SolarFest, the prequel Pre-festival: Workshop kicks off July 6.

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald on 5/23/10] SolarFest, an annual celebration of renewable energy, art, music and education, returns to Tinmouth’s Forget-Me-Not Farm again this July. A pre-workshop is being offered just before the festival to those interested in learning more about photovoltaic systems operation and installation. The advanced photovoltaic technology workshop will run July 6 to 10, at the SolarFest festival site in Tinmouth.

Since 1995 SolarFest has built a reputation as being one of the Northeast’s premier energy and music festivals. But it’s more than just fun in the sun. The organization takes its mission “to inspire conservation, promote renewable energy and support sustainable communities” very seriously. The festival itself is packed with a diverse selection of educational workshops and presentations for both adults and children.

The five-day pre-festival workshop is a unique opportunity for a hands-on experience. Participants will have unprecedented access to complex photovoltaic (PV) systems, including a complete review of all components of the systems, advanced design criteria and load analysis.

“Most places where you can get this type of instruction, you do just the classroom work,” said SolarFest Managing Director Patty Kenyon. “We strive for the balance between the classroom and the actual.”

Workshop participants are required to be “knowledgeable on the basics of PV technologies, basic electrical principles, the impact of the solar resource, types of PV systems and the components of a system.” Kenyon hopes the advanced focus will allow participants to get more out of the week. “We have found that folks who come in without some background in electrical systems tend to sit back and watch during the hands-on, instead of jumping in.”

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald on 5/23/10] Richard Gottlieb of Sunnyside Solar Inc., and John Blittersdorf of Central Vermont Solar & Wind will lead the workshop. Both will be sharing their decades of expertise in the field of solar energy and PV systems.

Based in Guilford, Sunnyside was founded in 1979 by Gottlieb with his wife, Carol Levin. Since then they have been designing and installing small- to medium-sized PV systems. Blittersdorf noted that Gottlieb has been on the cutting edge of the solar movement from the beginning. Indeed, a circa-1959 photograph on the Sunnyside website depicts the Columbia University mechanical engineering grad working on NASA’s Vanguard satellite. According to Blittersdorf, some of the earliest PV technology was successfully used on this project.

The couple also teaches workshops throughout the Northeast. “We started teaching at our shop here in Guilford — one-day courses mostly for potential customers and homeowners who needed additional information to make decisions about utilizing PV for their energy supply,” said Levin. Later they expanded the course to include tradespeople interested in adding PV installation to their business. Other students are educators, hobby people and individuals who are “just interested” in the technology and how it works, according to Levin.

Co-instructor Blittersdorf’s substantial PV knowledge rounds out the course. Blittersdorf founded Central Vermont Solar & Wind in Rutland in 1996. For the last several years, the company has been in charge of power for the SolarFest site — one of the largest off-grid systems in the state.

According to Blittersdorf, the hands-on component of this course is unique. “You get five times what you’d get from a typical workshop,” he said. Participants will assist in the set-up of the festival’s PV system, which Blittersdorf noted is “one of the most complex systems they’ll ever see.”

As well as setting up the festival’s system, the workshop crew will review current equipment information and functions and study the National Electrical Code. The course will cover the economics of PV systems, and the class will also install a wind turbine.

While the scale of SolarFest’s system adds to its complexity, Blittersdorf explained that PV systems in general are becoming increasingly complex. “The longer you’re in the business, the harder it has become to design systems — there are many more options,” he said. Fortunately, this course sets participants on a path to confidently designing and installing their own PV systems.

Completion of the course qualifies all participants to apply for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) entry-level photovoltaic exam, now an essential component for anyone looking to install PV systems commercially. As solar continues to become a big business, NABCEP certification is becoming a necessity. Some states, like Maine, already require it. While completion of the course is no guarantee that one will pass the NABCEP exam, it is a vital step toward certification.

One past participant has done just that. Dan Fischl of Morristown, N.J., attended SolarFest’s 2009 PV workshop. After completing the course, he took and passed the NABCEP exam. He expressed his gratitude to Gottlieb for the skills the course gave him, which he applied to install a grid-tied PV system on his home.

Fischl observed that the down economy and wider interest in solar and other renewables has become a noticeable trend in New Jersey. “Because of all the incentives and the housing slump, many construction workers and electricians are now installing solar systems here,” he said. “Recently, I heard that 200 new installers were added to the state’s ‘approved’ list just last year.” Fischl also noted that prices for installed PV systems have been dropping.

As interest in solar energy spreads, demand for the workshop has increased. Last year, a number of applicants were turned away due to a lack of space. Gottlieb and Blittersdorf are looking forward to another full class this year where they will impart their extensive knowledge of PV technology to a brand new crop of eager students.

Registration is now open for SolarFest’s advance photovoltaic technology workshop, which will run daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fee of $695 includes daily lunch, a text on PV installations and a full weekend pass to SolarFest. Pre-registration is required. The deadline for registration is June 15. For more information, visit www.solarfest.org.

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