I am a solar and instrumentation instructor in the integrated energy technology program at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle. I've been installing solar systems for more than 15 years and teaching for the last three and a half.
My concept, along with some of my colleagues, has been to develop a program that not only teaches courses on renewable energy, but also plots a pathway to transition through traditional fuels. While I believe in renewables and transitioning to them as quickly as possible, we need to move toward them with a responsible philosophy that embraces efficiency, conservationism and intelligent planning, working toward energy independence while combining safe fossil-fuel extraction and smart grid planning for the future.
It is not easy to reduce or give up our energy addictions, especially when there are so many forces driving us not to do so. I am as guilty as anyone and have tried to balance my energy wastefulness with working on boards of directors, such as the Yampa Outdoor Awareness Association in Steamboat, the High Country Conservation Center in Summit County, the Colorado Renewable Energy Society in Golden and (currently) Houses for Higher Education in Carbondale.
I've learned many important lessons spending much of my time skiing, riding, climbing and playing in these beautiful mountains where I've spent most of my 54 years. One of the most important is that as a community, we can make changes to shift a dominant paradigm that is dependent on extractive fuels. The key is to make intelligent changes based on reasonable long-term solutions, introduced incrementally, and implemented communally with socioeconomic realities considered.
Our efforts at the Rifle campus include installing a 104kW solar system to offset some of our energy use. Students helped build that system, then designed and built a 10kW system for the New Castle library. Larger systems are being built following the same concept for the Silt and Carbondale libraries. We are also developing a biodiesel plant using technology employed in our process technology program to provide continued use of existing oil and gas technology. Our long-term goal is to eventually use photovoltaic and solar thermal systems, plus ground source heat pumps, to heat and provide electricity to a greenhouse where we would grow algae and seaweed with briny wastewater of natural gas in order to provide source stock for biodiesel production. The vision of what we are trying to accomplish allows for the incremental increase of renewables while not displacing natural gas and oil, but allowing them to be part of the long-term solution to our energy independence. We hope to create a replicable educational process that not only provides hands-on experiential learning in energy production and transmission, but also shows that we are a community of differing perspectives and that it is imperative we work together towards resolving our energy and environmental problems.
As a much younger man (a Buena Vista High School graduate in 1977), I marched off to college idealistically to change the world. As an older, not sure if wiser, more world-traveled man, I've learned to try to change myself and hopefully, live the change I would like to see come to fruition.
- Chris P. Ellis (Crispy) is an instructor of solar and instrumentation in the integrated energy technology program at CMC in Rifle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.