“I like to do my part for the planet,” says one of our Iron & Earth alumni.
We know that things are changing, just look at the weather we’ve been having lately, and it’s also getting much hotter,” says Michael Chow. “With electric vehicles growing in popularity, and gas prices going up, we have to plan ahead for the necessary infrastructure to make sure we have enough energy to power them.”
Michael first became interested in climate change after hearing Al Gore speak on the topic in 2006. “It made me realize the oil and gas industry had peaked and that we all need to be part of the transition to clean energy,” he says.
His interest in renewable energy was inspired by a project in college that involved designing what future wind turbines would look like. His college was an early adopter of clean energy technologies, including installing solar panels on its rooftop. Seeing solar farms in Brooks and Taber, close to where he lives in Medicine Hat, AB, further ignited his passion for solar power.
From there, it was a natural step for him to join Iron & Earth’s RenuWell program, which provides hands-on training in installing solar panels on abandoned or orphaned oil well sites. There are approximately 10,000 orphan well sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Orphan oil and gas sites are those that have been abandoned, without any owner to be held accountable for decommissioning and cleanup. These can pose serious environmental risks, by leaking toxic chemicals into the air and groundwater and by emitting methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
In addition to giving participants valuable experience in solar panel installation, the RenuWell program creates clean energy generation and new economic opportunities for landowners stranded with old oil wells. Repurposing old wells with solar panels provides property tax revenue for the local municipality, lower energy costs for farmers irrigating their fields with solar energy, and preservation of farmland and ecosystems by using brownfields for solar projects.
RenuWell provided Michael with his first close up look at solar panels. “It’s exciting to see that the field is progressing so rapidly, solar panels are definitely improving from the older generation panels,” he said. “Panels are far more efficient these days, since they are double-sided and are also adjustable, which allows them to follow the angle of sunrise as it progresses through the day and through the seasons.”
Michael particularly enjoyed installing all the required components, including the solar panels, the transformers, and the software that comes with it. “The program gave me a very good grasp of the solar installation process."
I’m a hands-on guy, so I enjoyed seeing how everything works together, since every piece is important,”
- Michael Chow
“We were able to see what time of the day the panels are producing energy, the amount they produced and how things are coordinated with the energy grid. It’s a very foundational, essential training to have a trouble-free installation.”
The most interesting part of the training for him was seeing how easy it is to install solar panels, which makes it much easier for people to understand how the basic concepts work and to enter the field. He also learned about safety protocols in dealing with live power, and how to install the panels according to a site’s topography as well as choosing the most appropriate sites.
While his plan to work in renewable energies has been delayed due to the arrival of his first child, Michael plans to pursue a clean energy career later in life In the meantime, he encourages others to consider making the shift to a renewable energy career. “I hope my experience will really inspire others to get over any hesitation they may have to try something new and become part of the force to change the future for the better. It’s tough being the frontrunner in a new field, so I really appreciate the work of Iron & Earth in getting the RenuWell program going and I believe others will also appreciate the training provided.”
For more information about Iron & Earth’s training opportunities in clean energy contact us at [email protected] or 778-771-0852. If you already have the skills to make a career transition visit our Climate Career Portal where you can search a nation-wide jobs database, enroll in free, one-on-one Mentorship, or build your own Climate Career Blueprint.
And here is Michael after completeting his training - he is 4th from the left in an orange HiVi vest.
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Iron & Earth's Training Programs are funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.