Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas have been the main energy sources since the beginning of human civilization. Even though fossil fuels are easier to transport and can generate energy efficiently, they are non-renewable and environmentally unfriendly. As a result, more and more efforts have been made to explore alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. Solar energy provides the potential for a clean, reliable, and more sustainable energy future. Historically, the photovoltaic (PV) industry has suffered from high initial installation costs. However, with declining PV module prices, the utility-scale PV system prices have been greatly decreasing - some regions dropped to below $1.00 per watt in the first half of 2017 . The decreased pricing of the PV systems enabled an annual global PV installation increase of 74 GWatt, reaching 299 GWatt at the end of 2016. The United States installed the second most PV capacity in 2016 and is one of the top markets in cumulative capacity. It is estimated that 380 GWatt of PV will be installed globally from 2017 to 2020, more than doubling currently installed capacity . The increased PV installations have led to significant job creation. The global PV sector employed 3.1 million people in 2016, a 12% increase from 2015 . It is estimated that the PV sector employment will increase at a rate of 20 times faster than that of the overall economy. It is essential that the workforce be educated to meet the needs of the PV industry. This paper describes the newly developed solar energy curriculum in the School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). The aim of this curriculum is to provide students with fundamental theory and practical hands-on experiences that will enable them to succeed in the field of solar PV.
The solar energy education at GVSU starts at the sophomore level in the course titled “Electronic Materials and Devices”, where students learn the fundamentals of solar energy, energy conversion, and solar cells. A lab activity was developed to study the characteristics of solar cells. In the senior elective course titled “Embedded Systems Interface”, students learn the applications of solar cells/panels and design and build solar powered embedded systems. “Photovoltaic Systems” is offered at the graduate level where each component of the PV system is studied, and a significant project is assigned to design and build different PV systems. The solar energy curriculum is supplemented by the SolaRescue program, Alternative Energy Club, and the senior capstone projects. The details of the solar energy curriculum will be presented in the paper along with both formative and summative assessments of the outcomes.
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