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Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency in Cincinnati

Energy Efficiency Is Big Biz

During a tour last year of the EarthConnection, a learning center at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Delhi Township retrofitted with solar heating panels and other energy-efficient equipment, Larry Feist was struck by all the electro-mechanical controls they required.

"There were all sorts of motors and controllers and variable-speed drives," said Feist, who was named chairman in April 2006 of the electro-mechanical engineering program at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Clifton.

Charged with boosting program enrollment, which has dwindled to about 60 to 70 students, Feist saw an opportunity.

Next month, that opportunity becomes a reality as Cincinnati State introduces the first major in renewable-energy technology approved by the Ohio Board of Regents.

There are a handful of other programs in Ohio aimed at training installers in energy-efficient products, but those are targeted workforce-development efforts.

The program is built around Cincinnati State's two-year associate's degree in electro-mechanical engineering technology. Feist, a Cincinnati State grad, sees it preparing graduates to work in renewable-energy manufacturing and equipment installation and performing energy audits. It also will provide a pathway to bachelor's degrees in either electro-mechanical or chemical engineering.

The program, which includes courses in the electronics of energy systems, basic energy efficiency and audits, fuel cells and solar and wind devices, also offers a one-year certificate program for engineers and technicians who want to broaden their skills.

The new program comes as renewable-energy advocates and state officials, starting with Gov. Ted Strickland, are putting new emphasis on the job-generating potential for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

"Those who are in this field first have a big advantage,'' says Bill Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY IS HOT

Feist says a graduate of the electro-mechanical engineering technology program can expect to earn anywhere from $33,000 to $43,000 upon graduation. He believes industry's demand for greater energy efficiency will fuel the market for people will skills in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The program's initial goals are modest. "If I can get 10 students in the program the first year, I'll be happy," he said.

But within a few years, Feist thinks the program could triple enrollment in the electro-mechanical technician program to around 200 students.

He isn't stopping there. He plans a further outreach into area schools, offering lectures for K-12 classes on the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency. His message is that renewable energy and energy efficiency can become ingrained in people's lifestyle just as recycling has over the last few decades.

A $1 TRILLION INDUSTRY

Nearly 3,000 Ohioans and 500,000 people nationally are employed in the business of supplying wind turbines, solar panels, and ethanol, according to a study for the Ohio Department of Development presented last month at the American Solar Energy Society's annual convention in Cleveland.

Thousands more are employed in manufacturing energy-efficient products from automobiles to appliances, according to the study done by economist Roger Bezdek of Washington D.C.-based Management Information Services Inc.

These industries recorded nearly $1 trillion in gross revenues in 2006, including about $51 billion in Ohio. The numbers could skyrocket over the next 25 years - resulting in up to 2.2 million new jobs and $220 billion in annual revenues in Ohio and up to 40 million jobs and $4.5 trillion in revenues nationwide - if federal and state governments would make an all-out push for renewables and super-efficient products, the report argues.

Colin Vogt, 42, a computer engineer who lives in Loveland, sees the potential. Although he has a master's degree in computer engineering and works at Siemens' PLM software unit in Milford, he wants to retool his career to win certification as a renewable-energy practitioner.

"I want to help the environment and help improve the community," says Vogt, who is the first person to enroll in the program. "It's sort of a niche market right now. But as the costs of renewable energy come down and interest in it increases, it will become more common."

  
PHOTOS - Larry Feist, electro-mechanical program chair at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, saw an opportunity for a new program and jumped to launch it. As a result, Cincinnati State is offering the first major in renewable-energy technology approved by the Ohio Board of Regents.