I recently had a chat with Kathy Swartz, Executive Director of Solar Energy International (SEI), and Chris Turek, Director of Online and Educational Services at SEI. They’ve got some awesome solar training and curriculum services worth checking out, which we discuss a bit in this interview below:
Zach: So, first of all, what exactly is Solar Energy International — what’s your organization all about? You clearly landed a pretty attractive name.
Kathy: We were able to create a name for ourselves not only with a great title, but as the leader in professional technical solar photovoltaic training over the last 20 years. Solar Energy International, or SEI as we call it, is actually a nonprofit renewable energy educational organization that was founded back in 1991. We are focused on empowering people and helping to expand renewable energy and sustainable living around the world.
Zach: I bet a lot has changed in 20 years in renewable energy. What are the biggest changes that you have seen?
Chris: Yes, a lot has changed over the past few decades. More specifically, in the last 5 years or so, there has been a tremendous growth and legitimacy for renewable energy as an actual technical profession and career path for people to pursue.
We started off long ago as a grassroots organization offering hands-on workshops in solar PV, solar hot water, wind power, micro-hydro, and natural home building to do-it-yourself types and other like-minded folks. Now, we are seeing a lot more people from the technical and building trades taking our training to start or change careers or to start a business in solar energy.
Zach: So, you work with individuals? Governments? Organizations?
Kathy: Yes, all of them. We’ve worked with grassroots and development organizations, governments, and individuals in the Americas, Africa, Micronesia, Middle East, and the Caribbean… and universities, as well.
In the last few years, we have seen an uptick in community colleges requesting the licensing of our curriculum for their solar training programs. The U.S. Department of Energy also selected Solar Energy International to be part of a consortium of educational organizations to train other technical trainers from community colleges all over the U.S.
Zach: So, what’s your latest news?
Kathy: The news is, we’ve just released a new textbook — SEI’s Solar Electric Handbook: Photovoltaic Fundamentals and Applications (I’ll send you a link) — and we’ve got our next online PV101 session starting on August 6th. That session is our “PVOL101 Solar Electric Design and Installation online course.” Again, I’ll send a link along so you can share it with your readers.
Zach: And is this textbook just for course participants? Or could someone like me just go ahead and buy it to look through at home?
Kathy: The book is included as part of the tuition for our PV101 in-person and online courses. The book can also be bought online, on the SEI online bookstore, by anyone who wants it. We’re about educating as many people as we can, and we realize that some would like to start just by looking through the book.
It is important to remember, though, this is a highly technical field and you really need to go through a quality training program to perform code compliant solar installations on a home or other buildings. We emphasize safety here at SEI in our training and in the field. Electrical code and safety considerations shouldn’t ever be taken lightly when dealing with these electrical systems.
Zach: So, I heard there are some new innovations in this textbook. What are they?
Chris: The really great thing about this new textbook is that it’s available as an iPad eBook or an eBook for other mobile technologies. Cleantech professionals are becoming more and more web savvy, and dependence on mobile devices in the solar profession is becoming the norm, so creating these options was a must for us. Anyone who buys the print version of the Solar Electric Handbook will also get the eBook included as a companion resource.
Zach: Sounds great. And I completely understand. If you asked me 5 years ago, I would have had no idea that I’d be working in online media, but here I am…. So, will the eBook be available on all devices?
Chris: The eBook will work on a PC, on a Mac, via an iPad app or Droid app…. There are many options.
Zach: Great. Anything else we should know?
Kathy: Yes. The upcoming online session on August 6th will be the first opportunity to use this brand new textbook in a training course — it’s the required textbook for the course — and anyone who signs up for the course will receive the printed textbook and eBook as part of the training course package.
Other schools all over the country also use our book in their training programs, and they’re already pre-ordering it for use in upcoming Fall courses. These schools can bulk order the book for a discount.
Zach: Sound great. Thanks a lot! And I hope you train a whole ton of new solar energy professionals and passionate individuals this year… and in the years to come!