Practice Makes Perfect: Sierra College Students Get Hands-on PV Lesson

According to a recent study by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), PV installations grew by 76 percent in 2012. The solar industry is expected to grow by another 30 percent in 2013! With such rapid growth solar professionals in the United States are in higher demand than ever before. 

Students interested in the solar industry are now able to learn about PV in a unique educational program at Sierra Community College in Rocklin, California. Sierra College runs an energy technology program, which serves as a model for colleges around the country. The celebrated program allows students to gain PV experience in the classroom and apply it in a real world solar installation.

Students Commission 18 kW System 

Sierra College recently commissioned an 18 kW commercial PV system on the roof of the campus maintenance shed. Each year advanced installation PV students were asked to install one-third of the system as a class project instead of spending time inside of a traditional lab.

The course offered at Sierra College is the only one of its kind in the region that allows students to design a PV system from conception to construction. Over the course of three years students installed 99 solar panels and three Sunny Boy inverters.  The school will realize a savings of approximately $6,000 per year from this system alone.

“Our plan is to have an advanced class installing solar somewhere on the campus every semester. It is a       win-win for the students and the school. Students will be able to gain experience installing the PV system     and maintaining it in the years following the installation. The school will also benefit from reduced energy costs. ” – Michael Kane, Associate dean of sciences and mathematics

SMA Recruits Students 

SMA America has supported this program since it began and recently hired two graduates from the energy technology program.

“Without the Sierra College program I wouldn’t have gained the skills, confidence and network of   connections that ultimately led to my employment with SMA, giving me the ability to work in an industry that I strongly believe in. The Sierra College program thoroughly prepared me for my future in the solar industry and SMA made it a reality.” Kirk McElroy, technical service representative, Sunny Central

Plans for the Future 

The school has big plans for the future of the PV program and already has several future projects in line. The next solar installation will be a system for the school’s pump house to power fountains, ponds, and waterfalls, and charging stations in the parking lots for electric vehicles.



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