FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — It's one of the fastest-growing industries in the country and frequently produces back-and-forth, myth-vs.-reality arguments between its strongest advocates and foes.

And while fossil fuels are not going away anytime soon, the idea that one day we will be using renewable energy as our primary power source doesn't seem to be vanishing, either.

That's one reason Andy Bell went to China.

Bell, the department chair of engineering for Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, spent a month overseas working on projects in what many consider the world's epicenter of solar panel production.

He plans to implement what he saw and learned in China into his department's curriculum because even if they don't work with renewable energy, future engineers will need to be well versed in the topic.

"We're looking at it from the standpoint that students need to know about it," he told The Journal Gazette ( ). "They may not work in the area, but they need to know about it."

Bell spent from mid-October to Thanksgiving in Wuxi, China, about three hours from Shanghai, where many solar panels are built and manufactured.

He gave lectures, exchanged teaching techniques and ideas with a college there, and even worked on a project building a solar panel, he said.

Bell's interest in renewable energy has been budding for a while, with a trip to Costa Rica to study alternative energy forms under his belt and another one to the Dominican Republic scheduled for March.

"I'm very interested in how alternative energy can be used to help quality of life, especially for disadvantaged people," Bell said.

Solar generating capacity in the United States grew more than fivefold from 2011 to 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

According to the Solar Foundation, an organization advancing solar power, job growth in the industry grew 20 percent in 2013, far outpacing growth in other industries.

Still, what can be produced using solar power in the U.S. amounts to less than 1 percent of the country's generating capacity, and the Environmental Protection Agency projects that only 9 percent of the country's power will come from renewable energy by 2030.

"The United States as a whole ought to do more to capitalize on the sunlight," Bell said.

That's what he thought as he looked at the solar farms he saw in China, or the multitude of electric vehicles being driven. Towns and homes relied heavily on alternative energies there, he said, especially solar.

"They've really tapped into solar," he said.

He doesn't know how exactly yet the ideas he brought back from China will be implemented, but he knows they will.

Because solar power and other green energy ideas are not going away.

And neither are future engineers who need to know about them.


Information from: The Journal Gazette,