Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Design and Install Off-Grid Solar Systems

I started solar training this week with a two-day workshop on how to design and install an off-grid solar photovoltaic system. The highlight of the workshop was getting to know the 18 displaced and unemployed individuals participating in the Solar for All California program, which I wrote about a few postings back. During the breaks, I was able to chat with them to get a better sense of who they are and why they're participating in the program. Here are a few of my favourite stories:

Verne was born and raised on a local aboriginal reservation. He's been driving trucks his whole life, delivering heavy goods along the I-5 from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, but recently had an accident on the road that's preventing him from continuing in this line of work. The combination of this accident and the arrival of his twin children provided the perfect opportunity to find a new job that will allow him to stay closer to home.

Carlos was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico, but moved to California in his twenties to build a better life. For the last 16 years, he's been working at a rehabilitation centre for troubled youth, until funding dried up recently and he was laid off. He found out about the program through a local employment service centre, and thought it was a great opportunity to learn a new trade and make a difference in the world.

Manny was born and raised in rural Nigeria, where most of his neighbours are not connected to the electricity grid. Those who are connected have sporadic service due to the inefficiency of the country's large state-owned electrical monopoly, which Manny says is corrupt and unreliable. He looks forward to taking the knowledge he acquires in this workshop back to Nigeria, where he hopes to start a small solar business to light up his community and improve the quality of life of his fellow citizens.

A good friend of mine who works in the solar industry has asked for more tech talk in my blog postings, so I've included a photo of my notes from the in-class portion of the workshop. I am proud to say that I now understand the difference between a volt, amp, and watt; that I can confidently distinguish between poly/mono crystalline and thin-film solar modules; and that I know how to wire a solar panel in parallel or series configuration.


  1. I've held off as long as I possibly could...I must know, the guy who appears part military, part dead head, tool in the pocket, round sunglasses and cap...what is his story? He seems like he may be a total riot and has a wealth of stories to share.

  2. It's so cool that you're learning all this stuff, and meeting so many interesting people!