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Solar Energy International (SEI) Celebrates Co-Founder Johnny Weiss and Creates Honorary Scholarship

Posted by: chris
March 25, 2013

During SEI’s Annual Instructor Training, we had a surprise party for our Co-Founder, Johnny Weiss. During this event we presented Johnny with “The Johnny Weiss Honorary Scholarship.” Because of Johnny's vision, SEI has trained over 25,000 people since 1991 and has had a significant impact on the renewable energy industry. This scholarship is for a person who demonstrates Johnny's commitment to making the world a better place through service.

Make a donation to the Johnny Weiss Honorary Scholarship >>

We also surprised Johnny with a book of stories and pictures that many of you, our alumni and friends, submitted. The surprise was no small feat because we emailed over 35,000 people about this project! We asked you to share one of your favorite memories of Johnny or to describe how Solar Energy International has changed your life. In compiling this book, I was overwhelmed by the number of stories of how SEI has changed lives, stories from alumni who got jobs that they are passionate about after taking SEI training, about long-lasting friendships that were made because of our classes. We consider each of you to be part of our SEI family and from your stories, it’s obvious that you feel the same.

I want to share with you just some of the snippets of the many stories that we received…

Alejandro: It is difficult to describe the extent of SEI’s influence on my values, relationships, and entire world view. Many of my best friends were met though SEI and I consider these people to be my real family more than any blood relatives can understand. I am currently working as a Project Manager for a solar developer and have been happily employed all over the US in this exciting solar industry since 2007. I love my work and feel good at the end of every long day to know that I am building a better clean energy future. I cannot imagine where my personal and professional worlds would be without the knowledge, experience and family that I found at SEI.

Thank you Johnny and the entire SEI community for affecting my life in so many wonderful ways!!!"

Brian: I was embarking on a career change after almost 30 years in on active duty and contract service for the US Army. I recognized too well, and repeatedly first-hand, the price of our nation’s dependency on foreign energy resources. I knew there had to be a better way forward - environmentally, economically as well as for security. This country has already sent my sons to where I had gone. I did not want my grandkids to go to those places, too. Johnny shared with me his inspiration and his insights about SEI and a brighter and greener future and how a greater commitment to renewable energy answered my concerns. Colorado is a beautiful place.

On a workshop last summer, I leaned about the growth strategy for SEI in Paonia – WOW! I am proud to be a part of the momentum and the future. To date, I have completed seven (7) workshops and I have achieved a suite of Solar Professional Certificates. But I know this really is just a baseline. I have far more to learn, far more to experience, and far more to give back. I get it! For many years I worn a green skin, now through the ideas of Johnny Weiss and SEI, I have a green soul. I am now teaching and preaching to others.

Corey: In March of 2010 I decided to leave my full-time job in the IT field to pursue a career in renewable energy. My decision to leave was driven by my commitment to have my professional life make a positive impact on climate change but my path was uncertain.

At 37, making this move was a risk for me and my family. After talking with folks in the solar industry I quickly realized that taking classes with SEI would be a great and accessible way for me to get a solid foundation for my new career. By the end of 2010 I had taken PV101, PV202, & PV203. By March of 2011 I had passed the NABCEP entry level exam. By mid-summer I was volunteering with a local solar cooperative. By September of 2011 I was working for a local installer and soaking up everything I could about the solar industry from the ground floor. None of this would have been possible without the training and support I received from SEI! I’m truly grateful for the online courses you staff with the dedicated and knowledgeable instructors with real-life experience in the field.

Edgar: As a Costa Rican entrepreneur, aiming to develop solar photovoltaic energy as a viable alternative in my country, I travelled to Solar Power International in Orlando, in September 2012, hoping to meet potential suppliers that could make this a reality. After meeting with so many manufacturers that were simply not finding it worth their time to explore possibilities in such a small market, and constantly being referred to distributors that could take care of a company that operated in a developing country with just over 4 million people, I was truly disheartened.

Meeting Johnny Weiss halfway through the show was a breath of fresh air. He was incredibly generous with his time considering how busy of a show SPI is; we talked for almost half an hour, as he told me about the industry, why he loved it, and even sharing business contacts that could prove useful. It may have been the tipping point of what turned out to be a highly successful show.

Today, my business is underway with suppliers that I met at SPI. One of them has visited me, and discovered that there is something to be said about the market potential in Central America. I can proudly say that I have completed my first online course at SEI, and am delighted that Costa Rica will have a SEI Solar Energy Training Center for Central America, and I have gladly promoted this throughout my network.

Greg: Way back in 2005 I met Johnny at a solar conference in Vegas. It was my first time attending a renewable energy event after giving up my 20 year career as an AT&T corporate sales rep. I was determined to start a new career as a solar sales rep. .. that was till I spent a little time with Johnny. He asked me what it was that was driving me to this decision.

After I told him of my concerns for the future of our planet and the issues related to global warming, well, he looked at me and said, "you aught to consider efficiency first, it's the low hanging fruit and there's lots of it...". Well, as a result of his comments I shifted gears and short story long I am now the Energy and Resource Manager for SLC School District implementing energy efficiency measures, creating conservation based policy and yes, installing solar arrays on schools. At this point 5 schools have a cumulative 120 (240) watt panels pushing nearly 30 kW! We have many more square feet of rooftop begging for solar and soon enough we'll sign a PPA and fill em up!

Bob: At the time I was living in Taiwan, working as a Chinese-English translator. While visiting my family in Dallas, I happened to read about a PV course that was being offered by Solar Energy International . The next thing I knew, I had packed my bags and was off to SEI in Carbondale, CO where I would be spend the next two weeks learning how to design and install basic PV systems. After going through basic theory in the classroom, we headed up into the mountains near Carbondale and installed a PV system on a cross- country ski hut. That was first time I ever got to experience first-hand the magic of solar cells converting sunlight into electricity. I was hooked.

I returned to Taiwan and my work as a translator, but over the next few years, I continued to think a lot about solar energy and to dream of one day getting involved in this field. My big chance finally came in 1994 when I was hired by the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to oversee an expansion of its solar household lighting project in western China. And thus began a career with SELF that has continued -- now 18 years and counting -- to this day.

Cathy: In May of 2009, on my birthday, I boarded a plane for my first big solar adventure, the ASES Conference held in Buffalo, NY. I was alone, and sort of felt like the little bird in my most memorable children's book, "Are You My Mother?". I was a recent entrant into the World of Solar. At the welcome party held at the Hyatt, I had the great fortune to get into a great conversation with Kathy Fontaine of SEI who later introduced to Johnny, along with his band of merry men and women--a jolly group who seemed to be having more fun than anyone else!

As the event began to wind down, Johnny invited me to tag along with the SEI gang to dinner. What no one in that group knew is that to me, they were like rock stars! For two years I had been logging in to the SEI website to try and take a solar class, but alas, they were always full! I had looked carefully at all the instructor bios and information about the history of SEI. I couldn't believe that lonely ole me was being invited to "hang out" with Johnny and the gang!

Over the course of the next four days, I was literally taken under Johnny's wing. I went to dinner and even joined in on a breakfast or two during the week and was overwhelmed with the friendliness of everyone. I ran into them on the exhibit floor, and they made me feel like I had a "team" to be on. I am sure that Johnny's gregarious, jovial, positive personality, and his willingness to cast the group's net wide enough to include me, a newcomer to the industry among his group was probably no big deal to him or the others. To me, it was perhaps the most inspirational week in my solar career. After the conference, Kathy helped to get me enrolled in the Advanced PV class in July 2009, and there, once again, I was impressed, actually blown away by my instructors, Kelly Larson and Rebekah Hren.

Since 2009, I have grown in the industry into a passionate, dedicated solar trainer on a mission to bring solar knowledge and PV design and installation skills to the far corners of the earth. And, even though I never had a chance to work directly with Johnny, I continued to see him at conferences and solar events. When I think back to my beginnings in this industry, I will never forget the warm welcome, camaraderie, and inspiration I got from Johnny when I was just breaking in, hoping to find "my people".

Gary: Johnny’s limitless enthusiasm is contagious. His heartfelt concern for people less fortunate is inspirational. In short you cannot be around him without becoming motivated and inspired to do good things. His encouragement sent me on an unforgettable solo solar project in Africa. Thank you Johnny, my life is much better because of you.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, please send it our way. Due to an overwhelming number of responses, we are compiling a second volume of stories. Send your story and a photo of either you or a system that you are proud of to

We look forward to changing even more lives this year.


Kathy Swartz
Executive Director
Solar Energy International

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