Check out this guest post written by SEI Instructor and PV Curriculum Developer Roger Williams:

I quietly began my solar career (no, adventure!) in 2002, about 6 months after September 11th, 2001. That incident opened my eyes to a larger world – one in which we are all connected.  Personally, I thought our reliance on oil was at least partially to blame, and I vowed to take action. A friend (and SEI alum) living off-grid in the Rocky Mountains told me about SEI, and I signed up for 6 weeks of workshops in the Spring and Summer of 2002.  Little did I know that it would change my life.

Upon first entering the old building in Carbondale, CO, I was greeted by friendly folks who were passionate and knowledgeable about renewable energy and all forms of conservation. I felt like I was among my people!

After the summer of workshops, I headed West to California to continue my journey. At the time, it was one of the only places I could go to get a job installing PV. In 2006, after a few years working on mostly grid-direct PV systems, with the occasional battery-based system thrown in, I was asked to co-teach an SEI workshop at the old SMA-America headquarters in Grass Valley, CA.  I was co-teaching a PV 101 with one of the instructors that taught me so much! The 6 weeks of SEI workshops had catapulted me into the solar industry, and now I was teaching PV to new students.

Fast forward ten years, and now I am an SEI staff member, working as a curriculum developer and instructor.  I have had all kinds of experiences (good and not-so-good), working on small systems for an individual family to working on utility-scale systems performing operations and maintenance. I have installed PV on all sorts of structures, and become all too familiar with a variety of roof types and attachment methods.  I have had to coordinate and plan with multiple contractors on large job sites – where the solar was only a nuisance to the general contractor.  Still, the highlight of my solar career has been representing SEI as an instructor – not only in Paonia, CO, but also at various industry tradeshows and locations above the Arctic Circle.

Just recently, I was one of six SEI instructors at our PV201L hands-on course at our lab facility in Paonia. This is always an incredibly inspiring class because of the variety of students who make their way to Paonia to learn more about PV.  Hearing why each student has chosen to learn from SEI is a terrific reminder of why I do what I do for work. Their endless enthusiasm is difficult to deny, and it always rubs off on every instructor from SEI. Not only is it humbling to be teaching people with incredible dreams, I also always learn more about renewable energy or electricity or something during the week with the students and fellow instructors. We all have something to contribute and share, and I think it is so wonderful to do this and be grateful for everyone’s participation in the hands-on course.

During our July PV201L: Solar Electric Lab Week (Grid Direct), there was one particular student who seemed to have a little trouble understanding everything from the previous weeks solar training (PV 101: Solar electric design and installation). Of course, there is loads of information in this introductory course to PV; we cover almost everything! After one full day in the lab yard, I overheard the student say “I think I am getting it.” By the fourth day, I saw them telling other students what they had done at their particular lab station. To me, this shows that this student was not only ‘getting it,’ but they were able to help their fellow students understand what was going on.  They now had confidence to speak about something they had only learned about the previous week. In addition, this student had so many ideas and enthusiasm to continue on their own solar path, in a region of the United States where solar installations have only recently begun to appear.

This is only one incidence of seeing a student realize the possibilities provided by renewable energy. Nearly every student that comes through SEI sees the possibilities – no matter where they come from or where they intend to take their new knowledge and experiences. And, as an SEI instructor, I always leave the classroom (or lab yard) with new found knowledge and inspiration to continue to work towards a world powered by renewable energy. I know it is possible, and the future may be here before we know it!

More about PV201L: Solar Electric Lab Week (Grid-Direct)

Put classroom theory into practice with the ultimate hands-­on PV experience available! This five-day lab class offers students the opportunity to work closely with experienced PV professionals and get their hands dirty by fully installing and commissioning a wide variety of system types before testing the system, then de-commissioning and breaking down. You will work with modules, inverters, and racking components from a wide range of manufacturers that are all big players in the PV industry. A low student-to-instructor ratio and the world­-class lab facility at SEI’s locations in Paonia, Colorado, Costa Rica and Oman combine to make PV201L the perfect environment for your first hands­-on PV experience. Register here.