PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Over the past few years, Northern Maine Community College has made a name for itself as a college on the cutting edge of alternative energy curriculum.
Along with the first of its kind in New England wind power technology program and the Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education, new curriculum and technology have been added to teach students how to maintain and repair hybrid cars.
Officials at NMCC recently announced the addition of a course in advanced electronic systems that also coincided with the purchase of a pre-owned Toyota Prius. The course and car will be used by students in the transportation trades program to help them better prepare for their future careers. The car sits in the automotive technology lab.
The college made the move in light of more hybrid and electric automobiles being produced by automakers and purchased by consumers. The trend, officials said, means the need to maintain and repair the vehicles will increase.
College instructors said that the introduction and growth of hybrid and electric vehicles has presented the greatest technological changes in the industry in more than a generation.
Paul Lajoie, NMCC automotive instructor, said that education and research is necessary to succeed in a field where technology moves “at a rapid pace.”
“The new course and access to a hybrid vehicle for students to bring to life what we discuss in the classroom and to troubleshoot will be invaluable to their future careers as automotive technicians,” Lajoie said.
The new hybrid cars, he explained, are complex and “well above that of a standard vehicle.” He said that a conventional vehicle’s electrical system is almost entirely driven by 12-14 volts, whereas hybrid vehicles produce voltages ranging from 12 to 650 volts. Both AC and DC currents are active, and variable voltages are common in the hybrid vehicles.
“Vehicles like the hybrid Ford Fusion and Toyota Prius are designed to minimize the need to measure live high-voltage circuits,” Lajoie said. “However, there will be periods when an experienced hybrid vehicle technician will need to measure the dangerous high-voltage circuits, wearing certified high-voltage gloves and electrical measuring equipment specialized in testing these systems safely.”
The new advanced electronic course is designed to enhance students’ electrical troubleshooting skills and to allow them to learn and understand the proper techniques required for safe high-voltage testing.
Lajoie said that the course will make students more marketable.
“They are prepared to begin their careers and do not need to ‘train on the job’ to begin working on hybrid vehicles,” he said.