UAHT Board approves Arkansas's first Solar Education Lab and Array

Solar Lab rendering photos submitted by Caset Curtis (Submitted photo)
Solar Lab rendering photos submitted by Caset Curtis (Submitted photo)

HOPE, Ark.-A seven-acre solar array and solar learning lab recently approved for the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana means an innovative energy technology program will be offered to students this fall.

"The lab will be modeled after the state-of-the-art Solar Energy International lab in Colorado and will allow our students to take their classroom instruction and apply it by actually installing and uninstalling several types of solar arrays. The lab will be the first of its kind for photovoltaics in the region and fills a current need for accredited technicians in Arkansas," " Laura Clark, interim chancellor, said in press release.

A solar array is a collection of multiple solar panels that generate electricity as a system.

The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees approved the project Thursday. The one-megawatt solar array and solar learning lab will be located on the southern end of the Hope campus.

The new Certificate of Proficiency in Solar Energy Technology program was approved by the Board last year.

The certificate curriculum is adopted from Solar Energy International, the global leader in providing classroom curriculum and lab training in solar energy. With this curriculum, UAHT will become an approved training provider for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), according to the release.

The classroom curriculum for the program is expected to begin in the fall 2021 semester. The certificate is part of the path to completing the Associate of Applied Science in Power Technologies degree at UAHT.

"We are extremely excited about this project and what it does for our college, community, and region," Clark stated. "This approval by the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees is a significant endorsement of UAHT's innovative commitment to our continued leadership in power production education, energy workforce development, the growth of our campus educational facilities and fiscal responsibility for the long-term operational health of our institution."

The university becoming an approved NABCEP training partner means the program's graduates can take certification exams for credentials, which opens the pathway to specializations like design, inspection or solar fields engineering, Clark said. The credential also opens the door for UAHT to offer additional educational tracks for credit and non-credit certifications.

Funding for the solar lab has been awarded from an American Electric Power Foundation grant in the amount of $200,000.

In addition, Entegrity Energy Partners, which was selected to design and install the solar project, as well as First Solar and OMCO Solar, are donating solar modules and racking equipment to help complete the laboratory.

According to Solar Industry International Association, Arkansas moved from 36th in 2019 to 25th in 2021 in national ranking for solar installations.

Arkansas currently has 42,561 homes powered by solar, with twenty-six solar companies in the state. This growth, along with solar prices falling approximately forty-five percent in the last five years, is projected to continue over the next five years.

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