We hear a lot about the cleantech (renewable, sustainable, green) economy these days. There is a daily barrage of articles talking about jobs and cleantech from both ends of the political spectrum. But regardless of your feelings about Solyndra and the future of solar panels, or whether or not you’re following the battle of Donald Trump’s planned luxury golf resort in Scotland vs. the proposed nearby offshore wind farm, there is an aspect of the green economy that almost no one is talking about. That is, who is actually going to do the work?
Lost in the maze of cleantech job statistics and advertisements for online Green MBA degrees is the question of who will actually install the solar panels and repair damaged wind turbines. Where does one go to get practical, hands-on training in getting cleantech done? You won’t learn safety harnessing or climbing techniques from an online cleantech business degree program.
In 2009, Education Corporation of America (ECA) looked around and saw that no school was solely focused on educating candidates to fill technical jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors. Certainly there were individual classes and certification programs, but there was no campus dedicated solely to “green collar” worker training. It’s always risky attempting what hasn’t been done before. However, ECA “rolled the bones” and spent approximately $10 million to convert an empty Denver, Colorado big box store into a LEED Gold facility that practices what it preaches.
It was a bit of a rocky road. You don’t get to be “bleeding edge” without taking a few cuts. For example, there was the time our certificate of occupancy was held up due to the fact that our Eddy vertical wind turbine was so new it did not yet have UL (Underwriting Laboratories) approval in the U.S. But Ecotech Institute opened its doors in January of 2011, and our first students—already attending classes in a temporary facility—moved in. Our inaugural class graduates in June 2012 and these students are both ready and excited to change the world.
To prepare these students, ECA first collaborated closely with a board of advisors made up of industry gurus, other educational institutions, and environmental leaders to define the needed skills and programs that would meet the needs of both potential students and employers. We then built hands-on labs, in addition to traditional classrooms, to ensure that our students would graduate with all the practical, real-world knowledge they will need to succeed in getting cleantech done. We even built a 20-foot interior climbing tower, where we teach climbing safety to future wind technicians.
The first Ecotech Institute generates approximately 10 percent of its energy from on-site clean, renewable energy features, including rooftop wind turbines, solar panels, thin solar technologies integrated into the glass of the building canopy and solar trees. We even have an electric vehicle charger connected to one of the solar trees in the campus parking lot.
Did you catch that word, “first”? It’s because we’ve just started construction on a second Ecotech Institute in Austin, Texas. We’re getting cleantech done… and we’re coming soon to a location near you!
Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at email@example.com