Preparing For a Changing Future

Harry Ohde, Assistant Training Instructor

In September, the NECA Chicago and IBEW Local 134 opened the first and largest Renewable Energy Training Field in the United States to provide outdoor, hands-on training for electrical workers to install renewable energy components. Harry Ohde, assistant training director at IN-TECH, played a critical role in conceptualizing the facility. According to Ohde, electrical workers are now able to learn about renewable energy in a variety of forms and get hands-on training in installation of solar and wind components. The facility was planned with the ability to expand and adapt to industry technological advancements, keeping NECA Chicago and IBEW Local 134 at the forefront of a quickly changing industry.

The 125’ x 350’ facility was conceived by Ohde and several others while brainstorming ideas to offer IBEW/NECA members new classes. “We wanted to think outside the box to get our members trained and qualified in renewable energy,” said Ohde, who was teaching only basic energy efficiency classes at the time. “Electricians are hands-on learners, so we knew we needed have hands-on training.”

Serious discussion ensued. Was hands-on training a real possibility? Could they plan a facility that might also serve other purposes?

The project unfolded to encompass a diverse array of technologies. They include an ADA-compatible solar carport with (4) Level II EVSE components from four manufacturers, with provisions for DC quick-charge capabilities in the future, and a wide variety of roof and ground-mounted systems.

Other elements include a 3-ladder, 60 foot climbing tower that looks like a closed silo, a wind turbine system, and a plethora of batteries, inverters, and solar arrays, to learn basic and advanced techniques for renewable energy installation and maintenance.

The Field was also designed as a smart grid application – with 45kw, 18kw and 10kw solar modules, combined as one application that feeds into a 100kw bi-directional inverter, which will charge batteries during the day.

“So we’re first charging the batteries, then offsetting the electrical building loads, then sending any surplus in power back to Comed,” Ohde summarized. At 5 p.m. each day, batteries will take over the power “loads” for the building. He added, “Battery technology is changing every day. It’s more cost effective to implement energy storage in an electrical system, especially using lithium ion. They’re smaller; more energy can be stored in them and the lifetime is longer. We started thinking, why would we wait for an emergency situation to use batteries? Why not use batteries every day if we can?”

With a 2007 mandate from the State of Illinois declaring that 25% of all electrical energy production must come from wind, solar or other renewable energy sources, the curriculum Ohde has developed is timely. The future is changing rapidly for electrical workers.