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Solar Energy International's PV / Solar Home Design

     by Linda Pinkham

Seven years ago, I thought "RE" was an abbreviation for real estate, not renewable energy. Today, I have a 2.1 kilowatt, grid-intertied photovoltaic (PV) array in my backyard that has been offsetting 75 percent of my energy use for the last five years. When I first started working as an editor in the renewable energy field, I had an extensive background in the publishing industry, but my knowledge of renewable energy was limited. While words are words, I found that it was impossible to even correctly punctuate some sentences if I wasn't familiar with the topic.


PV Design Online

I needed to come up to speed quickly, but my work schedule seemed to continually overlap the hands-on workshop opportunities available. The solution was to sign up for Solar Energy International's (SEI) PV Design Online course. The six-week course covered all the basics of PV system design, including basic electrical principles, solar site analysis, electrical load calculation, how to select equipment, estimating system costs, and sizing a PV system.

The course is designed to let people work on their own schedule via the Internet and through e-mail. It is a good choice for anyone who wants training for a professional career in the solar energy industry, and the course provides 60 cumulative hours of training that may be used towards North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification. The course also works well for people who want to install a solar-electric system on their own home, or at least want to understand their system if it is installed by a pro.

Course materials include a textbook, CD-ROM reference materials, articles and reading materials on the SEI Web site, and access to a bulletin board forum for questions and discussion with course instructor Justine Sanchez and fellow class members. Participants (residing in the U.S. and Canada) also receive a Kill A Watt meter, which is an electricity usage monitor. This meter allows you to measure how much electricity your appliances consume and how efficient they really are ($40 value).quiet zone
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Weekly lessons, posted on the course Web site, consist of reading assignments, homework exercises, and a quiz at the end of each section. Quizzes were promptly graded by Justine and accompanied by detailed explanations for any incorrect responses. The course is paced to cover two sections each week.

The only thing the course can't provide is hands-on experience, but online students receive a discount to attend hands-on workshops. For me, the course covered exactly what I needed, since my work doesn't involve wrenches and screwdrivers, but a red pen and a computer keyboard.

The only reservation that I had when I took the PV design course was the textbook, which through numerous revisions had become choppy to my editor's eye. I am delighted to now say that the best and most comprehensive textbook on PV system design (Photovoltaics: Design & Installation Manual , written by SEI staff and now published through New Society Publishers) has undergone a complete facelift and revision to become the final word on photovoltaic systems.


Solar Home Design Online

The PV Design Online course was so useful that I immediately signed up for the Solar Home Design Online course taught by Rachel Connors. When I took the course, the text materials for the solar home design course were located almost entirely online in a well designed, attractive, and user-friendly Web interface. The graphics embedded in the on-line course materials are interactive, and key terms are hyperlinked to an online glossary. Participants receive supplementary reference materials, such as the Building with Awareness DVD, industry-related hand-outs and magazines, and the book Your Green Home by Alex Wilson).

The six-week course covers solar home design strategies, principles of heat transfer, site analysis, building envelope construction techniques, ventilation, heating and cooling, super-insulation, natural and healthy building materials, energy efficiency, and more. Weekly assignments included reading the text and supplementary assignments, and answering one of two thought-provoking essay questions each week.

Our class decided to post our homework essays on the bulletin board so that we all could learn from each other's ideas and Rachel's insightful responses to the essays. Not only was I able to apply the textbook knowledge to my own circumstances, but I also vicariously experienced everyone else's plans and dreams for a solar home. Once again, the hands-on component was missing, but the same offer for a discount applies to online students who attend a hands-on workshop.


Get Moving into RE

SEI has recently begun offering their Advanced PV Design course online, which also counts towards NABCEP certification. Getting an RE education is a big job no matter how you do it. If you want to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle quickly, and understand more about RE and what's in the pages of the Green Living Journal, SEI's online courses are a good place to start. Their online courses also offer excellent preparation for the many hands-on workshops that SEI offers all across the United States and abroad.

To find out about SEI's online courses and hands-on workshops, visit their Web site, or contact them to receive their course catalogue at: Solar Energy International, PO Box 715, Carbondale, CO 81623 - 970.963.8855 - sei@solarenergy.org - solarenergy.org . Be sure to mention that you learned about their courses by reading the Green Living Journal.


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