Five Days at the Women’s Solar PV Workshop

As students across the United States make the move from summer back to the classroom, we are reminded of the many ongoing educational opportunities available in the renewable energy field. Julia Davis, a newcomer to solar energy, attended the Women’s PV Design and Installation Workshop, a five-day solar photovoltaic (PV) installation workshop given during the American Solar Energy Society’s conference in Oregon this summer. Davis was kind enough to share her experiences with SolarAccess.com, as well as her overall impression of the workshop.

Editor’s note: As students across the United States make the move from summer back to the classroom, we are reminded of the many ongoing educational opportunities available in the renewable energy field. Julia Davis, a newcomer to solar energy, attended the Women’s PV Design and Installation Workshop, a five-day solar photovoltaic (PV) installation workshop given during the American Solar Energy Society’s conference in Oregon this summer. Davis was kind enough to share her experiences with SolarAccess.com, as well as her overall impression of the workshop. August 30, 2004 – RE Insider – Day 1- A Whirlwind Of Information I’m the type of woman who likes information so I was just tickled when I arrived at the workshop and Justine Sanchez of Solar Energy International and Marlene Brown of Sandia National Labs began with the basics of electricity and PV systems components. We were then taken through a whirlwind of information including Ohm’s Law, the different components of a PV system, and how each system can be designed according to the specifications of the site. By the end of the day I was confidently designing PV installations based on the electrical load they were supposed to support. It was only on paper but, based on how things were going, I was confident I would be able to do it real soon. Day 2 – PV is Placement, Wiring and Panel Expectation The best part of this day was participating in a Lab where we wired together two panels to power a small water pump. It was absolutely amazing to see how simple, easy and clean it can be to create power. This and other labs throughout the day gave us hands-on experience through which we could incorporate what we had learned during lectures. These covered how the placement, wiring and electrical expectations of the panels are important aspects of how they will perform. The “leave no woman behind” mentality was useful because some women asked questions others wouldn’t have thought of, and concepts were covered until they were thoroughly understood by the group. Brown and Sanchez kept topics lively and interesting by bringing everything back to real-life examples they had experienced while working on an installation. Day 3-Going Shopping The instructors prepared us for installing our system by explaining about the different types of panels, inverters and controllers available. We discussed the leading products on the market and looked through catalogs to see what things cost, eventually deciding on what equipment we would need for the system we wanted to install. The fact that we were working on such a detailed level shows how much information we had absorbed in just two days. We also spent some time learning about grounding a system and the requirements of the National Electric Code, which was fascinating due to the anecdotes our instructors and the women from the group had regarding systems they had worked on that were less than perfect in these respects. Day 4-Install This Because of the size of the system at the IBEW training facility we broke into teams. Each team tackled a section of the work, then convened when each team was done to present to the group how and what they had done. However, the first thing we did was climb up to the roof. After using a rope to get our panels and equipment up there with us, we got to work. Much to our delight, every team encountered challenges along the way that enhanced the learning process by forcing everyone to come up with unconventional solutions on the spot. By the end of the day my team had the solid beginnings of a solar electric system in place, with six panels installed on the racking system. The whole day took on the spark of its participants, which made every activity exciting, fresh and fun. No activity could be considered mundane because it was always someone in the group’s first time doing it. Day 5-Mission Accomplished The feeling was electric, and everyone was excited and in good spirits. We were looking forward to seeing our system go live, and as we were doing our wiring we were not only grounding our system we were grounding the knowledge we had gained over the last couple of days. Each wire pull or connection got us that much closer to flipping the ON switch, seeing the result of all the hard work we had done. The best part of the installation was that all of us were given the time and space to understand every aspect of the job. However, completing of five days of hard work to create power from sunlight is the coolest, most rewarding thing I have ever done. The spirited and jovial nature of the workshop was key for absorbing such a large amount of technical information. A lively story or joke gave context to every equation or chart that was taught to us. Every panel installed became part of the story and experience of the five days spent with one another. The wonderful personalities of the women and the information of the workshop were intertwined to make everything that was taught stick. There was vibrancy added to the experience of learning that made it easier for me to remember everything I learned. Participants of the PV Design and Installation Workshop for Women offered at the ASES conference were thrilled to install working solar electric systems on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Portland, Oregon. Regardless of their previous experience or knowledge, the women involved learned all of the skills necessary to size, design and install a solar electric system, and had the opportunity to put that knowledge to work during the on-site installation during the last few days of the five-day workshop. The specialized nature of the group allowed people with a wide range of skill levels to participate. From trained electricians to grandmothers who are looking at solar as a second career, each participant brought an array of field knowledge and life experience to an otherwise introductory workshop. Everything we learned, both in the classroom and on the roof, was based on moving forward as a group. We would progress only after everyone understood the information or had worked on the part of the project we were tackling. This attitude was one reason I thought the women only workshop was both a fun and productive learning environment. I am very comfortable working with power tools, and have a manufacturing and construction background. But the idea of a women only workshop was attractive to me because I was unfamiliar working with electricity and wanted to be around others who knew as little as I did about electrical current. As it turned out, the other people involved knew quite a bit about electricity. But the atmosphere of the workshop was such that people who were less experienced were encouraged to learn new things as the experienced women looked on and offered advice. About the author… After attending the SEI’s Women’s PV Design and Installation Workshop and having staffed two meetings of a solar leadership group, Solar Circle, Julia has now decided to pursue a career in solar. Her prior experience is in office management, small business management, movie production and teaching English as a second language. Most recently, she has worked for Capital Missions Company, which creates business leadership networks.
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