Monday, May 10, 2021

Donation to Expand Solar Energy Capacity at CVTC

Couillard Solar Foundation to Provide 80 kW System at Energy Education Center

Article Photo - Donation to Expand Solar Energy Capacity at CVTC

Installing the first solar panel on what will be an 80 kW system at CVTC’s Energy Education center are, from left, CVTC students Derek Highstrom of Siren, Chris Hanley of Menomonie and Sam Deckendorf of Barron.


A donation from the Couillard Solar Foundation will significantly increase the energy harvested through solar energy at the Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Energy Education Center and provide expanded learning opportunities for students.

An 80-kW system is currently being installed with the help of students in the solar and wind applications class in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program.

“Getting this technology into the technical colleges and high schools is really important,” said Cal Couillard, a CVTC graduate whose foundation previously helped sponsor solar projects at Eau Claire Memorial and North high schools. “We want the students to see how this technology works.”

"The exciting part is students are going to be working with the project,” said CVTC instructor Fred Kosier. “They are a huge part of installing the racking and the solar panels.”

On May 4, students began installing the racks to hold the bifacial solar panels. The first few panels were installed before the end of that week.

“It will be very beneficial for us to get that real-life experience,” said student Barrett Boeckmann of Osseo the day before work was to begin. “It’s not just looking at an array; it’s actually working on it and installing it.”

To provide students with such experiences and to help schools and other non-profits that may not ordinarily be able to afford money-saving solar systems is part of the goals of the Couillard Solar Foundation.

Cal Couillard, who attended Owen-Withee High School in his youth, graduated from CVTC in 1975 in what was then a fluid power technology program. He went on to UW-Madison, where he studied construction administration and built a model of an earth-sheltered passive solar house for a class, later designing and building a passive solar house for his own residence.

Couillard’s involvement in alternative energy only increased over the years. In 2018, when he sold his manufacturing company, Componex, Inc., he established the foundation. Since then, the foundation has supported the completion of over 100 solar projects for non-profit organizations.

“What’s different about the CVTC project is that it is a straight donation,” Couillard said, noting that support usually involves a matching donation with locally raised funds. Because of his personal connections with CVTC and desire to help technical colleges, the support was more generous.

“I want to jump-start the technical colleges,” Couillard said. “If you want to have an educated workforce that knows how to install solar, you need to get into the technical colleges. And I wanted to go back to some of the places that put me where I am today.”

Adam Wehling, dean of agriculture, energy and transportation, noted that the project vastly increases the Energy Education Center’s generation of energy from renewable sources for its own use. EEC currently has the capacity to generate 20 kW of electricity from solar and wind sources.

“This will supplement the energy we purchase for EEC,” Wehling said. “We have been generating about 5 to 10 percent of our energy onsite. This will put us at about 40 percent.”

Students are showing interest in renewable energy, he added.

“We have 40 students in our Renewable Energy technical diploma program,” Wehling said. “It’s an embedded certificate as part of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration program.”

“The size of the system, the bifacial panels and the adjustable racking are three reasons why this project is such an upgrade to our current solar systems,” said CVTC Instructor Jake Geissler.

Bifacial means that the panels can generate electricity from either side, Geissler added. In winter, when much of the sun’s rays reflect off the snow, the panels will be able to harness those reflected rays to create electrical energy. The adjustable racking will also help with snow shedding in winter.

“At certain times of the year, we can adjust the racks for the angle of the sun,” Kosier said. “There should be a lot of monitoring we can do as we change the panels and see what works best. We are going to be a testing site for these kinds of racks.”

Ron Wright, 53, a student from Stanley, said he returned to CVTC and chose the HVAC program because of the wide range of opportunities, including solar. “As we find a place for solar in the wider picture, I am seeing a lot of interest. It’s good that we have students here who will understand solar and know how to work with it,” he said.