By Gerald Bernstein
California, and to a lesser extent Hawaii, have experienced a rapid rise in demand for PV-trained faculty followed by a slowdown as industry has increased its own, internal training of new hires (California) and major utility problems slow the growth of solar installations (Hawaii). One result of this shift is that the demand for basic, installer-skill courses has diminished, while demand has risen for specialty courses such as finance, sales and marketing and PV operations and maintenance (O&M). This shift in demand for subjects and courses has inspired Region 8, the California/Hawaii RTP of the Solar Instructor Training Network, to offer specialized faculty training to meet the evolving demand.
“The ability to teach skills related to maintaining systems and diagnosing problems as systems degrade unexpectedly over time were high on our faculty interest list,” said Gerald Bernstein, principal investigator for Region 8.
To address these skills, Bernstein reviewed on-line and in-person courses that address these issues. He knew about Solar Energy International’s (SEI) highly-regarded five day on-site course in Colorado, but sending faculty was prohibitively expensive. However, when he learned about SEI’s three-day workshop version of the same course, Bernstein knew he had a solution.
The workshop was taught at Santa Monica College (SMC), just north of Los Angeles. Thirteen instructors from around California attended, from Imperial in the south (on the Mexican border) to Sacramento in the north, plus two from Hawaii.
The workshop covered a wide range of topics. It was a mix of classroom lectures and hands-on training using the most up-to-date test and measurement equipment and best practices. There were modules on I-V curve tracing, insulation testing, commissioning, inspection, thermal imaging, performance verification, and troubleshooting. Professor Stuart Cooley and Adjunct Professor Peter Parrish with SMC’s photovoltaic program, provided valuable on-site support.
The training was enthusiastically received by faculty and instructors.
“What I particularly appreciated was that the instructors are working professionals explaining what they do daily,” said Bob Conti, Kauai Community College. “They brought industry relevancy to the topics and procedures, and could explain test equipment and equipment setups in a realistic manner making it easier for us to understand. And for all this, as professional as they are, they were approachable at any time for questions and discussion. I was very impressed with the way they worked together, and how willing they were to share with us (faculty) any training aids that they used.”
The SEI instructors were impressed with the faculty’s experience, enthusiasm and knowledge.
“As instructors, we interact with hundreds of people each year,” said Rebekah Hren, Solar Energy International’s senior instructor and curriculum developer. “The SITN instructors eagerly participated in the hands-on troubleshooting and asked thoughtful questions. It was evident that they really wanted to know how to effectively teach troubleshooting and maintenance of PV systems to their students.”
For more information about the Region 8 RTP, contact Gerald Bernstein.
Images courtesy of Solar Energy International