NSF Advanced Tech Ed Grant – SCC

Clean Tech ATE: Advancing Technician Training in Clean Energy Technology Track – Small Grants for Institutions New to the ATE Program

PROJECT DURATION: 07/01/2017 – 06/30/2020
COST: Total Project Value $168,242
SUB-RECIPIENT Co-Pl: Barbara Hins-Turner, Executive Director, Center of Excellence for Clean Energy, A Centralia College Partnership
FISCAL AGENT: Shoreline Community College, Award #1665227


Shoreline Community College (Shoreline) proposes a New to ATE Project grant through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program; through this 36 month-long project, the College will upgrade its Clean Energy Technology (CET) program to better meet the needs of the local and regional industry, and thus ensure students enter their career field with high-demand skills.

Energy Management and Systems Technology (Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Code 15.0503) is a rapidly growing field in Washington State. Shoreline Community College formerly classified its CET students under CIP Code 46.9902 (Construction Trades, Other). In order to stay relevant in this emerging market, the curriculum was fully redesigned to meet the specifications of an energy management and systems technology program; likewise, the CIP Code for classifying enrolled students was updated to 15.0503. As defined by IPEDS, an Energy Management and Systems Technology/Technician program, “prepares individuals to apply basic engineering principles and technical skills in support of engineers and other professionals engaged in developing energy-efficient systems or monitoring energy use. [This] includes instruction in principles of energy conservation, instrumentation calibration, monitoring systems and test procedures, energy loss inspection procedures, energy conservation techniques, and report preparation” (Source: IPEDS). While growth in Energy Management and Systems Technology declined in 2012, recent economic analyses have shown consistent job growth since 2013. As can be seen in the graph and chart in Figure 1, the Greater Seattle Area considerably surpasses the nation in Energy Management and Systems Technology jobs (Source: EMSI 2016 Q2 Dataset):

Figure 1 – Regional Trends in Energy Management and Systems Technology

Regional Trends in Energy Management chart

As can be seen in Figure 2, the overall growth in related jobs is anticipated to be steady through 2020, with an overall 8.1% change over 2016-2020, according to EMSI (Source: EMSI 2016 Q2 Dataset):

Figure 2 – Energy Management and System Technology Growth

Energy Management Growth statistics

According to the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County, “[The] Seattle metropolitan area ranks 13th for the size of our clean economy among the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. The fastest growing clean economy sectors in Seattle/King County are renewable energy, biofuels/biomass, smart grid, remediation, and public transit. With our abundance and variety of resources ranging from wind to sunshine to water, the King County area is a natural location for clean tech innovation.…In fact, just the Seattle metro area alone has seen clean tech employment far surpass the national average, and ranks in the top 20 in the U.S. As an area that actively supports green thinking, King County is poised to lead the world in clean technology” (Economic, 2016).

Shoreline’s Clean Energy Technology program has identified three program areas requiring improvement in order to meet the region’s increasing need for trained graduates: The current technician training program must increase its rigor to meet employers’ desired knowledge, skills, and abilities for new employees; enrollment must increase to ensure a sufficient number of trained graduates are available to employers; authentic research must be embedded into the program to ensure students have relevant research experience prior to entering a career.


Curriculum Redesign

The CET program at Shoreline has made remarkable strides in the past two years to become more responsive, adaptive, and innovative in the clean energy industry. The program currently provides students with a solid foundation in alternative energy systems, green building techniques, residential and commercial metering and control systems, sustainable business practices, and entrepreneurship. Upon program completion, graduates can enter careers in firms that manage, design, build, market, or operate clean energy technologies in the built environment. The CET program focuses on clean energy technologies and practices that can achieve or approach net zero energy in buildings, which is a set of practices and technologies that when used together, can create a building or group of buildings that use no more energy than they generate annually. This is done by designing, building, and operating buildings that meet user needs, but use a minimum amount of energy. To achieve net zero energy, buildings often include a renewable energy system onsite (in many cases this is a solar photovoltaic system). Shoreline formerly offered a commercial energy auditing class over the course of one quarter; with MentorLinks funding and support through a grant from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), that course was redesigned and extended over two quarters. Now, after close examination by CET faculty, administration, and industry representatives, the curriculum needs to be expanded to include a stronger building sciences component and include more rigorous information (described in greater detail in later sections). Building sciences is comprehensive in nature, integrating all renewable energy technologies, as opposed to only solar (prior to its MentorLinks grant, Shoreline was focused mostly on solar renewable energy technologies). To include building sciences curriculum in the course, an additional quarter will be required to fit the added content.

Shoreline’s CET industry advisory committee has expressed that upon hire, graduates from the program are often lacking high level energy management and systems technology skills needed by the Greater Seattle Area’s emerging renewable energy industry, and that the program requires updating and redesign to ensure students graduate with a higher-demand, more sophisticated set of abilities. Due to the rapidly changing nature of clean energy technologies, community college technician training programs must be receptive to critical feedback from employers, and respond quickly and efficiently to address that feedback. Faculty and staff have worked with the CET’s industry advisory board to identify current research, as well as gather input from industry employers to improve upon specific areas of the curriculum. Included in these findings is the Global Superior Energy Performance Partnership Energy Management Working group, which provided a report entitled, “Knowledge and Skills Needed to Implement Energy Management Systems in Industry and Commercial Buildings,” in November 2013. This report listed the following technical knowledge or skills areas for technicians and tradespeople in Energy Management and Systems Technology (Global, 2013):

Primary Areas

  • Technical Knowledge:  Understanding of facility and industrial processes; new and emerging technologies; energy fundamentals; operations and maintenance practices and requirements; building construction techniques; building envelope; energy metrics; metering, monitoring, measurement, and verification; system optimization fundamentals; efficient use of energy in buildings; building automation and interoperability; instrumentation and controls;
  • Electrical and Power Systems:  Power factor control; combined heat and power (CHP) systems; and domestic water systems;
  • Regulations, Standards, and Best Practices:  Building regulations and codes; energy regulations and codes; Energy measurement and verification; HVAC and indoor air quality standards;
  • Other Knowledge and Skill Areas:  System operating costs and organizational skills.

Secondary Areas

  • Technical Knowledge:  Commissioning principles; Thermal energy storage systems
  • Regulations, Standards, and Best Practices:  Environmental regulations; indoor air quality; plumbing systems and codes; water management best practices

The aforementioned skill sets exceed the expectations of a graduate from Shoreline’s program; in fact, according to Shoreline’s industry advisory board, they exceed the expectations of a typical graduate from all regional training programs.  Shoreline’s industry advisory board confirmed the need for this level of skill in order for graduates to be competitive; it is therefore clear that Shoreline must develop a degree plan that surpasses the skill level of a technician.  Based on analyses of the current curriculum, a new degree program is not necessary; it is rather necessary to update the current curriculum to meet a higher standard of rigor.  According to the Greener Pathways report from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, “More time should be spent embedding green skills training within current curricula, and less energy inventing new programs…To help workers advance from unemployment, disconnection, or dead-end poverty-wage work into family-sustaining green jobs, states need to build and support career pathways. These pathways are not new ones, necessarily, but greener ones – developed in collaboration with employers, workforce agencies, community organizations, labor unions, and community and technical colleges” (White, 2008).  Likewise, Shoreline’s New to ATE proposal aims to intelligently redesign, rather than reinvent its clean energy technology curriculum, making it more relevant to the evolving industry.

Technologist v. Technician

Typically, a renewable energy technician is trained to install, maintain, or repair machinery. However, the emerging clean energy industry demands a more educated and skilled workforce – one which is able to program automated controls systems, interpret energy modeling blueprints and specifications, and use 3-D modeling software to design heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration (HVAC/R) and renewable energy systems for large buildings.  An entry level technologist will be able to support mechanical, electrical, and structural engineers in design or build firms, architectural companies, and energy consulting businesses.  Most large commercial buildings, hotels, resorts, offices, and schools have a facilities manager, who oversees a staff of facilities technicians; the degree program Shoreline will create would be perfectly suited to place graduates in that career path, giving them the skillsets needed to advance beyond the technician level, to one of management or supervisory status.

In this proposal, Shoreline Community College seeks to articulate a job definition for a Clean Energy Technologist.  To our knowledge, this is not something that has ever been done by either academia or industry.  The contribution will prove beneficial to many renewable energy education programs across the country. This would bridge the gap between the training in traditional construction trades, which provides students training in program automated controls systems and in interpreting energy modeling blueprints and specifications, with the technological knowledge (using 3-D modeling software to design HVAC/R and renewable energy systems for large buildings), which is becoming more and more essential in this emerging and innovative market.   Broader impacts are evident as community colleges and industry employers will have a clear understanding of job skills, knowledge, and abilities required to fulfill the high-demand position. Unlike ATEEC’s (Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center) work in Defining Energy Technologies and Services, Shoreline aims to focus on the technologist, as opposed to technician, and will be delving deeper into content –  into the Job Task Analysis level.

Enrollment Increases:

At present, employers in Shoreline’s advisory board express a need for a broader selection of potential employees with high level, diverse skillsets.  However, current student enrollment (2016) has remained consistent with the year prior (35-40 students at any given time).  Due to the upswing in the economy, fewer students are enrolling on both a departmental and college wide basis.  In spite of level enrollment, completion rates in the CET program are high, and have increased 44.1% since the AACC MentorLinks program (2013).  Shoreline’s clean energy technology department would like to increase its enrollment to 60 students in order to better meet employer needs, increase program revenue, and increase institutional investment in the department.

Although enrollment is lower when compared with enrollment peaks in 2010-11, the program has evolved considerably since then, as has the economic climate:  In 2010-11, the City of Seattle, State of Washington, and nation as a whole, were suffering from the lasting effects of the economic recession, as evidenced by near double-digit unemployment figures.  Enrollments in higher education had increased substantially, supported by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and other similar stimulus efforts.    At that time, Shoreline began providing several short-term training opportunities, some would argue before the College was fully aware of the markets to support them, particularly with regard to “green” jobs. The College has since worked to positively shift the quality of the program by infusing constant input from employers.  At present, a moderate increase in enrollment will address industry needs for a broader diversity of potential applicants, while also helping to boost program revenue for the College.  It is envisioned that this project will serve as a starting point for future enrollment increases, once the program’s curriculum has been updated.

Authentic Research Experiences via Project Based Learning:

This grant will enable students to use buildings on campus to conduct their own energy systems analyses. Shoreline has buildings which were built during varied time periods and using diverse energy specifications, making it ideal for such instructional purposes – students will be trained in, and familiar with, multiple types of energy systems upon graduation. This project-based and collaborative approach is further expounded upon in a January 2016 symposium on Building Science Education.  In it, Lisa D. Iulo, Associate Professor of Architecture & Architectural Engineering, gave a presentation entitled “Building Science Education as an Integral [if hidden] Part of Project-Based Learning.”  Iulo says, “A key strategy related to sustainable, environmentally conscious building design is Integrative Design…integrated buildings synthesize the building site, program, structural and environmental systems, building assemblies and envelope, life-safety provisions, and principals of sustainability…The Integrative Design Process establishes common goals and objectives for the building project that all members of the multi-disciplinary team coordinate around” (Iulo, 2016).

This approach, known as Project-Based Learning (PBL), has been established as a highly effective method for engaging students in complex academic content, while providing them direct exposure to skills and abilities needed for workplace success.  PBL is a constructivist learning framework; it centers upon the evidence that, “learning takes place most effectively when students are actively involved and learn in the context in which knowledge is to be used (Boud and Feletti, 1997).”  By providing students authentic, real-world situations, they learn how to identify creative, feasible solutions when faced with actual workplace problems:  A study suggests that, “the influence of PBL on the acquisition of knowledge and the skills to apply that knowledge…suggest[ed] a robust positive effect from PBL on the skills of students” (Dochy et al, 2003).  The University of Kentucky, Center for the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching (University, 2016), describes their use and the benefits of Project Based Learning: “This method engages students in learning more deeply those essential facts and skills that have been emphasized in a course or unit. The faculty designs an extended inquiry process structured around complex questions or problems – authentic to the academic discipline under study and carefully designed to allow for student creativity…A good capstone project in a course requires students to work in a task force that must collaboratively apply real world and theoretical knowledge to solve a problem…This then can serve as a practice site for real work environments where solving complex problems cannot typically be achieved individually but in groups who brainstorm possible solutions and achieve project milestones.”

Program Learning Objectives

Certificate of Proficiency

The 45 credit Certificate of Proficiency represents the technical core of practices and technologies in Clean Energy Technology. This includes work in solar electric energy systems, building science, building efficiency, and high performing systems.

Coursework in the certificate includes fundamentals of energy analysis, passive design, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, indoor environmental quality, lighting and daylighting, heating, cooling, and domestic water systems. All technically oriented classes include practical design projects or hands on learning activities. Classes incorporate best practices and standards utilized in the field – all with an emphasis on the achievement of Net Zero Energy. In addition, the certificate includes work using virtual design and modeling tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and 8760 hr energy analysis as they relate to Clean Energy Technologies.

Students who successfully complete the Certificate of Proficiency – by achieving a GPA of 2.0 or higher – should be able to:

  1. Apply a knowledge of mathematics, building science, and electricity to practical problems in the clean energy field
  2. Read, visualize, and interpret building plans and models including architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical components that affect building energy requirements
  3. Utilize building energy calculations and economic tools to inform decision making and design for clean energy technologies
  4. Complete an energy analysis of a building including benchmarking, envelope, heating, cooling, ventilating, lighting, service water, plug loads, and renewable energy systems.
  5. Identify, describe, and analyze common solar PV, solar thermal, heating, cooling, lighting, and service water processes for commonly applied technologies
  6. Layout, size, model and specify system components to meet design requirements for clean energy technologies
  7. Utilize virtual design and modeling techniques to model, design, and create construction documents for clean energy technology systems.
  8. Understand the applied code, safety, associated equipment and performance parameters and attributes required for the design, installation and maintenance of clean energy technologies

Associates Degree

The 90 credit Clean Energy Technology and Entrepreneurship AAAS (2-year) degree expands on the certificate program. Like the certificate, the A.A.A.S provides students with a background in solar electric energy systems, building science, energy efficiency in buildings, and high performing building systems.

In the A.A.A.S., the core technical courses are the same as the certificate of proficiency. In addition to these technical courses, the A.A.A.S adds a broader background of sustainable business practices and entrepreneurship, along with additional technical courses. This can lead to other types of opportunities for graduates in the clean energy technology field.

Students who successfully complete the A.A.A.S – by achieving a GPA of 2.0 or higher – in addition to all certificate of proficiency outcomes, should be able to:

  1. Apply sustainable business practices to clean energy technology business models
  2. Utilize standard accounting practices, project management skills, a knowledge of business law, and other business practices to support clean energy technology businesses.