Interested in Solar But Don’t Know Where to Start?


“We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem – how to run a sunbeam through a meter” — anonymous

There is a lot of buzz going on these days about the role solar will play in the current clean tech revolution occurring around the world. Many people find solar interesting but don’t know how it works, why it is gaining so much popularity and how they can get involved. Below are some of the resources I have used to make the world of solar easier to understand.

First question to answer: What is solar? For this you should read the wiki description of solar power.

Now that you understand some of the history of solar power, you may want to understand one of the most common ways that solar power is converted into electricity, for this you should read about photovoltaics or PV.

If you are like me and don’t have a science/engineering background, it may be easier to understand what all the wiki information means after the concepts are explained in an instructional video. Luckily PG&E, a giant utility company in California, has made a wonderful video available that explains PV, how to determine whether PV makes sense and a great financial breakdown for the cost of PV. The instructor also touches on thin-film and solar hot water heaters. I like the 1h47m version on PG&E’s website, but check out the video below if you only have 7 minutes.

To learn a bit more about solar hot water systems, the US Dept of Energy site provides a pretty clear explanation.

The knowledge you just received about solar and its associated costs/benefits can now be put to use as you peruse an innovative website, sf solarmap, that uses mapping technology to show the potential costs and savings for every roof in the city of San Francisco.

What are some of the other things happening in solar? A simple to follow talk on solar trends held by NPR provides some good information.

In the NPR talk, they cite solar thermal as having huge future potential. If you want to see a bit about how solar thermal works, check out one of my favorite sites; Ted.com. This is a talk by the founder of idealab on what his company has been working on.

Also, don’t forget to check out the CleanTechies Blog for articles on solar energy written by professionals working in this industry. For example, Levent Bas compares photovoltaics with solar thermal in his article, and Ceylan Oney analyzes differences between solar energy in Germany and California.

To learn more about typical roles in the solar industry and what kind of skills and experiences solar companies expect you to have, I suggest you read the Solar Job Guide by Frank Marquardt. You can get 20% off the original price when you order the book through CleanTechies.

Watching videos and reading about solar is great but how do you get hands on experience with solar? One fantastic way is as a volunteer. There is an exciting non-profit company out of Oakland, California named GRID Alternatives that trains volunteers on how solar works so that they may help install solar on the home of a low income family. GRID Alternatives works only with PV but that may change in the future. Below is a video showing some background on the company and how they do a PV installation. If you are outside the bay area consider getting in touch with your local utility or solar installation company to see how you can get involved.

Obviously the resources I’ve listed are by no means exhaustive so if you have some sites/resources you have found particularly useful in your solar research, please leave a comment so that we may all benefit from your knowledge.



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One comment on “Interested in Solar But Don’t Know Where to Start?

The green industry has become a central focus throughout our nation. Especially, the photovoltaic technology kick off in lots of business sector to cost their energy budget.

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