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GEM students tour latest solar-farm technology

Innovative program created in partnership with energy industry to address workforce development needs

10/22/2013
Global Energy Management students from CU Denver tour Alamosa Solar Generating Project

By Chris Casey | University Communications

ALAMOSA, Colo. - Touring two huge solar farms in the San Luis Valley and getting a chance to ask technical questions about the operations are yet more reasons two Middle East oil company managers are excited about the CU Denver Business School's Global Energy Management program.

Waheed Yousef Mohamed and Sultan Almazrooei, employees of Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), one of the world's largest oil-and-gas firms, joined a GEM tour of solar farms on Oct. 17. Just a day earlier, they flew halfway around the world to attend a weekend of classes at the Business School as part of GEM Cohort IX.

They are about halfway through the 36-credit GEM program, which offers a hybrid-online curriculum that provides 40 hours of in-person instruction. Mohamed and Almazrooei, as well as the other out-of-state and out-of-country class members, travel to Denver every 10 to 11 weeks for intensive classes.

"We were interested in a unique, as well as focused and tailored, master's program (Master of Science degree), so that's why we came here," said Almazrooei, an operations engineer. "It's the most flexible program we found internationally."

Mohamed said the GEM program gives working professionals a 360-degree view of the energy business. “It looks at energy from the global point of view," said Mohamed, a maintenance support manager for ADCO. "It touches on all different types of energy. So it’s a chance for me – coming from the oil and gas industry – to gain knowledge about other energy sectors.”

Eye-opening tour

They joined five other GEM students for the tours of the Alamosa Solar Generating Project and San Luis Solar Farm. The farms, each covering about 230 acres, are both 30-megawatt power generation facilities that supply power to Xcel Energy company. They both came online in the past two years.

But they differ in technology. Alamosa Solar Generating Project is the world's largest high-concentration photovoltaic power generation facility, using 504 dual-axis trackers, each standing 75 feet tall. San Luis Solar Farm, meanwhile, is a farm of panels that look like the variety installed on a residential rooftop. The farm provides power enough for 8,000 homes in the San Luis Valley. Although the multi-junction solar cells at Alamosa Solar Generating Project are nearly 40 percent efficient -- about double that of the more traditional photovoltaic panels -- the facility requires three times the manpower to handle maintenance.

Brad Gagne, facility manager at the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, said that at 7,600 feet, Alamosa provides some of the best solar energy in the world. "We're actually above a lot of atmospheric haze that would typically block the solar field," he told the GEM students.

A recent survey showed that 72 percent of GEM graduates get a promotion or a new job after participating in the program. Making a possible career shift is the goal of GEM student Scott Ryan, who joined the solar farm tour. "I'm looking to get involved with energy projects, whether it be with a facility like this or in the strategy and planning of it," said Ryan, who currently works in financial services.

Bradly Barkey, another GEM student on the tour, said the program is expanding his career potential. "It's given me a broader perspective on the business I'm already in, which is solar, and it's helped me to sharpen up on management practices."

Barkey added, "I've met some amazing people. The students in the classes are very sharp folks, and a nice, diverse group."

CU Denver's first MOOC

Also, the program's professors are knowledgeable and extremely accessible, Barkey said. Eighty-seven percent of GEM faculty have energy experience. They are practitioners -- most with 15-plus years experience -- which is attractive to the current 80 students in the program.

GEM was created five years ago in direct partnership with the energy industry to address its workforce development needs. Now it reaches a new level of service with the first CU Denver-offered MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The Fundamentals of Global Energy Business will be taught by Michael Orlando, who has a broad range of experience in the energy business, from commercial, governmental and academic perspectives. Registration is currently open and the course begins in January 2014.

(Photo at top: GEM students stand in front of a 75-foot tall tracker panel at Alamosa Solar Generating Project during a San Luis Valley solar farm tour Oct. 17.)

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Contact: christopher.casey@ucdenver.edu

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