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Camosun's program fills the energy void

Students departing for Race Rocks tidal turbine site

Students departing for Race Rocks tidal turbine site.

April 8, 2011

"BC is behind in renewable energy," says Alan Duncan, Chair of the Electronics and Computer Engineering Department at Camosun. However, Camosun's Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology - Renewable Energy program has graduates ready to correct this imbalance.

In 2008, Camosun revised the existing Electronics and Computer Engineering program to have a renewable energy focus and, last year, graduates received the first Renewable Energy diplomas.

"Our program is unique. Other programs create technicians who know how to install solar panels, but our graduates are technologists. They've learned about design and how to analyze the best renewable energy solutions," says Duncan. As new high-power on- and offshore wind installations appear, and as companies specialize in solar systems for homes, the need for trained technologists increases.

Building housing inverters and batteries for solar and tidal systems at Race Rocks

Building housing inverters and batteries for solar and tidal systems at Race Rocks.

Even before graduation, students apply technology they've learned to co-op work term placements. At locations such as the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Axys Technologies students work with solar panels, remote environmental monitoring systems on ocean buoys, and other environmental technologies.

Vancouver Island is fortunate to have favourable geographical characteristics for tidal turbines, on- and off-shore wind farms, as well as wave energy collectors. "One of the best places in Canada for wind-generating potential is Hecate Strait, located between Haida Gwaii and the BC coast," says Duncan.

The world has big energy problems and renewable energy alternatives seem ever more attractive, particularly in the aftermath of Japan's recent nuclear disasters. Between now and 2017, Canadian labour force requirements are expected to more than double in wind, solar photovoltaic and bioenergy industries, and triple in solar thermal industries. By 2017, approximately 60,000 workers will be needed in this sector Canada-wide.

Hands-on learning for practical solutions

A Vancouver company plans to build the same 3.6 MW turbines used at the Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm in Liverpool Bay, England, in northwestern BC

A Vancouver company plans to build the same 3.6 MW turbines used at the Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm in Liverpool Bay, England, in northwestern BC.

"From the very beginning of the program, students get hands-on experience," says Joyce van de Vegte, instructor of the program. In the classroom they learn the theory behind the major renewable energy sources being tapped today; in the laboratory, they work with renewable energy systems such as solar panels circuits, hydrogen fuel cell cars, and small wind turbines.

"This program gave me a really solid theoretical knowledge base," says Mike Bohn, a December 2010 graduate, and already promoted to a lead position at Telecom in Chicago. "The analytical and technical skills I acquired enabled me to take on tasks I never would have thought I was capable of. It's the best job I've ever had."

In first year of the program, students are introduced to a wide range of renewable energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, geothermal, wave, hydroelectric, tidal and bioenergy. Storage options such as hydrogen fuel cells and batteries are also studied. In the spring of 2009, renewable energy students visited the integrated wave turbine and solar photovoltaic systems in operation at Race Rocks, off the coast of Victoria. In 2010, students visited the T'Souke Nation solar installation and the Jordan River hydroelectric dam.

Students in the second year of the program learn how to use power electronic devices to control renewable energy systems, how to create web applications that support environmental monitoring, and how to use sensors to make the best use of available solar or wind energy.

Duncan suggests more women need to find out about the program and student Erica Selzler agrees: "I am the sole graduating female in my class and I have no idea why. It is a clean industry and after the two year diploma you can apply to some decent paying jobs," says Selzler. "I was an administrative assistant and had mastered the art of the photocopier paper jam," but she has now applied these trouble-shooting skills to the Coast Guard's communication systems where she was employed for a work term, and hopes to return.

Interested in an education supporting renewable energies?

The diploma in Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology - Renewable Energy takes two and a half years to complete. Both co-op and non-co-op options are available, and bridging into the third year of Electrical Engineering or Computer Engineering at the University of Victoria is possible.

For those needing to upgrade before entering the program, there is also a six-month Electronics and Computer Engineering Access program, designed to upgrade knowledge of profession-related mathematics, physics and English.

Please contact Alan Duncan at or 250–370–4433 for more information.

Last updated: April 8, 2011 12:41 pm

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