The U.S. National Arboretum Gets a Boost from Renewable Energy

Posted Date: 
Friday, November 15, 2013 - 9:00am

Alfred State Students install third and largest solar array at the U.S. National Arboretum

Nineteen students and graduates and two instructors from Alfred State’s electrical construction and maintenance electrician program headed to Washington, D.C., this October to complete the largest phase of what has been a five-year project to help the U.S. National Arboretum meet its sustainability goals. Their mission: to install a 15 kilowatt photovoltaic system.

The newest solar energy system is part of the Arboretum’s long-term plan to update and improve the grounds while educating the public about renewable energy technology. The 446-acre facility operated by the Agriculture Research Service in Washington, D.C., is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the USDA. The 15 kilowatt solar array will supply power to the Arboretum to offset electricity costs associated with the facility’s bonsai displays.

U.S. National Arboretum project 2013Alfred State students and faculty made their first trip to the Arboretum in 2008, when the college participated in the USDA Bioenergy Awareness Days conference at the facility. There, students presented a hands-on display focused on renewable energy projects. Impressed with the college’s expertise, Arboretum Director Tom Elias asked Alfred State to help them with further projects—namely, conducting major solar installations and training at the facility.

Starting in 2009, Jeffrey Stevens, associate professor of electrical trades, led a team of students back to Washington, D.C., to do the first solar installation at the Arboretum—a 1 kilowatt array used to power a drip-irrigation system.

As part of the agreement, the college has now completed three solar installs—1 kilowatt, 5 kilowatts, and 15 kilowatts—and has provided workshops and training on renewable energy hosted at the Arboretum. Alfred State students themselves lead these workshops, providing demonstrations from their own experiences working on the design, installation, and implementation of other photovoltaic systems on campus. Each educational session has attracted more and more homeowners, engineers, contractors, and government officials such as Earl F. Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

Since 1996, the college has partnered with organizations like the ARC on grants that allowed the college to develop its proficiency in small wind and photovoltaic systems. The expertise and facilities developed by the ARC grant were then used to win a $2.1 million New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant to expand clean energy training in New York State and give students the hands-on experience they need to become experts in the dynamic world of renewable energy technology. Those same students are now becoming teachers in their own right through opportunities like the solar installation projects and workshops at the Arboretum.

And just this November, Joe Kurch, a native of Buffalo and a senior in the electrical construction and maintenance electrician program, won the first-ever Enphase Energy, Inc. North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Scholarship Giveaway after gaining experience working on the 15 kilowatt solar installation at the Arboretum. The scholarship will allow Kurch to take his education to the next level with free online training courses, NABCEP training books, and a paid, entry-level NABCEP exam.

“I cannot express how proud I am of the students, for their exemplary work ethic, professionalism, attention to detail, and overall excellence throughout the entire project,” Stevens says. “The students have demonstrated Alfred’s excellence in education.”

Although this year’s install at the Arboretum constitutes the end of the agreement between Alfred State and the facility, both organizations are eager to extend it into the foreseeable future. “Projects like this help prepare our students. They involve planning and working in a real world environment with real deadlines,” says Craig Clark, interim vice president for academic affairs at Alfred State. “This will be an adventure.”

Learn more about the group’s past and future projects on Facebook.