Women Who Run with Tools

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Courtesy of Solar Energy International

Last February, a group of dedicated and enthusiastic women descended on Tucson, Arizona to learn how to incorporate solar energy into their lives. Though it hasn’t always been this way, women wielding power tools and installing solar electric equipment is becoming more common.

For the past three years, Solar Energy International (SEI), an educational non-profit based in Carbondale, Colorado, has offered photovoltaic workshops for women. Fifty-five women have attended four workshops—three in Tucson, Arizona, and one in Portland, Maine. Twelve year old girls, NASA engineers, ranchers, housewives, and a wide variety of other women have attended the workshops. They’ve taken steps toward their goals of bringing renewable energy into their lives. Whether they came to learn about installing a home system, start an RE business, or simply to increase their knowledge of renewables, the women brought an enthusiasm to these classes seldom seen in a coed course.

Arizona PV Workshop
The fourth Women’s Photovoltaic Design & Installation workshop was held in Tucson, Arizona in February. The women participants learned about photovoltaics, met other women in the PV field, and learned technical skills not often taught to women. They also installed a system for a former SEI student—a single mom living in rural Arizona.

Women came to the workshop in Arizona from as far away as Canada and New York to learn about solarelectric technology. The diverse group of women included a rancher, a schoolteacher, a nurse, and a grandmother touring the country in her RV, among others. The workshop was taught by five women who have been working in the PV industry as technicians, electricians, educators, and researchers. The instructors included Justine Sanchez and Laurie Stone from Solar Energy International, Carol Weis of Eco Electric (a PV installer in Basalt, Colorado), Marlene Brown of Sandia National Labs, and Melinda Zytaruk, an SEI intern who volunteered to help out.

The classroom part of the workshop was held at the Cooper Environmental Science Campus (Camp Cooper), in the foothills just west of Tucson. Camp Cooper is part of the Tucson Unified School District. Elementary school children from all over Tucson spend one to two days at Camp Cooper learning about desert ecology, wildlife, and solar energy.

For the first four days of the workshop, the women learned the basics of electricity, PV system components, solar site analysis, and how to size a residential system. Through laboratory exercises, they learned how to estimate insolation, using a Solar Pathfinder. They used digital multimeters to test battery voltage as well as array current and voltage. And they learned how to wire a switch, receptacle, and light fixture.

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