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What's special about Guemes Island workshops?

Posted by: april
October 5, 2010

Ian Woofenden Guemes Island YouTube videoBy Kathy Swartz, Renewable Energy Education Program Team Leader  

For the past 15 years, Guemes Island has been the location for more than 100 Solar Energy International workshops. Why here, you may ask? Why this small, residential island that's home to approximately 800 year-round residents and only 8.2 square miles in size?

Back in the mid-1990s, Ian Woofenden approached SEI and asked about offering workshops on a small island in the San Juan Islands chain. Ian, who has lived on Guemes Island for more than 30 years and has raised his large family off-grid using photovoltaics, solar water heating, and wind power, offered to be the Northwest Coordinator. Thanks to Ian's incredible work, he has been influential in shaping students and the island community.

Each year Solar Energy International NW presents a spring and fall series of workshops. While each series has both introductory and advanced workshops, all programs benefit from the beautiful location and special characteristics that are associated with Guemes Island workshops.


  • Hands-on installations:
    The signature aspect of workshops held on Guemes Island is the opportunity for participants to work on actual renewable energy installation projects. Each major workshop does a real-world installation for an island or regional homeowner or business. These systems increase the amount of renewable energy produced, and provide an educational opportunity for our workshop participants. Participants are divided into small groups and work with SEI instructors and local renewable energy contractors on the various aspects of hands-on installations, including testing and commissioning at the end of the workshop.

    Guemes Island wind training
  • Diversity of RE systems:
    Part of the legacy of 15 years of SEI workshops on Guemes Island is the surprising number of solar-electric, solar hot water, and wind-electric projects on this small island. There are more than 30 renewable energy system tour sites on the island. This rich diversity is leveraged during each workshop, through daily opportunities to move from the classroom to in-field learning through touring and examining working systems. These tours bring students together with system owners, who share how their vision became reality, while workshop participants become inspired by these RE pioneers.
  • SEI as part of the Guemes community:
    You can choose to either walk, bike, or drive onto the ferry and make the ten-minute trip from Anacortes to Guemes Island. Once on the island, most workshop participants join island living by staying at the Guemes Island Resort, which is right next to the inland waters of the Pacific Ocean. Classroom sessions are held at the Guemes Island Community Center. You can make your own meals at the resort or community center kitchen, or purchase meals at the island's grocery store and restaurant. Living with the workshop group on Guemes allows participants to join evening presentations and discussions with guest speakers and promotes valuable networking relationships to grow and develop. As any student who's gone through a training on the island knows, there's never a dull moment.

Past SEI students and island supporters often drop by to assist in the workshop and projects, and to join the evening presentations. This is evidence of the culture of involvement and commitment to energy independence and environmental stewardship on Guemes Island.

Join us on Guemes Island this October for Solar Electric Design with 14kW Installation (Grid-Direct), Residential Wind Maintenance and Repair, and Homebuilt Wind Turbines.
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