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SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program Grad Shares His Solar Training Experience

Posted by: april
May 14, 2012

Tom Durston - Solar Energy International AlumnusBy Tom Durston, SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program Graduate

One day early in 2011 I had a vision for getting trained and certified in solar energy design. After a little research, I enrolled in Solar Energy International's PV101 solar training course in Tucson, Arizona. It was a great total immersion introduction to solar energy.

Next, to get the depth needed to do real designs I took PVOL202, the online advanced grid-tied course. For me it was an ideal learning experience, delving into course material, taking notes, creating sizing worksheets, and talking at length with experienced solar professionals during the phone-in office hours. Our kitchen table was covered with PV books and notes for weeks. A few months later, with some additional study material provided by SEI, I took and passed the NABCEP Entry Level Exam.

When the SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program came out in the winter of 2012 I knew it was my next step, and I enrolled in the other two courses needed for the Residential and Commercial PV certificate. First I took PVOL203, another very good online course, this one focused on battery-based systems. In this particular course we mostly interacted with the instructors through online forums. We peppered them with questions and they provided in-depth responses.

Solar Energy International Solar TrainingThe PV201L: Solar Electric Lab Week, the last step of my SEI Certificate Program, was a little scary for me because I'm more a calculations and design guy, and not so much a hands-on guy. I knew there would be a lot of students with better skills than mine. Monday afternoon we split into teams to start assembling our first of three working PV systems, and I was a little clumsy and slow. Tuesday afternoon I determined that I would need to work harder than the other guys to make this week work. Friends made at training: left to right, with SEI Instructor Mike Sullivan, Tim Abate, Ben Lewis, Gus Loya, and Ed Horn.

But the instructors taught us all everything we needed to know to do good installations, and I began seeing how the theory I had learned earlier worked out in the installations. The crews pulled together and everyone helped each other learn and construct quality systems. Also the practice started to pay off and my awkwardness started diminishing. By Thursday I was feeling comfortable understanding the installation methods and was doing my share of the construction successfully. The pot luck Thursday night was kind of a climax. We had become an effective team, we knew we were doing a good job and we were enjoying each other's company.

It was after I got home that I realized what had happened at lab week. When I talked with my wife about some wiring we want to do around the house, I said "I can do that." As I heard the words leave my mouth I realized I felt a new confidence inside that I didn't have before. And I realized I had that same confidence about constructing a PV system - I can do that.

Next steps - retire from my U.S. Forest Service job, start working in the solar industry and prepare for the NABCEP PV Installer certification.

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