers.

Another indicator of job potential is the industry backing Lanier Tech got from local and national companies in building a new solar photovoltaic installation lab on its Milton campus. More than $100,000 in equipment from companies like SMA, the world’s largest solar PV inverter manufacturer; Direct Power and Water, a racking system manufacturer; Solectria, a U.S.- based inverter manufacturer; United Renewable Energy, a Georgia-based solar PV integrator; and Suniva, a Georgia company that makes high-efficiency solar cells and modules, helped make the lab a reality.

Lanier Tech began its solar program in January by offering a continuing education class that gives students entry-level knowledge about the solar industry and photovoltaic installation. Students take the 40-hour course two nights a week for eight weeks. Upon completion, they are prepared to take the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) entry-level exam.

“This is the industry-recognized credential, and we are the first registered provider of the exam in the state,” Vandiver said.

“People have always talked about solar energy as the wave of the future, but the future is here today,” said William Silva, president of United Renewable Energy and adjunct coordinator of solar programs at Lanier Tech.

“We know that the demand for solar-trained workers is growing in Georgia and that the job opportunities are good in this industry,” Silva added. “We’re a small company, but we’re expanding. Lanier Tech is filling an important gap by providing the training. People have had to go out of state to get it before.”

The course, which is aimed at people in the construction or electrical fields who want to learn solar skills; dislocated workers looking for a new career; and solar energy workers who would like to earn the credential, takes students through the methods and processes of solar energy and its installation.

“They’ll learn about PV markets and applications, and we teach basic safety first, since solar installation combines two high-risk construction activities: working on roofs and working with electricity,” Silva said.

Other topics in the program include solar energy and PV module fundamentals; system components and sizing; electrical and mechanical design, and performance analysis and troubleshooting. The lab has a simulated rooftop where students get hands-on experience in designing and installing systems.

“I’m passionate about this industry, and [I] know that it will help Georgia’s market grow, to have more trained people,” Silva said. “As an employer, I’m always impressed with people who have taken the time to learn something about the industry before trying to find work in it.”

Having some basic knowledge of electricity is an advantage, but not necessary.

“Plumbers, engineers, contractors, car salesmen, as well as entrepreneurs wanting to start their own installation companies, have taken the class,” Silva said.

Students have come from as far as Alabama and South Carolina to enroll in the program. Lanier Tech can accept 20 to 25 students; the last two classes reached capacity had waiting lists.

The next class runs Oct. 7 to Nov. 23, and costs $995. For information or to register, call Royce Glenn at 770-531-6358 or go to

By Laura Raines
For AJC Jobs
Friday, July 9, 2010