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The green revolution

The Green Energy Centre at Dumfries and Galloway College is arming apprentices with the renewables knowledge they need to tackle the challenges of the climate crisis – and picking up a string of awards in the process

Glasgow may have been in the news for hosting the COP26 climate change conference last year, but a technical college in the south of Scotland was also making its mark in the fight against global warming in 2021 through its newly developed Green Energy Centre and Green Skills Academy – giving apprentices the skills needed in the renewable energy sector to help tackle the world’s climate crisis.

While world leaders discussed ways to mitigate global warming, Dumfries and Galloway College picked up three prestigious sustainability awards including the Outstanding Project Award from the Scottish Green Energy Awards 2021; the Sustainability Action Award from the CDN College Awards 2021; and the UK & Ireland’s Sustainability Institution of the Year in the prestigious 2021 Green Gown Awards for its role in aiming to make Dumfries and Galloway the first net zero region in Scotland.

Skills centre

The reason for these many awards is Dumfries and Galloway College’s new £1.8 million Green Energy Centre, which was launched last April to provide hands-on facilities to help students develop the new skills needed to support the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to meet climate change targets and reach net zero by 2040 – a state in which there is a balance between the greenhouse gases produced by human activity and natural processes, and the removal of these gases by natural systems such as forests and oceans.

The quickest and most effective way to reach net zero is by reducing the greenhouse gases produced by human activity, and that is why replacing traditional fossil fuels with renewable sources will play a crucial role in the coming years in the fight against global warming. That’s why the college’s Green Energy Centre is powered by a wind turbine, heat pumps, solar arrays and battery systems to provide a unique and valuable source of practical teaching experiences. It even has charging points for electrical vehicles (EVs).

Billy Currie, Head of Corporate Services at Dumfries and Galloway College, said: “The Green Energy Centre brings all our renewable energy-related courses under one roof and we are the only college in Scotland that has invested in a dedicated facility that has been designed to not only teach skills in renewables but to be powered by them as well.

“The new facility not only gives us a purpose-built space and classrooms for teaching students about renewable energy systems, but it will also act as a hub for other initiatives with our partners to promote the green agenda in the south of Scotland as we move forward.”

Decades of learning

Dumfries and Galloway College has been teaching technical skills for the past 60 years from two campuses in Dumfries and Stranraer, helping many local young people gain successful apprenticeships in the construction, engineering, electrical engineering and the automotive industries, in addition to other professions such as childcare, health and social care, hospitality and the creative industries. This year they have more than 80 electrical engineering apprentices studying and different years in their apprenticeship programme.

Billy did his training at the college to become an apprentice electrician and went on to become a multi-skilled service engineer who later came back to the college, not as a student but to look after the utilities and facilities. He became the Facility Manager in 2016 and in 2018 was promoted to Head of Corporate Services where he took on the extra responsibility for the strategic development of the Green Energy Centre.

He said: “The college has always been relatively strong on the teaching of renewable energy, and we’ve had a small-scale energy centre previously, but we could see the potential growth in this sector and started to look at how we could address the potential learning gap that was developing.”

The Green Energy Centre has an integrated plant room on the first floor with a viewing gallery, which acts as a classroom for students to understand the practical aspects of the different management systems for heat source pumps, wind and solar energy and battery storage.

The roof is accessible to view solar panel arrays and one of the classrooms also has access for EVs to be brought in so that students can learn about electric charging points as well as EV maintenance.

New curriculum

Bill McRobert is Curriculum Manager for Engineering, Electrical and Motor Vehicles and has been working with the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and other colleges within Scotland to update the electrical engineering apprentice course to integrate renewables into the programme.

He said: “There were elements of renewable education in the past but this year is the first time we’ve formalised the content of the curriculum to include all the major renewable technology systems that electricians would need to know about.”

In the first year, apprentices will learn about solar panels, wind turbines and battery systems, the new types of ground and air source heating systems and also ‘smart controls’ – voice-activated systems like Amazon’s Alexa to turn the lights on or using mobile phone apps to manage the central heating system for homes.

The focus is on understanding the basic electrical components of these technologies, and to get a good grounding in the electrical controls and all final circuit connections required for installing renewable systems.

Bill said: “The beauty of the new Green Energy Centre is that we can give our students hands-on experience to work on renewable technologies and see them working in situ, understand the control systems and learn about the benefits, which is a huge advantage.”

All this knowledge gives the students a good grounding for the second year of the apprenticeship programme where they have to pick a renewable technology system to install in a hypothetical warehouse for their main second-year project.

An eye on the future

The college plays an important role in the future development of the region’s economy through its involvement with the South of Scotland Enterprise’s Energy Transition Group.

The group acts as a forum for organisations from across the region to come together to discuss the needs, prospects and plans that are required to ensure the region benefits economically and socially from Scotland’s move to net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045.

Billy said: “This forum has been very useful for us to position our education offering to meet the challenges of the future, and to work alongside our economic partners to make sure that whatever we are providing in skills meets Scotland’s needs.

“There’s already a big demand locally, as Dumfries and Galloway is a rural area with a growing reliance on local and small-scale renewables, such as hydroelectric plants and wind turbines for farms but there are a growing number of social landlords which are prescribing heat pumps, and battery systems for their solar arrays.”

Making the switch

The college is Global Wind Organisation accredited and provides training for wind turbine technicians as well as an introductory course for school leavers, and it foresees a huge demand for skilled engineers to maintain the growing number of wind farms across Scotland and the UK.

The transition to EVs will also create a demand for engineers, as Billy explained.

“We see that the EV infrastructure required to power vehicles will also require a massive investment in the infrastructure of the power networks too, so we are working closely with ScottishPower and their contractors to understand these trends and to tailor our education and training to meet these future needs of the skills needed to install and maintain these systems.

“We’ve already worked with ScottishPower Energy Networks on developing a dedicated overhead linesman training facility at the college, so we see that type of infrastructure support as being important going forward.”

Looking ahead

Bill, who was also a former electrical apprentice, keeps up to date with what’s going on in the industry through his regular meetings with SELECT Member Representative Fiona Smith to discuss how the two institutions can work together to benefit the new talent coming out of the college and the industry as a whole.

Bill said: “Fiona’s been very helpful with organising students to go through the electrical health and safety tests, and we’ve also been in discussions about providing EV charging training courses for SELECT Members.”

Thanks to the investment in the Green Energy Centre and the development of the Green Skills Academy, Bill knows the college will continue to play a major role in developing the electrical and renewable skills needed for Scotland’s future.

He said: “The modern-day electrician’s job is complex because it overlaps into so many other trades and renewable technologies is yet another ‘spoke’ to be added to the ‘wheel’.

“That’s why we have been working hard to get renewables integrated into our apprenticeship programmes so we can meet the needs of this exciting and growing sector.”

Green growth

Billy is equally excited about the growth potential of renewables and what this could mean for young people. He said: “It’s a big challenge but there is also a lot of opportunity for those who are looking to transition into the green energy sector. In the next two to three years you will see maturity in the development of green energy jobs and the opportunity for young people with the right skills is going to be enormous.”

He’s also proud that Dumfries and Galloway College has been recognised for its pioneering approach to developing not only the Green Energy Centre but incorporating renewables into the running of the campus.

He added: “It has been great to win awards, but the one that really put us on the map is the Scottish Green Energy Award Outstanding Project of the year.

“That was a tremendous achievement for the college, especially a college the size of Dumfries and Galloway – that one made me proud.”


Green Skills Academy

  • Courses related to renewable energy:

  • Renewable Energy Practical Skills – College Academy Course

  • Introduction to Engineering and Renewable Energy NQ @SCQF Level 7

  • Electrical Engineering NQ @SCQF Level 5

  • Electrical Engineering NQ @SCQF Level 6

  • Electrical Engineering – Wind Turbine NQ @SCQF Level 56

  • Electrical Installation SVQ @SCQF Level 7

  • BPEC Heat Pump Systems

  • BPEC Solid Biomass

  • BPEC Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems

  • Global Wind Organisation: Basic Technical Training


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