Wisconsin will be generating all of its power without generating greenhouse gases by 2050, if goals set recently by Gov. Evers are met. We talked to Energy Management instructor Jennifer Brinker about what the new goals mean for students, jobs and companies in Northeast Wisconsin.
So what does “carbon-free power” mean for Wisconsin?
It means we’re going to see a significant increase in the amount of renewable energy we produce, because that’s the most economical, carbon-free energy source we have. And the transition is already happening. States surrounding Wisconsin are already transitioning to carbon-free energy.
If you get a degree in sustainable energy now, you’ll be entering a workforce sector that is large, growing and here to stay. There are so many different career paths--we teach people how to install renewable energy, car charging stations, smart building control technology…all of which go into carbon free energy consumption.
And it’s just cool--the coolest folks you can meet. This sector attracts people who are altruistic, who want to do good.
What’s it like to be in sustainable energy right now?
It’s exciting. It’s fulfilling work to help make these transitions for our future. The whole goal of this is to help mitigate climate change, but the immediate impacts are cleaner air, cleaner water and energy independence. Wisconsin buys coal, oil, and natural gas to create power, which sends money and jobs out of state. This is going to mean we can generate our own energy in our state. We should also have more grid security, because they’ll update the power grid.
How is it going to happen?
The leaders will be utilities that already have similar goals, like WPS, to move to carbon-free power production by 2050. As a consumer, you’ll still buy your electricity from your power company but they will produce it from renewable sources.
But a lot of people want to take their power into their own hands to be more carbon free, so we’re going to see more solar installations and battery storage on individual homes.
What about car emissions?
Everyone’s asking me about electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are zero emission at the tailpipe but they rely on electricity production to charge. So the more we go to sustainable sources for electricity, the more our transportation will be carbon free as well.
Which industries are leading the way?
There’s a lot of interest from the building sector, and particularly from the HVAC sector, because they want to know how they can control buildings and use the least energy. HVAC is also incorporating more renewable energy, like geothermal and solar. And lots of electricians are interested in installing solar.
How big an impact will net zero buildings and carbon-free power have?
Buildings consume 40% of total US energy. There’s been a tenfold increase in net zero building projects since 2012. The Great Lakes Energy Education Center building is on the way there. Our students are helping install energy-saving control systems and solar panels to offset the energy we use. We have 150 kW of solar energy providing electricity to this building, which is one of the biggest installations in Northeast Wisconsin. And even without all of the systems installed, this building uses about a third of the energy of a typical building. If you come to NWTC, you’ll be living and working in a building that’s already paving the way toward this goal.
Interested in green energy careers in Wisconsin?
See the Great Lakes Energy Education Center at NWTC
Jenny Brinker teaches Energy Management at the Great Lakes Energy Education Center at NWTC. She is one of nine U.S. instructors selected by the National Science Foundation to study renewable energy in Germany and share what they learn with two-year colleges throughout the United States.