Shalom solar folks, my name is Ricky! I’m a solar sales tech in training and I’d like to share with you all a recent learning experience I gained on my path to becoming one of the solar experts here at Unbound Solar.
I’d been working at Unbound Solar for half a year, steadily absorbing the knowledge of my peers, many of whom have been working in the solar industry as technicians, installers, and designers for years. Most of the people I work with here have installed solar on their own homes, and have conceived, designed, and created all kinds of solar projects. There’s a lot to learn just by being around the “solar experts,” but one thing I hadn’t yet gotten was hands-on experience. There’s nothing like actually doing the things you’re walking people through each day.
So this winter, I decided to add hands-on experience to my ever-growing solar knowledge toolkit. I talked to my sales manager about it, and soon myself and a Unbound Solar warehouse technician (shout out to Shae!) were sent to the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California, only a few hours south of our home and Unbound Solar’s offices in Mt Shasta.
Our adventure started early one foggy January morning. After brewing up a pot (or two…) of coffee in the french press, we headed south towards Hopland. On our drive down, we stopped by friend and local artist Mark Henson’s property to check out his home’s grid-tied system off highway 20. As Mark was showing us under the hood, the sun broke and the sky cleared, setting the stage for the beautiful, sunny winter days that followed.
When we arrived at the SLI, we were greeted by a campus dedicated entirely to sustainable living and practices. The unique learning environment assured me that we were in good hands, and we were excited to get to work! The course we attended was in Photovoltaics and was led by an experienced solar installer. Over the run of the of two-day course, we also got to work with and learn from a wide variety of solar professionals.
In the classes, which were held in a sustainable yurt built by the campus in their biodynamic garden, we were instructed on subjects like Electrical 101 and PV Equipment Installation and Maintenance. Taught in an open-forum setting, there was time for the instructors to answer each of mine and my classmates’ questions, creating an atmosphere for growth. We learned things like the path the sun takes from hitting the panel to powering the home in both grid-tied and off-grid solar systems, system design theory, wiring 101, and the effects of various elements on photovoltaic energy production. For example, the instructors rigged up this representation of the effects of total shading on one solar cell, using water as an analogy for electricity. (PS: don’t freak out and go clean off your panels immediately, this was a fun science experiment, not a real world example! Honestly, you only need to worry about cleaning off your panels every few months.)
The days were packed with new information and experiences, so we needed a lot of brain food during our stay. Being from southern California, my brain actually runs on good burritos, so I was very thankful to know Willits has a great taqueria (head to Taqueria Bravo if you’re ever in the area). Each day after class, we’d grab some great food and talk over everything we learned while we ate.
On the last day, the whole class and one of our instructors took a field trip to a solar-powered olive oil bottling plant and got to do a little taste testing. It was pretty neat to see a small local business that ran on solar power. With the direction that commercial solar installations have been taking recently, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more local businesses run on solar in the near future.
I walked away from this experience with the knowledge that I’m on the right path to helping people produce clean renewable energy, and that I’m gaining as much solar knowledge as I can. I’m grateful I live and work in Mt Shasta in an environment that encourages and supports my proactive desire to keep growing and learning!
Check out my album above to see some of the things I got to experience at the SLI.