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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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College of Engineering offers renewable energy technologies minor

The engineering technology and surveying department in the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University is working with the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) to meet a growing demand for engineers skilled with renewable energy technologies such as solar power, wind power and hydroelectricity through a newly approved minor program.

"Renewable energies could have a significant impact on global warming and climate change. There are a lot of social issues, there are a lot of engineering issues, there are a lot of environmental issues, and there are a lot of political issues. Most of these point to some type of required renewable energy development within the United States to solve the crisis that we're in," said Thomas Jenkins, professor of engineering technology. Jenkins prepared the proposal for the new minor in the subject that was approved during the summer.

"So far we see very few solutions for the future unless we start doing something about it, and educating the students to meet this growing demand from industry. Trying to educate them about some of the environmental, political and social concepts is also part of our mandate," Jenkins said.

Although many universities are increasing research into renewable energy technologies, what is necessary is an educated and skilled workforce that can apply these technologies. The IEE's Southwest Technology Development Institute (SWTDI) has developed innovative and cost-effective renewable technologies such as photovoltaic, solar, thermal, wind and geothermal energy for nearly 30 years.

Robert Foster, wind energy and international programs manager of SWTDI, described how the idea for a renewable energy course concentration came about five years ago. SWTDI was receiving calls from all over the world for experts in renewable energy technologies, which couldn't always be provided. "There was a demand for specific training," Foster said.

Jenkins said expansion in the use of renewable energy technologies will create job growth nationally and locally. It is estimated that construction of a typical 100 megawatt wind farm can produce more than 419,000 man-hours of employment for local economies.

"The interest, the money, the research, all of that is growing at a really phenomenal rate, and what we saw was a lack of trained and skilled workforce to meet the growing demand in this area," Jenkins said. "If they're building all these wind farms and solar farms, who's going to work with them?"

Currently, a concentration in renewable energy is available for electrical engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology majors. The new minor program will be offered in the spring 2008 semester. "We thought that the engineering technology department, which is composed of mechanical, civil and electronics and computer engineering technology, was uniquely placed to develop the workforce to work in this area," Jenkins said.

A required course will offer a broad overview of technologies, including solar, wind, biomass, hydro (tides, hydroelectric, ocean currents), geothermal, hydrogen fuel cell, etc. Coursework will include cost/benefit and economic analysis of the various technologies on large and small-scale applications. Students can also take courses from a list that includes classes on solar energy, wind energy and green building design. Students also choose from a senior internship, design and project management, design or project course related to a renewable energy application.

Faculty is in the process of developing more classes for the minor in RET. "If this proves as successful as we hope the next logical step would obviously be a degree program in this area. That's a little far down the line. That requires a lot of work and a lot of administrative support," Jenkins said.