Solar Energy International: Reaching Millions, One Roof at a Time

  • SEI Outdoor Kitchen and Dining Hall

    Outdoor kitchen and dining hall.

  • Barn

    The storage barn includes a bicycle checkout area. Students can use bikes, locks, and helmets during their stay, giving them easy access to town and the surrounding area without a vehicle.

  • Storage and inverter classrooms

    As storage has become more important in solar installations, battery and inverter companies want to make sure that SEI has the latest of their equipment.

  • IMG_3077

    SEI offers free electric-vehicle charging to the local community.

  • Whiteboard at SEI

    Weatherproof white-boards enable instructors to explain complex principles onsite, while the students are still engaged with hands on.

  • MATC 2015-4730

    The scenery is as beautiful as the campus.

I recently had an opportunity to visit the on-site training campus of Solar Energy International (SEI), located in Paonia, Colorado, a quaint town of 1500 people in western Colorado. I was so impressed with SEI’s mostly outdoor training center, in a spectacularly beautiful location, that I wanted to share it with you. HOMER Energy’s focus for the next month is to highlight the urgent need for millions of people to understand how small-scale, distributed power systems can both light the way for rural communities everywhere and provide valuable services to areas with an existing power grid system. SEI is a natural partner in this goal since the organization has been teaching solar installation since 1991. This little school has grown up to be an international powerhouse of solar education.

A Stunning New Center Follows a Humble Beginning

The outdoor campus at SEI allows training in field conditions and includes a wide variety of arrays and installations types. Photo courtesy Solar Energy International

I first visited SEI at their Carbondale, Colorado, campus about a decade ago. Dr. Peter Lilienthal, HOMER Energy CEO, was introducing the HOMER® software to SEI students. HOMER Energy did not yet exist; Dr. Lilienthal was a Senior Economist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). SEI was then located in a small building, and Carbondale was experiencing increasing pressure from the super-wealthy Aspen/Snowmass region 30 miles away. As rents in Carbondale went up, SEI began looking for alternatives. They made the move to Paonia over a period of several years. Their center is nothing less than stunning, beautifully designed and carefully orchestrated. It was the best thing that could have happened to them.

Paonia is in Colorado’s “fruit basket,” a small section of the state with the right growing conditions for orchards and vineyards, rarities in this land where snow is perennial on mountain peaks. Ironically, Paonia and the communities surrounding it have traditionally been supported by underground coal mining. The mines are still open, but their output is greatly reduced these days.

Paonia is not particularly easily reached. There is a 4.5-hour car ride from Denver, including three mountain passes, or a 1.5-hour drive from Grand Junction, the largest town in western Colorado, served by a regional airport. Despite the distances, SEI trains people from every corner of the world, both through their online training and hands-on certification programs.

26 Years of World-class Solar Training

Offering classes for women only and classes in Spanish enables SEI to provide training in a supportive environment. Photo courtesy Solar Energy International.

Founded in 1991, SEI’s mission is to “…provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower people, communities, and businesses worldwide.” The organization’s nonprofit status allows it to benefit from the Americorps VISTA jobs program, giving it a well-rounded staff to make its on-site training experience the best possible.

We salute Solar Energy International for its role in bringing hands-on, practical, world-class solar training to the world. I hope this group of photos inspires you to visit SEI’s website and consider if one or more of its courses might be valuable to you or your organization.

Helping Millions Understand Small Distributed Power Systems

The outdoor campus is reminiscent of many villages where installers may work. There are courses geared specifically toward working in countries without much infrastructure or support.

This post was part of our “Helping Millions Understand Small Distributed Power Systems” focus, which we are using to launch our new beta product – HOMER QuickStart. A complement to our flagship product, HOMER ProⓇ, HOMER QuickStart is a simplified online tool for optimizing the economics of small, off-grid power systems and understanding what might be possible for a given location and situation. QuickStart is not meant to replace HOMER Pro. Instead, it serves as an educational/exploratory tool, making it much easier to get started understanding how HOMER works as a decision-making and design tool for independent power systems.

HOMER QuickStart is available to use at no cost at