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Talent students get schooled in solar power

TALENT — Eric Hansen long has had an eye on future energy production.

Now he’s enticing the next generation to pursue work in the industry.

The co-founder of True South Solar was all smiles Thursday as a cadre of Talent Middle School students took part in a hands-on demonstration of renewable energy centered on solar power.

“By bringing our equipment here to the middle school children, we’re hoping to get their hands dirty a little bit,” Hansen said.

An installation crew walked 25 students through the steps of solar panel installation using the real McCoy — $7,000 SunPower panels manufactured in Mexico.

“Have you ever picked up a solar panel before?” Lara Worcester asked as eight students gathered round. “Have you ever installed one before? Well you are going to today.”

Students taking part in the workshop appeared well-schooled in renewable energy, but seemed surprised to hear coal is still a major component in Oregon’s power supply.

“We’ll show you how these panels are going to be hooked up into the battery in order to convert to DC power,” Worcester said.

Quizzed about how long solar panels last, several students responded, “Forever.”

Lead designer Ry Heller suggested they were close when he explained solar panels on satellites launched by NASA in the 1950s remain in working order.

After ratcheting in nuts and connecting rails, the students carefully carried four panels, called modules, to a roof-like platform sitting in the parking lot.

“Be careful, because the most fragile part is the white underneath,” installer Noah O’Connor said.

At the conclusion of their single kilowatt off-grid system project, the students connected their power source to an Xbox system.

The two-day Raising Innovative Solar Engineers, or RISE, Workshop was put on in collaboration with the Talent Maker City staff at the Talent Community Center. At the end of the first day, students talked about industry job options, ranging from project manager to marketing, site surveying, engineering and installation.

“They didn’t realize there were so many different jobs,” Worcester said. “But there are a lot of options out there within the renewable energy sector.”

The workshop is one in a series the organization has done in the past year, said Program Director Alli French. Carpentry for women, do-it-yourself rain barrel making for water retention and bird house making are among past efforts.

“We’re trying to promote economic growth and create workforce pathways to improve economic development here,” French said.

To that end, True South participates in workforce development for industry through an apprenticeship program, and Hansen is hopeful the workshop will inspire the next generation.

“Maybe a solar light bulb will go on and they will be part of that expansion we need to fulfill our renewable energy goals in the state,” Hansen said. “We’re trying to double our workforce in the next 10 years. So we have a lot of work to do and there are going to be a lot of opportunities for folks.”

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Eric Hansen
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune True South Solar's Lara Worcester and Noah O'Connor help Talent Middle School students practice installing solar panels Thursday in Talent.