New faculty member brings solar power experience to GCC

September 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

GREENFIELD — There’s a new professor on campus this fall — the kind that builds a grease-powered car and dreams of a day when his house will be completely off the electrical grid.

For Michael Kocsmiersky, the newest faculty member of Greenfield Community College’s renewable energy/energy efficiency program, it’s his first venture into full-time teaching after a career in solar energy.

One of his courses this semester will deal with photovoltaics — the process of converting radiation from the sun into electricity. The 44-year-old Springfield resident has been involved in the solar-energy field for nearly 20 years as a consultant, energy analyst and manager.

And it’s photovoltaics that started him on the teaching path a decade ago.

In 2002, he taught a small continuing education course at a New York community college designed for homeowners who wanted to explore their solar-power options. For the past few years, he’s taught related courses at community colleges as an adjunct faculty member.

It’s the right time and place to be learning about solar energy, he said.

“I tell people, ‘Think of it like the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) industry in the ’50s,’” said Kocsmiersky. “Fifty years later, nobody builds a building without air conditioning. Hopefully we can shorten the time frame (for photovoltaics).”

And there’s few better schools in New England to learn about renewable energy than at GCC, he said. He has known the program’s faculty for years through connections at conferences and said he jumped at the opportunity to work here.

When Kocsmiersky first started working with photovoltaics, solar-power options were well known and were expensive. The industry has come a long way since then, especially in the past few years, he said.

“If you have good solar exposure, everyone in Massachusetts should go to solar-electric right now, or a solar hot-water system. … It makes financial sense,” he said.

Kocsmiersky’s house is equipped with energy-saving measures and he said his seven-member household pays half as much in electricity bills as the average residential customer.

But despite the possible long-term cost savings, many Americans still haven’t caught on to solar energy options, said Kocsmiersky. Installing the system can be too much of a financial investment for some, and the relatively cheap price of electricity deters people from making the effort.

Kocsmiersky’s house is a giant energy lab, the site of experiments in the latest solar-energy practices. He plans to fully equip his house with light-emitting diode (LED) lights to save energy.

And down the road, he wants to disconnect completely from the grid, relying completely on batteries. Should the solar energy fail to do the job — Kocsmiersky said with a sigh that his house is in a rather shaded area — someone would have to hop on a bicycle to charge the battery.

“You’d really get a feel for how much power you’re consuming if you had to bike it all,” he said.

He also wants to build his own electric car. During his days at a solar-energy company, his company installed a dual fuel tank and filled it with filtered grease they received from a Chinese restaurant. The hot-water system used to heat the grease was also solar-powered.

Kocsmiersky is excited to learn the ropes at GCC and get more involved with the local community. Some of his time will also be spent at Franklin County Technical School, where GCC has set up an energy auditing lab — a model house for people to practice energy testing.

The college’s program brings in about 20 students each year, plus 30 in a certificate program, according to student enrollment data.

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