Educated professionals key to unlocking Nevada's renewable energy potential

solar panels

Nevada has all the key resources - sun, wind, geothermal and biomass - to become one of the nation's leaders in renewable energy.

An ongoing partnership between the College of Engineering and NV Energy aims to develop one more key resource: people.

In response to corporate and regional demand for education on the complex technical and policy issues surrounding renewable energy, the College of Engineering developed an online graduate certificate for working professionals.

The certificate program builds on an interdisciplinary research and education area within the College of Engineering, which also includes an undergraduate minor and a research center headed by Chemical and Materials Engineering Professor Ghassan Jabbour.

"This graduate certificate is a logical extension to our renewable energy minor degree," said Dean of Engineering Manos Maragakis. "Coupled with our collaborative Renewable Energy Center at the University, our work with other institutions and comprehensive research in alternative energy, it's exciting to be able to grow curriculum that contributes to economic development."

Renewable Energy Certificate
Amber Mann receives her program completion certificate for the Graduate Renewable Energy Certificate Program from College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis. Mann was the first person to complete the program.

The certificate, now in its second full year, offers a multi-disciplinary curriculum in renewable energy issues, and employees at NV Energy, Nevada's public energy utility, have been among the program's earliest adopters.

The program's first graduate was Amber Mann, a technical accountant for NV Energy's Fuels and Purchase Power group. Mann completed her certificate in the spring of 2013.

"I chose to do the program to learn more about renewable energy as our organization seeks out alternative forms of energy aside from the traditional brown power platforms," she said. "I felt it would be an exciting opportunity to learn and grow, much as the company does."

Since then, twelve additional NV Energy employees have enrolled in the program.

"The program has greatly benefited by NV Energy students' active participation in our courses and also by the practical experience and questions they bring to course discussions," said Jill Wallace, coordinator of the certificate program.

John Lescenski, manager for generation strategy at NV Energy, completed the program in Spring 2013. His role involves long-term strategic planning for NV Energy's plants, and he wanted to better understand how the growth of renewable energy would impact the field.

NV Energy Grads
NV Energy employees and program graduates include Sarah Chatterjee, Supervisor of Demand Response Operations & Engineering; Ronald Bilodeau, Senior Project Manager, Energy Efficiency & Conservation; Christopher Belcher, Engineer II, Demand Response; Kurt Heusler, Business System Analyst II, Demand Response.

"I already have a good understanding of the technologies, but the greater issues revolve around the political and business issues," he said. "In the last year, I have taken a greater role in the development of new renewable energy resources and have been directly involved in the engineering, procurement and construction contracts for the first utility scale solar projects that NV Energy will own."

The online format allows the program to reach working professionals like Lescenski, who works in Las Vegas and juggled both a full-time job and family while completing the program.

Additional flexibility is provided by the program's requirements, which allow students to select four courses from the nine that comprise the online offerings. This approach gives students the ability to tailor their coursework to their specific goals.

"It is definitely a program that caters to people from varying backgrounds and provides a comprehensive view of renewable energy challenges and benefits," said Sarah Chatterjee, a program graduate and supervisor of engineering and operations at NV Energy's Demand Response and Distributed Energy Resources group.

"The certificate program starts to provide insight into the level of complexity required for energy delivery when considering the introduction of emerging technologies into an aging grid," said Chatterjee. "I would definitely recommend the certificate program and the format to others. I actually already have. I suggested the program to the employees that directly report to me."

The graduate certificate in renewable energy is a collaborative program among the Colleges of Engineering, Business, Science and Liberal Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno; the Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Funding is provided by NV Energy and a Department of Energy Nevada Renewable Energy Consortium grant.

"I am anxious to see this program exceed everyone's expectations," said Mann. "I still have interest in the program and believe the new classes that are becoming part of the program would still benefit me. I will likely complete more classes as time moves on and the program grows."