Community Colleges Play Key Role In Texas’ Clean Energy Economy

Recently, we highlighted some of the impressive clean energy research projects currently under development in universities across the state of Texas. These research initiatives form the foundation to Texas’ position as leader in the clean energy economy and a producer of a burgeoning workforce.  And this clean energy workforce requires a variety of skill sets that can be learned at different points along the educational spectrum.

In 2010, I produced a Texas Green Jobs Guidebook that highlights the job diversity within the clean energy sector—from solar panel installation to air quality enforcement. Universities train engineers, architects and city planners, but the clean energy workforce also requires a level of technical skill that is best taught at the community college level. In many ways, community colleges play a vital role in training the individuals that will put the clean energy future into action, and schools in Texas understand the growing need for skilled technicians.

Houston Community College recently launched a new solar energy program that trains students to install solar panels. Their education includes understanding proper placement and trouble-shooting and is, in fact, the first program in the area that is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

In Waco, Texas State Technical College (TSTC) offers a two-year Associate Degree in Solar Energy Technology, one of the few such programs in the country. The TSTC system as a whole is practicing what it preaches—far south near the Mexican border, its Harlingen campus is a leader in deploying solar energy on campus. Here, the college’s University Center is the only Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) project south of San Antonio, and includes 434 solar panels that reduce the building’s electricity costs by about 30 percent.

Cedar Valley College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, was one of the first colleges in the country to offer degree plans and training in energy-efficient building design. Similarly, Austin Community College has long offered a Renewable Energy Specialization through its Electronics and Advanced Technologies Associate Degree.

Meanwhile, San Antonio’s Alamo Colleges train their students in an array of green job areas, including water conservation and environmental preservation. In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned San Antonio’s smart approach to water conservation, so it makes sense that the community college system instructs future water technicians with conservation in mind.

Source: Imagine Solar

Some cities have started the clean energy education even earlier at the high school level. Houston Independent School District, for example, launched its Energy High School for the 2013-14 school year. It operates in partnership with the Independent Petroleum Institute of America, and is therefore heavily focused on oil and gas (not surprising since Houston is the oil and gas capital of the U.S.). However, the curriculum does offer a renewable energy component, which is important given the need to integrate clean energy within our current energy mix. It’s also valuable to expose high school students interested in energy to the intricate connections between various energy resources. (Although we do hope teachers mention that the clean energy sector now creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry and, in 2011, grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy.)

As more community colleges advance clean energy curricula in the state, Texas will accelerate investments in homegrown energy, reduce harmful pollution, create jobs and help America gain a global leadership position in the multi-trillion dollar clean energy economy. But it all starts in the classroom with eager students learning how to install, maintain and build out our clean energy future. At EDF, we look forward to seeing the Texas economy and workforce grow in a sustainable way.

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