Chicago is now home to the Renewable Energy Training Field, a one-of-a-kind facility to train electricians and support electrical contractors in smart grid renewable energy applications. The Renewable Energy Training Field, solely funded and created by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) of Chicago and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134, will prepare electricians across the Chicago metropolitan area to meet the fast-growing demand for commercial, industrial, municipal and residential applications of solar and wind.
David Witz, president of the Electrical Contractors Association of Chicago, says, “The Renewable Energy Training Field is the result of a long standing partnership between labor and management to meet the future demand for renewable energy that is coming like a freight train. We are doing what we can in the electrical industry to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. We’re excited to celebrate our grand opening and to show the world what we’re doing.”
Building on a 100-year-old relationship of cooperation, NECA Chicago and IBEW Local #134 came together to build this facility on the grounds of the IBEW/NECA Technical Institute (IN-TECH), in Alsip, IL a southwestern Chicago suburb. The Renewable Energy Training Field will offer a dynamic approach to quickly respond to the training required for emerging energy technology well into the future.
In their long alliance these two organizations have shaped the growth of innovation in Chicago as they helped to build and wire many firsts such as Daniel Burnham’s groundbreaking lakefront plan, Chicago’s first telephone system, and the city’s first subway system. They have also helped erect many of Chicago’s unique landmarks including Willis Tower, Wrigley Field, O’Hare Field, the John Hancock Building and the Art Institute of Chicago, Trump Tower, as well as the city’s first skyscrapers, hospitals and other buildings.
The Renewable Energy Training Field is unique in that there will be training and simulations in many different electrical and renewable energy processes with hands-on experience. For example, a student will be will be able to remove, cut, re-weld, and reinstall solar panels or make adjustments to a wind generator based on given site requirements. Students will learn battery storage techniques and energy transfer systems that will help customers shave peak energy costs, power systems, and potentially sell unused energy back to the local utility. It will also be a center for research and development where an electrical contractor can engineer and demonstrate a client site application. In this way, the contractor can solve a site issue while students receive real world training and a client’s needs are met cost effectively.
Don Finn, Business Manager and Financial Secretary of the IBEW Local #134, states, “The future is clear. There was one choice and that was to meet the growing demand for renewable energy. Contractors will be able to take requests from customers knowing they have electricians with the best training and who are certified in renewable energy. The Renewable Energy Field, along with other state-of-the-art IN-TECH training, produces electricians who can handle anything in the electrical realm. “
Current estimates show are less than 50 renewable certified electricians in Illinois and about 500 nationwide, most of them in California. The main certifying bodies are the North American Board of Solar Energy Practitioners (NABSEP) and Interstate Renewable Energy Council.
NECA Chicago and IBEW Local #134 also designed the training facility to showcase renewable applications. They want the general public to learn about renewable energy applications and “smart grid” technology and how they can benefit from these technologies by ultimately saving money and reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, they want the public to understand that solar storage improves the reliability and stability of the grid. For example, it takes seconds for a solar storage unit to respond to the smart grid’s request for more power compared to up to 20 minutes for a turbine in a traditional power plant, thus reducing power outages and other issues.