Solar Power

Technical Career Center adds solar power to HVAC/R program
Posted on 11/08/2022
Dan Parker, Isaac Siebert and Jonathan Grimaldo.

The HVAC/R program at the Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center has incorporated solar energy into its hands-on curriculum, ensuring students remain at the forefront of industry advancements.

Toward the end of last school year, instructor Dan Parker showed his students how to install several solar panels on the side of a campus storage building and run wiring to an all-in-one charge inverter connected to batteries that electrify up to 40 AMPS.

The kit was purchased prior with federal Perkins funds, along with a ductless mini-split through a Vocational Enhancement Grant, according to TCC Director Charles Kinsey. “Going off the grid is very popular,” explained Kinsey, “and sustainable heating and air can be possible to obtain with this setup.”

The system has been attracting interest from entrepreneurial-minded members of the advisory board representing the local heating and air business community, as well as students, Parker noted. He started teaching heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration during the 2020/21 school year, and the program has been at capacity for the past couple of years.

“Mr. Kinsey has given me the leeway to make changes for not just our area but the national heating and cooling industry with the extensive traveling I’ve done [for work],” stated Parker, who operates his own business after school called: Need Air? “I try to teach everybody that change is good.”

While the kit requires a fairly substantial upfront investment, Parker says it should pay for itself within four years – and the batteries are designed to last a decade, which equals six years of low cost, according to his research. As an aside, the solar inverter—manufactured overseas by Seasun Solar—has been charging the internal heater of the diesel bus utilized by the Building Trades program at the TCC.

The mini-split, or air-source heat pump, component of the lesson plan has “improved in quality tremendously” since the late 1990s, according to Parker, who said the outside system is one-third more efficient even at temperatures as low as 14 degrees. The instructor pointed out how he has personally cut his electric bill by $100 a month to $160, and anticipates it will be reduced to $60/month, once he installs a solar kit after he purchases his own unit on Black Friday.

“There’s opinion and there’s fact. Opinion is this is a great idea; fact is it saves the environment by using less fossil fuels, and lowers electric bills,” said junior Alex Vass, who started the two-year program this year. “I view it as an investment, rather than a payment – or maybe one expensive payment, as opposed to monthly.”

Students who complete the program earn EPA 608 and OSHA 10 certifications via nationally standardized testing. Parker said his job placement rate for students who become certified technicians has been 100 percent. So far he has had past students land HVAC/R jobs in Kansas City, St. Louis and other states including Arkansas and Florida.

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Cutline: With oversight from instructor Dan Parker, Jonathan Grimaldo, a TCC senior, runs wire to a solar inverter last week while junior Isaac Siebert looks on.

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