Walden West is an outdoor environmental science school in the Saratoga hills that hosts week-long science programs for 5,000 to 7,000 students each year. The women, who came from all across the U.S., had just finished four days of classroom sessions in Santa Cruz, California, as part of a women-only PV Design and Installation workshop offered by Solar Energy International (SEI).
Most SEI courses culminate in an actual installation, providing students with the hands-on training needed to truly understand PV system operation and installation. The PV system at Walden West began its life by educating future renewable energy workers and advocates. And since it is installed as part of an environmental education program, it will go on to teach tens of thousands of children about the benefits and practicality of solar electricity.
The installation was accomplished through a collaborative effort between Walden West Center, Solar Energy International, Rahus Institute, and Akeena Solar. Walden West received a Flex Your Power grant from the state of California for the project, but that money didn’t cover the full US$14,000 cost of the system and installation. Tor Allen, Director of Solar Schoolhouse, a program of the Rahus Institute, brought the funding situation to my attention.
Akeena Solar, which has two SEI graduates on staff, had already agreed to guarantee a local installation for the hands-on portion of the March 2003 SEI workshop. Akeena Solar’s president, Barry Cinnamon, then offered to donate the remaining equipment for the project. Everyone involved was thrilled with this solution.
“As a parent, I want to do everything I can to help break our country’s dependence on fossil fuel energy sources, both foreign and domestic. My kids go to Walden West in the summer, and they have a terrific outdoor education program,” said Cinnamon. “By helping fund the installation, we will be able to communicate the clean energy benefits of solar electricity to thousands of students, and promote the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Akeena Solar’s philosophy is simple: we believe that producing clean electricity directly from the sun is the right thing to do for our environment and economy.”
The Walden West system was an ideal installation for the SEI students for a variety of reasons. The site offered plenty of space for this large group of women to work. The installation offered some unique challenges, but was small enough to be completed in the two days allotted. To top it off, Walden West offered to feed and house the SEI students during the workshop, helping to defray their expenses.