Jordan spends an estimated 20 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on energy imports, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The country’s high reliance on foreign energy sources spurred Jordan’s parliament to pass the Renewable Energy Act and establish a goal of self-supplying 10 percent of its energy by 2020. A Higher Education for Development partnership between Al-Huson University College (HUC) in Irbid, Jordan and Red Rocks Community College (RRCC) in Colorado is playing a significant role in helping Jordan meet its goal through the creation of career pathways in solar energy and expanding employment opportunities in the field for Jordanians.

Through the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA)-U.S. Community Colleges Initiative, and with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), HUC and RRCC created the first associate-level degree program in the region in the field of Solar Energy Technology (SET) at HUC. The program is preparing students to enter the labor force equipped with the skills and training needed to work in Jordan’s solar thermal and solar photovoltaic industries.

The training students receive is especially critical since the solar energy industry in Jordan is growing rapidly, yet Jordan lacks a qualified workforce in this emerging sector. “Currently most of the workers in the industry are not Jordanians and some industries express their interest in hiring Jordanians when discussing this with them,” said Ayman Maqableh, partnership director in Jordan and assistant professor in mechanical engineering at HUC who saw the need to address Jordan’s power consumption needs.

Most of the labor in this industry comes from India and Asia. The training will provide continued opportunities for collaboration in joint curriculum development and teaching strategies as solar technologies continue to advance. “When we train [students] based on industry need, this means we create new jobs for them,” Maqableh said. The program helps to enhance the Jordanian labor force by giving students real-world experience at private industries, which makes them more knowledgeable about the field.

That real-world experience extended to the creation of an impressive solar lab on HUC’s campus which illustrated the critical importance of solar energy and the potential impact on Jordan’s economic vitality. Students worked tirelessly to install four kilowatt panels. “When you talk about solar energy in Jordan, people still don’t understand how you can generate electricity from the sun,” Maqableh states. “The lab is fully powered from solar photovoltaic technology. It’s fully powered from solar energy.”
 
Once the lab was in use, its benefits were quickly demonstrated when the entire HUC campus lost power, with the exception of the renewable energy lab. This bit of serendipity offered professors and students who may have been hesitant about the lab the opportunity to see for themselves that solar energy is indeed a viable and necessary alternative for the country. “Now a lot of people and even households are starting to be interested in solar energy,” Maqableh added. The solar lab has also drawn the attention of high-profile delegations visiting from France and Japan as well as representatives from European embassies. For one student, the education she’s receiving through the program is providing an opportunity to work for the only company in the region that manufactures solar panels. “[Philadelphia Solar] told [Manal Abdelghani] that once you finish your studies, you can get a job at our company,” Maqableh proudly boasts.

Initially funded under the BMENA-U.S. Community College Small Grants Initiative, this partnership is one of four expanded in 2012. New curricula will be introduced as the partnership grows and there are plans for the creation of Jordan’s first associate degree program in Health, Safety and Environment and also Jordan’s first Water Quality Management degree program. Maqableh stated that the success of the initial collaboration even earned the attention of Queen Rania’s office. He said a representative called and asked him, “How can we help?”

Solar Energy Technology Provides Power Source and Jobs for Jordan

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