Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clean Cookstoves for Liberia


Empowerment Society International (ESI) is a small nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals in developing countries by promoting sustainable development in their communities.  Their goal is to 'build a sustainable world, one individual at a time'.  Peter Gbelia, founder and ED of ESI, together with the Foundation For Women, Liberia (FFW) and the United National Development Program's (UNDP) Global Environment Fund, are attempting to introduce highly efficient, clean cookstoves to the rural villages of Liberia. 

 FFW Liberia intends to distribute 700 clean charcoal cookstoves throughout Liberia in 2012.  In five years, these 700 cookstoves will keep over 10,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and over 15 kg's of black carbon (1 kg of black carbon is equivalent to 680 tones of CO2). Most importantly, FFW Liberia's project will touch over 3,500 lives, empower thousands of women, and improve the health of women and children in over 700 households while saving them from the detrimental affects of Indoor Air Pollution (IAP). The program will create over 1,000 local jobs, directly by hiring distributors and sales agents, and over 3,000 indirect jobs as we compensate community liaisons, hire transport and storage facilities, creating a vibrant economic development around the cookstove.

A $60 donation will subsidize the cost of a cookstove by 50% for 2 Liberian families, but any amount is appreciated.  Donations can be made at, or you can join the Facebook Cause:  Cookstoves for Africa.  If you're not able to donate, a 'like' on Facebook and passing on information to friends and family helps a great deal.  

Click here for more information on ESI's Clean Cookstove Initiative in Liberia. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Vented Cookstoves Key in Pneumonia Fight

Did you know that 3 billion people ~ nearly half the world's population, still rely on wood, coal, crop waste or animal dung for indoor cooking and heating? The resulting indoor air pollution contributes mightily to severe pneumonia, especially among women and young children. At 1.6 million deaths per year, garden-variety pneumonia is now the leading killer of children under 5 worldwide - more than AIDS, malaria and TB combined. According to new data published in the journal NeuroToxicology, prenatal exposure to carbon monoxide generated by indoor smoke can also have long-term effects on child IQ. The good news is this: Something as simple as an indoor stove with a smoke-reducing chimney can change this ugly picture.Vented cookstoves are key in pneumonia fight - San Bernardino County Sun

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MIT Engineering 3D Solar Panels

Inspired by the way trees spread their leaves to capture sunlight, MIT Engineering Professor Jeffery Grossman wondered how efficient a three-dimensional shape covered in solar cells could be. It turns out that it has the potential to be quite efficient, even on an overcast, rainy day in Boston. Extraordinary efficiency, created by the dynamic shapes inspired by tree leaves, is what's really impressive about Professor Grossman's design. Not only are they less impacted by bad weather, their vertical shape allows them to pick up more direct sunlight and generate more electricity than flat panels using the same amount of ground space.

Check it out:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Solar Lease

While I was perusing the endless & captivating isles at Home Depot recently, I came across this advertisement. I'd seen it before, but after almost 9 months of in-depth solar panel training this year with Solar Energy International (SEI), all-things-solar seem to pique my interest even more than usual.

So of course I was intrigued, because one of the biggest deterrents for the average citizen interested in 'going solar' is the upfront cost, especially if you live in a state without a significant environmental incentive program. So the solar lease seems like an intriguing alternative to the average Joe looking to reduce his (or her) carbon footprint. I delved deeper:

Here are the nuts and bolts of it:

  • Home Depot has partnered with U.S. solar installation giant SolarCity to provide custom and professional panel installations on your home or business.
  • Instead of buying solar panels, clients simply lease the equipment and pay as they go.
  • Home Depot handles all installation-related paperwork, including permits, tax credits and coordination with power company.
  • Flexible financing options and a comprehensive project price covers everything from the initial paperwork to final cleanup.
  • The combination of the monthly lease payment and subsequent electricity bill is apparently less than an average utility bill.
  • Savings grows as utility rates increase, and lower electricity rates are locked in for the term of the lease.
  • Repairs, maintenance, monitoring and insurance are covered under the lease.
  • SolarCity will pay the difference in your bill if the system does not perform as guaranteed.
  • Performance is monitored daily online by SolarGuard®.
  • When the lease ends, there is the option to upgrade to a new system with updated technology, extend the lease in 5 year increments, or simply have the panels removed (for free).
  • If you sell your home before the lease ends, it can either be transferred to the new owners or you can pay it off and add it to the asking price.

Not a bad deal if you ask me! It's my humble opinion that leases like these, as well as community solar farms, gardens & similar allocation programs are the future of solar energy, utilizing cumulative energy sharing and payment plans to make PV systems affordable to the masses. It's an exciting time!

Check out HomeDepot & SolarCity for more information.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

PV301L: PV Battery-Based Lab

Solar Energy International's PV301L course instructs students to safely install, test, and commission battery-based PV systems at the Paonia Lab Facility.  The five days of hands-on installation practice with battery-based systems are offered at SEI’s world-class PV Lab training facility in Paonia, Colorado;  lab stations are comprised of both stand-alone and grid-tied with battery back-up systems, and include both AC and DC coupled systems.  Integrating generator back-up is also covered in detail, as participants concentrate on battery safety, wiring, and maintenance, and will wire balance of system components including: combiner boxes, disconnects, power centers, controllers, battery banks, and inverters.  Set-up, basic programming, and testing of components for specific battery-based applications are integrated into the lab sessions, students learn fundamental procedures for safe installation and commissioning practices, and all exercises have an emphasis on battery safety considerations.  The maximum eight to one student-to-instructor ratio and comprehensive lab setting create the ultimate environment to get first hands-on PV and battery experience.

 I learned alot about the 'other side' of PV installation (after taking the Grid-Tie lab the previous month) & the Lab Facility in Paonia is beyond compare.  I can't imagine a more pleasant place to be trained in this amazing technology!

 Day 1 had us grouped up in the classroom in downtown Paonia, going over the basics of battery-based PV installation, before moving to the lab on the outskirts of town. 

Joe Villacci (one of three instructors for the course) goes over the basics of battery design & single string design & set up.

The class split into 3rds (one group per instructor) & went through all the specifics of setting up various systems, rotating throughout the week.  With 5-7 students per instructor, the class provided invaluable personal attention.

I must admit, I kept getting distracted by the breathtaking sky show.

Going over design schematics after wiring up the panels of one of the systems. 

Wiring up the inverter, charge controllers, et al.

Downtime @ The Revolution Brewery.

Awwwww, such love amongst SEI instructors & staff : )

Rule #1: Stay Hydrated !

Solar snacks:  Nutella & Banana toast in the solar cooker!

One system ready to go!

Laying down the last panel on the pitched-roof mounted system.

PV installation is fun!

Tawnya, our popcicle princess, rewarded us every afternoon with delicious icy treats.

Taking respite from the sun in the tented classroom.

Music in the Park; there's always something going on in the little mountain town of Paonia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PV206: Solar Business & Technical Sales

PV206 Solar Business and Technical Sales is an excellent companion training opportunity to be taken with or after any of SEI's PV technical training. This workshop is a perfect fit for those currently working in the solar industry or hoping to work in solar sales to comprehensively cover business and financial topics not covered in our technical training. The class has been developed from the ground up with a strong focus on business / financial principals and non-technical topics directly aligned with the NABCEP PV Technical Sales task analysis.

Through insightful instruction from working experts in the field, SEI’s PV206 workshop covers marketing and sales techniques you will need to be successful in the solar biz. Concepts discussed in detail include customer qualification, marketing strategies, creating conceptual design proposals, system costing, incentives and rebates, cost-benefit analysis, financing options, and the non-financial benefits of photovoltaic systems.

Presentations from active experts in the solar marketing & sales industry from various companies across the nation provided in-depth practical & comprehensive information about real-life situations & circumstances in the solar business field. Lectures were personal & thought-provoking, & students received valuable insider knowledge from experienced & seasoned professionals, & had a good time doin' it!

We had a well-rounded class, with an eclectic mix of solar professionals. The course was dominated by our 3 main instructors, & peppered with a variety of local & national industry moguls.

Or fun-lovin' solar instructors; Andy Black, Jeff Spies & Liz Merry.

Andy Black of OnGrid Solar directed the first 2 days of the workshop with detailed instruction on industry standards, effective sales strategies & solar marketing tactics.

Jeff Spies, of SolarSpies Training & Consulting Services in Arizona, took control of Day #3 with more sales & marketing gems.

Liz Merry, solar guru of Verve Solar Consulting, was our class director & kept things going in an orderly & mixed-up fashion.

SEI's Kris Sutton came in to give us the what's-what on OSHA guidelines & the importance of safety certifications.

We were even graced by a visit from SEI's Executive Director, Johnny Weis, who is an impressive public speaker & got us thinking about the future of solar energy & what it will mean for the good ole USA.

A powerful image.

I love this table.

And after 4.5 days on our butts in a classroom, a field trip to see the array @ the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, installed by Carbondale's own SunSense Solar, was a welcome change of pace.

An example of an 'anti-theft' nut that requires a special tool... you'd be surprised at how often panels are stolen from solar sites!

Only a fraction of the huge array that powers the Colorado Rocky Mountain School.


Thanks everyone for a fun & valuable class!

Friday, August 12, 2011

SEI's 20th Anniversary Party

For 20 years, Solar Energy International has been dedicated to hands-on and online solar training and renewable energy education in wind, micro-hydro, sustainable building and developing world technologies. Solar Energy International also works with grassroots and development organizations to promote sustainability and improve quality of life worldwide through viable outreach programs.

So where were you in 1991? Solar Energy International was just getting started teaching the world about renewable energy technologies. In celebration, SEI's co-founder and executive director Johnny Weiss, the SEI Board, and SEI Staff will host a fun, family-friendly old-fashioned BBQ potluck at Third St. Center in Carbondale, CO, the funky mountain town where SEI was founded 20 years ago.

The festivities centered around a free country-style BBQ, 1-4 p.m., outside of SEI's new workshop location at Third St. Center in Carbondale, featuring burgers, hot dogs, picnic fare, Revolution Brewery suds, lemonade, face painting, hula hooping, volleyball, hackey sack, live music by Carbondale's own All the Pretty Horses, solar cooking demos, and all-around fun for the whole family.

Here's a little recap of the fun:

Fresh local meat & vegetarian delights served up by SEI's master barbeque-ers.

Supplemented by a variety of solar cooked treats.

Beer, wine, lemonade & some pretty darn good mojitos were on the drink list.

Al served in SEI-labeled mugs for party-goers to take home.

Instructor Andy Black even shucked up some oysters brought fresh from PEI.

Thank goodness for the huge tent that provided shade from the sun to happy partiers.

And the festivities abounded on this gorgeous Colorado summer day... the form of face painting...


Creative crafts for kiddies...


Solar Powered Bubbles...


Not to mention the awesome local band All The Pretty Horses that played throughout the day.

And it would hardly be a work party without a word from some of SEI's most influential players.

Attentive guests paying homage to the wonder that is SEI.

I think it's safe to say a good time was had by all, since the party continued well into the night.!

Good job SEI ~ I was glad to be a part of your special day : )

Thursday, August 11, 2011

ESI Distributes Fuel-Efficient Stoves in Liberia

Empowerment Society International (ESI) is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing sustainable development innovations and knowledge to sub-Saharan Africa. ESI’s motto is to “Build a Sustainable World, One Individual at a Time…” Their mission is to empower individuals by promoting sustainable development in their communities, founded to empower the children of sub-Saharan Africa affected by war and conflict, and to treat, prevent, and manage aids and other diseases, to combat illiteracy, and defeat poverty.

ESI recently distributed over 1,000 Envirofit clean cookstoves to 60 Liberian families and refugees from Cote D’Ivoire throughout Liberia, 60 of which were granted or subsidized to families or refugees. Additional financing will allow them to introduce new technologies into rural communities (1) decreasing indoor air quality dangers and improving health, (2) decreasing deforestation by requiring women to collect less wood for cooking and heating, (3) decreasing the invisible costs women and children face in cooking and preparation labor, and (4) reducing rural poverty by participating in Envirofit’s carbon emission reduction revenue sharing scheme.

ESI is a small nonprofit run by a dedicated team of people committed to helping those in need in developing areas. Need an environmental org. to support, follow or promote? Look no further!

Read more about ESI & their projects in Sub Saharan Africa here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

10 Non-Travel Resources To Help You Travel Better

Recently back from a long month of non-stop PV training in the mountains, my thoughts naturally turn again to travel... that bug is always lying dormant right there at the surface, & I'm fairly obsessed with each & every nuance of travel. I came across this article by Boots & All while browsing my Travel RSS, & found that the advice is not only helpful for planning a 'Round The World' (RTW) trip, but in the organization of everyday life. It's so helpful, in fact, that I felt the need to save & share it. Check it out ~ I bet it'll rustle your travel &/or organization bug, too:

10 Non-Travel Resources To Help You Travel Better: "

Planning a RTW trip is a time consuming process, and travelers are always looking for ways to make their planning and traveling easier. In this technological age we live in, there are countless resources that can help us stay organized while planning a trip of this magnitude, and there are plenty more to help us once we’re on the road for an extended length of time.

Being able to accurately keep up with the budget, storing photos and music and books online, backing up our computers, and keeping up with friends and family back home are all aspects of a RTW trip made easier by the advance in technology.

Not all of the following 10 items were made with travel in mind, but these tactics and resources can help any long term traveler stay organized and in touch while on the road.

1. Evernote

This list is not in order of awesomeness, but if it was, Evernote would probably be at or near the top. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, referenced this app in his best-selling book. After checking it out and playing around with it, I am now addicted. You can access Evernote via a mobile phone app, on your desktop, and online.

Evernote is basically a note-taking, organizational, and storage system that can hold just about anything. Snap a photo with your phone, upload to Evernote, tag it, and any word in the photo is searchable. You can snap pictures of things like business cards and even handwritten notes, and then store them in Evernote with appropriate tags to keep them organized. The words in handwritten notes are even searchable, and between that, the tags, and the various notebooks you can create, it makes it super easy to find anything you have uploaded, even when you have thousands and thousands of notes! No need for a mess of post it notes scattered about your home or office again.

For travel, this can come in handy in a variety of ways. Many travelers are constantly jotting down notes in random places-notebooks, guidebooks, random pieces of paper, napkins, whatever we can get our hands on. If traveling with a smart phone, you can get rid of all the paper clutter. Someone suggests a great hotel? Open the Evernote app, type the name in, tag it, put it in the appropriate notebook, and bang, it’s available via your phone, on your desktop, or online at your account on See a yummy looking menu while walking around? Snap a photo of it, tag it, and you have a reminder for later, complete with the menu and address. Evernote has changed not only how organized I am in my travels, but also in my daily life.

...see the rest of the article here.

Check out Boots & All @

Friday, July 22, 2011

Grid-Direct Design & the NEC

Aaaaaahhhhhh the Grid-Direct Design & NEC class.... sigh.... such memories. This was a course to remember if ever there was one.

If only I could.

But I can't. I can't remember much of what I learned in the class because it was completely over my head. This class literally made me want to cry. The NEC (National Electric Code) Book is one of THE most terrifying things to ever be published, & getting to know it up close & personal has been an outright fright-show. Don't get me wrong, it all makes sense... all the sense of a psychiatrist prescribing meds to a junkie ~ I just didn't know I'd have to get my psych degree AND slam China White just learn to install PV! How could I know I'd have to memorize an 800-page code book before I get to climb up on a roof & hook up some solar panels?!?

But I won't despair.... I'll make it... It'll be a long tough road, but I'll pass that NABCEP exam if it's the last thing I do. And besides, you don't want people up on your roof who don't know what they're doing, right?? Well... rest assured that your credentialed PV installers know their stuff... & lots of supplementary numbers & in-depth math equations to go along with it.

These 2 women, who seemed so normal & sane during the previous installation class in Paonia, genuinely LOVE every aspect of PV design & the National Electric Code (NEC). And boy do they know their stuff. Amazingly well-informed & freakishly passionate about the topic, I can't imagine this class better taught by anyone else. Freaks though they may be...

Porn for the NEC-lover.

The Third Street Center in Carbondale, CO is a renovated elementary school turned earthy-groovy nonprofit center that houses a variety of regional artists, nonprofits & environmentally-minded for-profit organizations related to community collaboration.

The Third St. Cafe offers awesome coffee & tasty treats, with a cute little outdoor sitting area in the summer months. Very cute & small-town-homey.

The solar array on top of the Third Street Center, along with vented skylights & abundant recycling efforts power the majority of the building's electric needs.

Whitney O. (A) performs a popular rendition of the official Yosemite Sam Happy Solar Dance.

Students check out the inverter bank that converts this massive solar array's DC energy into AC power to be used in 'our world'.

The class took a little field trip to visit a local organization called SunSense Solar, who has been designing & installing residential, commercial & community solar power for the past 20 years. (

This huge array consists of 756 modules: 18 42-module sub-arrays, with 14 modules per string & powers the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) - a college-preparatory boarding & day school for high school kids in the area. The Jossman Building, which houses the CRMS Humanities Program, will use one third of the power, & the rest will be purchased by Xcel Energy and distributed to customers in Carbondale.

Isaac Ellis of SunSense gives us the low-down on the overall functionality of the array, which was installed in 2008 & is monitored closely online & in person.

This is one of 3 Sunny Boy inverter towers, each with 6 inverters; 3 strings per inverter. The Sunny Boys are unique in that they provide constant online tracking of the system's productivity, & will alert both customer & client via email when there is a significant change in power output.

A view of Mt. Sopris from the back side of the solar array.
Carbondale's pretty.

A much needed break taken with live music & picnic-ing at the lovely Two Rivers Park in the nearby town of Glenwood Springs.