From Solar Calculators to Renewable Energy Careers

Submitted By: Sam Chungyampin · Tue, 12/14/2010 - 22:07

When I was a kid, solar panels powered calculators, and that was about it. Renewable energy was a hobby, not a career path, let alone an industry. There was the odd off-grid system, but besides these, a few calculators, and some aerospace applications, solar power was a dream. In fact, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), as far back as 1971, solar systems “were subject to review and possible restriction” by the US patent office if they were more than 20% efficient. The potential power of solar was so great it was an official secret.

Fast forward to today. There are backpacks that, in only a few hours, can charge laptop computers many times more powerful than the processors that the lunar modules used to take man to the moon. Photovoltaic (PV) panels adorn parking meters and road signs, and solar farms glisten in fields and on rooftops across the province. Solar technology has come a long way. In Ontario, which has a solar industry powered by a feed-in tariff (FIT) program that pays high prices for electricity fed into the grid from a variety of “green” sources, a lot of interesting new developments are in the works, and renewable energy career development starts early.

Elementary, Post-Secondary Students Bring PV to Class

Some schools expose students to the possibilities of solar and other renewable energy technologies at young ages. Students at Bear Creek High School in Barrie, for example, receive hands-on training with what is currently a 2 kW PV installation on the school’s roof. When complete, the school expects the project to generate 10 kW per hour.

The province’s post-secondary schools have also taken part in the solar bonanza. St. Lawrence College campuses in Kingston and Brockville currently have the record for the most rooftop PV capacity of any post-secondary institution in Canada. Students attending Energy Systems Engineering classes at the college study the project while they work towards new renewable energy careers. Ottawa University students continue work that leads to breakthroughs in PV efficiency with the SUNRISE solar project, headed by the National Research Council (NRC). Ottawa’s Cyrium Technologies, Inc. (Cyrium) contributes its expertise in concentrating PV technology to the project - technology which, until recently, was only used in space-based applications. Cyrium’s tests of its CPV modules have shown them to be capable of 38-40% efficiency, nearly twice that which was considered a danger to American national security in the 1970’s.

Who knows what technological feats the future has in store - feats that in several years could have us looking back nostalgically at the comparably limited technologies of today? Whatever the future holds, we can be sure that for the solar industry, it seems to only get brighter.

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