Climate Math: Adaptation, Not Mitigation

“[The Paris climate accord] is a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bull— for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target’ … is just worthless words…. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.” (James Hansen: 2015)

“We need to stop trying to balance the increasingly parsimonious carbon emissions budgets entailed by a two-degree target on the backs of the global poor. There is no moral justification for denying those populations the benefits of fossil-fuel-driven development.” (Ted Nordhaus: Foreign Affairs, 2018)

Ted Nordhaus of Environmental Progress has widened the civil war within the climate mainstream on grounds of social justice. “The Two-Degree Delusion,” subtitled The Dangers of an Unrealistic Climate Change Target, just published in Foreign Affairs, exposes the daunting climate math of carbon-dioxide mitigation strategy. In place of too late, politically unrealistic, all-pain no-gain CO2 rationing, Nordhaus urges a shift to a wealth-based, market-driven adaptation as climate policy.

Nordhaus argument can be reduced to three major points:

  • Global CO2 emissions are rising, confirming that there has not been a “step change” from fossil-fuel reliance (“what progress the world has made to cut global emissions has been, under even the most generous assumptions, incremental”).
  • International efforts to jawbone and ration CO2 emissions—symbolic, nonbinding, and largely inconsequential—have made the 40-year-old goal of keeping man-made global warming to under two degrees Celsius “no longer obtainable.”
  • The “arbitrary” target to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, which would require “emissions … to fall precipitously,” would leave “the world ill prepared to mitigate or manage the consequences.”

His conclusion?

There is no moral justification for denying those populations the benefits of fossil-fuel-driven development. Lower-emissions levels associated with curtailed development will not provide any meaningful amelioration of climate extremes for many decades to come, whereas the benefits that come with development will make those populations substantially more resilient to climate extremes right now.

Nordhaus works within the mainstream of climate modeling. The incremental effects of postulated CO2-driven climate change are both uncertain and small. (“It is not until modelers project into the twenty-second century that large differences begin to emerge,” he notes.) Alleged “tipping points” for worse-case climate events, he adds, are plagued by “enormous uncertainties.” Relatedly, “the precautionary principle holds equally well at one degree of warming, a threshold that we have already surpassed; one and a half degrees, which we will soon surpass; or, for that matter, three degrees.”

Energy Realism

Nordhaus ties energy realism to climate realism. Today’s low-carbon technologies are costly, inefficient, and a burden for consumers and taxpayers, he notes. The proffered saviors of grid-level wind and solar fall short, for “the value of intermittent sources … declines precipitously as their share of electricity production rises.”

Nuclear, while better, has disappointed: “Outside of China and a few other Asian economies, few nations have been able to build large nuclear plants cost-effectively in recent decades.”

A new generation of low-carbon energy technologies are necessary, but “all are decades away from viable application.” And the fact remains that “almost 30 years after the UN established the two-degree threshold, over 80 percent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, a share that has remained largely unchanged since the early 1990s.”

Adapt, Don’t Mitigate

Wealth is health—and the means for environmental betterment. This insight from free-market environmentalism is prominent in Nordhaus’s call for a paradigm shift in climate policy. “A natural disaster of the same magnitude will generally bring dramatically greater suffering in a poor country than in a rich one,” he notes, meaning that “the faster those nations develop, the more resilient they will be to climate change.”

“Development in most parts of the world,” he posits, “still entails burning more fossil fuels—in most cases, a lot more.”

Most climate advocates have accepted that some form of adaptation will be a necessity for human societies over the course of this century. But many refuse to acknowledge that much of that adjustment will need to be powered by fossil fuels. Hard infrastructure—modern housing, transportation networks, and the like—is what makes people resilient to climate and other natural disasters.

More, Better Reasons Too

Nordhaus’s adaptation-for-mitigation strategy, or free-market self-help in place of energy statism, is intellectually stronger that his article lets on. He works from the shaky premise of high-sensitivity warming from the enhanced greenhouse effect (he refers to “a planet that is almost certainly going to be much hotter even if the world cuts emissions rapidly”).

Yet sensitivity estimates have been coming down in the mainstream literature. And “fat tail” extreme warming scenarios are being discounted if not ruled out with recent research. A new base case for serious consideration is global lukewarming, as opposed to the (aging) standard IPCC temperature range, which both mitigates the alleged problem and reduces the effect of mitigation itself.

Nordhaus should also acknowledge (if not champion) the benefits of CO2 fertilization and moderate warmth to upend the “social cost of carbon” to justify government mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Conclusion

Kudos to Ted Nordhaus for a well-reasoned scholarly article in a mainstream journal that will be hard for the entrenched climate intelligentsia to ignore. His is an intellectual moment of note for critics of global climate governance—a mistaken, futile, and socially unjust crusade.

As the climate math becomes more and more daunting, or just plain politically impossible, expect the adaption-not-mitigation argument to only grow in stature.

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A Gas Tax Hike Is the Wrong Way to Fund Highways

Various reports suggest that policymakers—including President Trump himself—are considering raising the federal gas tax, by as much as 25 cents per gallon. Supporters argue that a hike is necessary to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, and—for those concerned about climate change—some also argue that a higher gas tax is needed to encourage drivers to switch to electric vehicles or mass transit.

These arguments are incorrect, even on their own terms. A gas tax is in principle a very blunt instrument for funding highway usage. And in terms of the political optics, imposing a huge new regressive tax on drivers would justify the critics of the recent income tax reform plan, who claimed that Republicans wanted to help the rich at the expense of the poor.

Ironically, if President Trump would just stick to his privately led infrastructure plan, then all of these problems would go away. The nation could get investment into those roads and bridges that genuinely need attention, while market prices would guide decisions and reduce traffic congestion. Road construction would be paid by users, the same way we pay for hotel construction. Smoother traffic flows would relieve stress and also cut way back on carbon dioxide emissions. As usual, the way to solve the problems in infrastructure is through less government intervention, not more.

Gas Tax, a Blunt Instrument

For some reason, people have adopted the notion that a gas tax directly attaches a fee to a driver’s “highway usage.” But that’s not true at all. Some people drive on highways very often, while other drivers remain on local roads. Yet the federal gasoline tax hits them equally.

Furthermore, when we’re trying to allocate the costs of highway construction fairly, the real issue is the wear and tear associated with a vehicle, not how many gallons of gasoline it burns. For example, an electric car causes a comparable amount of damage to a highway as a similarly-sized vehicle using conventional fuel, but the federal gas tax would implicitly charge only the latter driver for his usage.

In short, there is only a very tenuous link between the purchase of gasoline, and highway “usage.” Taxing gas to fund highways is like taxing forks to fund agriculture.

Tax Cuts for the Rich, Tax Hikes for the Poor?

There were many good arguments in favor of cutting the corporate income tax. Contrary to the claims of the critics, the recent tax legislation was not merely a “tax cut for the rich,” but instead should be expected to benefit workers and capitalists alike.

However, it would be even harder for Republicans to defend this stance, if shortly after cutting the corporate tax rate, they then more than double the federal gas tax. Regardless of the theoretical merits of such moves, it would certainly seem to the average voter that the Republicans weren’t really supporters of “lower taxes” after all.

Privatization Is the Answer

Ironically, the best solution to these political difficulties is contained in President Trump’s own infrastructure proposal—to rely on privatization, transferring roads and bridges back to investors who can rely on market signals to guide them in serving customers.

Privately-owned roads and bridges would have tolls set by supply and demand, just like prices are set in any other market. Infrastructure in need of repair or expansion would get it, whereas wasteful boondoggles would be minimized with private money on the line. People who rarely used highways wouldn’t be forced to pay for them, the way they are now with the federal gas tax.

Furthermore, for those worried about climate change, market pricing of tolls would greatly reduce traffic congestion. The smooth flow of vehicles during “rush hour” would eliminate unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions.

Conclusion

Using the federal gas tax to fund highways and other infrastructure is at best a very blunt instrument, and at worst an invitation to wasteful spending. Furthermore, it would be very bad optics for Republicans to support a regressive tax hike right after approving a large corporate income tax cut. The way to repair the nation’s infrastructure without burdening taxpayers is to rely on the market.

 

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Secure your spot for the Colorado Solar Career Expo powered by Solar Ready Colorado

Solar Energy International (SEI), Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), and GRID Alternatives are teaming up again to bring you the Colorado Solar Career Expo powered by Solar Ready Colorado. The Colorado Solar Career Expo will take place on March 14 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Aurora Conference Center in Aurora, Colorado.

The Solar Career Expo is co-located with COSEIA’s Solar Power Mountain West Conference, and is free to attend, even if you aren’t registered for Solar Power Mountain West.  

The Colorado Solar Career Expo is the perfect opportunity to explore career paths in the solar industry, and to connect with Colorado solar energy industry employers. Our employer roster is filling fast, but attendees include Namaste Solar, EcoMark Solar, Sunsense Solar, Photon Brothers, the Solar Training Network, and more!  

We welcome anyone who is actively looking for a job, is interested in talking to prospective employers, or is just getting started in the industry to come explore and get familiar with solar jobs and employers. For more information, contact Allison Moe, GRID Alternatives Workforce Development Manager at amoe@gridalternatives.org or 303-481-4384.

EMPLOYERS: Booths are still available if you are interested in representing your business or organization at the Expo! Attendees will include students of job training organizations such as Solar Energy International, and GRID Alternatives trainees who have direct hands-on experience installing solar, as well as Colorado residents looking to start or advance their solar careers. For more information, contact Kevin Sova, SEI Solar Training Recruiter at kevin@solarenergy.org.

Solar Ready Colorado is  is a statewide effort through Solar Energy International and industry partners to expand the activities of outreach, recruiting, and training to the rapidly growing Colorado solar industry and jobs market. Through industry partnerships and support from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the program provides a dedicated outreach and recruitment effort as well as technical training through SEI’s long running, non-profit 501(c)(3) technical training program to those interested in entering the Colorado solar industry.

Sign up to attend the Colorado Solar Career Expo online today. Hope to see you there!

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SEI Alum spearheads Village Solar Technician Accreditation (ViSTA) Program in the Philippines

In the fall, Solar Energy International (SEI) received a message from an organization in the Philippines, Stiftung SolarEnergie (StS), sharing updates on how classes positively impacted their organization.

StS’s mission is to “empower rural and marginalized villages throughout the Philippines by providing access to sustainable solar energy solutions.” Their focus areas are empowering schools, health (birthing) centers, emergency response, and communities, with sustainability resources. In the Philippines, StS is partnered with We Care Solar, a non-profit with the mission of “promoting safe motherhood and reducing maternal mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and medical devices using solar electricity.”

Through their connection with We Care Solar, StS solar practitioners were able to link up with SEI co-founder Johnny Weiss, and in August 2015, three Filipino solar practitioners completed an SEI online course on Advanced Battery-based PV System Design. They were sponsored by Johnny Weiss and SEI.

One StS employee who attended is the Technical Officer of StS Phil, John Vlademiere Tomas, who piloted the Village Solar Technician Accreditation (ViSTA) program, which aims to “help ensure sustainability of StS-programs by increasing local solar technical support capacity.”

Photo courtesy of StS.

According to John, “Completing SEI classes gave me confidence in conducting PV trainings.  Because of the knowledge gained from SEI, we were able to design the ViSTA training module, and are also able to provide distance-guidance to the trained local technicians.”

SEI offers basic to advanced battery technology courses including, PV203: PV System Fundamentals (Battery-Based), PV303: Advanced PV Multimode and Microgrid Design, and PV304: Advanced PV Stand-Alone System Design. These classes are available both online and in-person, you can check out our full solar installer training schedule online.  

“If you want to [work in the] solar industry or fully understand how it works, I highly recommend taking courses so you will be more confident and have more knowledge with PV Systems. SEI offers different courses that can help you in your career in PV. In a short period of time taking this course you will enjoy [it], and the most important is you will really learn a lot and meet new people that you can share ideas [with] that will help you grow in your career in PV Systems,” John said.

Do you have an SEI alumni success story? Contact SEI Marketing Manager Mary Marshall at mary@solarenergy.org.

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AEO 2018 Forecasts a Fossil Future and Nearly Flat Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2018 projects that fossil fuels will supply 78 percent of the nation’s energy in 2050, only slightly down from 81 percent today. Further, carbon dioxide emissions in the agency’s forecast grow only slightly in the ensuing 34 years—by just 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2050, despite the economy almost doubling over the 34 year forecast.

The mix of fuels is projected to change with natural gas and non-hydroelectric renewables garnering a larger share than today. Natural gas consumption grows the most on an absolute basis, and non-hydroelectric renewable energy grows the most on a percentage basis. However, non-hydroelectric renewable energy makes only slight in-roads in this 34 year period increasing from an 8 percent share in 2016 to a 13 percent share in 2050. Reflecting President Trump’s energy dominance policy, the United States becomes a net energy exporter by 2022.

Source: EIA

In EIA’s forecast, natural gas increases its share from to 29 percent in 2016 to 33 percent in 2050, while petroleum’s share declines from 37 percent in 2016 to 33 percent in 2050, and coal’s share declines from 15 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2050.

EIA projects that the economy will grow at 2.0 percent per year in its reference case; that energy consumption will grow at 0.4 percent per year; and that carbon dioxide emissions will grow at 0.1 percent per year between 2017 and 2050.

Source: EIA

The United States has been a net energy importer since 1953, but that changes in the early 2020s as the United States decreases its imports and increases its exports. Most U.S. trade historically and in the projection period is in crude oil and petroleum products. The United States imports mostly crude oil and exports mostly petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel. Except for the period between 2029 and 2045, the United States remains a net importer of petroleum and other liquids in EIA’s forecast.

In natural gas trade, the United States remains a net exporter with pipeline shipments to Mexico and Canada and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to further destinations. The United States continues to be a net exporter of coal, but its export growth is not expected to increase significantly due to competition from suppliers closer to major international markets.

Source: EIA

Oil and Gas Sector

Natural gas production accounts for nearly 39 percent of U.S. energy production by 2050 in EIA’s reference case. Production from shale gas and tight oil plays as a share of total U.S. natural gas production is projected to continue to grow because of the large size of the associated resources, which extends over more than 500,000 square miles. To satisfy the growing demand for natural gas, production expands into more expensive-to-produce areas, putting upward pressure on production costs and prices.

Natural gas production is expected to grow 6 percent per year from 2017 to 2020–greater than the 4 percent per year average growth rate from 2005 to 2015. However, after 2020, it slows to less than 1 percent per year for the remainder of the projection. Natural gas growth in the near term is due to growing demand from large capital-intensive chemical projects and from the development of liquefaction export terminals in an environment of low natural gas prices.

Offshore natural gas production in the United States is expected to be almost flat over the projection period as production from new discoveries generally offsets declines in legacy fields. Production of coalbed methane gas is expected to decline through 2050 because of unfavorable economic conditions for producing that resource.

Source: EIA

U.S. crude oil production in 2018 is projected to surpass the 9.6 million barrels per day record set in 1970 and is expected to plateau between 11.5 million barrels per day and 11.9 million barrels per day as tight oil development moves into less productive areas and as well productivity declines. Lower 48 onshore tight oil development continues to be the main driver of total U.S. crude oil production, accounting for about 65 percent of cumulative domestic production in the reference case between 2017 and 2050. Continued technological advancements and improvements in industry practices are expected to lower costs and to increase the volume of oil and natural gas recovery per well.

Previously announced deep-water discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico lead to increases in Lower 48 states offshore production through 2021. Offshore production then declines through 2035 and remains flat through 2050 as new discoveries offset declines in legacy fields

The continued development of tight oil and shale gas resources supports growth in natural gas plant liquids production, which reaches 5.0 million barrels per day in 2023 in the reference case—almost a 35 percent increase from its 2017 level. Natural gas plant liquids production nearly doubles between 2017 and 2050, supported by an increase in global petrochemical industry demand.

Electricity Sector

This year’s AEO does not include the Clean Power Plan in its reference case as President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt plan to dismantle it. In the near term, fuel prices determine the share of natural gas-fired and coal-fired generation. But, in the longer term, the relatively low cost of coal moderates the decline in coal-fired generation. Growth in renewable generation in the near term is due mainly to federal tax credits, but is also influenced by state renewable portfolio standards.

The primary drivers for new capacity in the reference case are the retirements of older, less-efficient fossil fuel units, the near-term availability of renewable energy tax credits, and the assumed continued decline in the capital cost of renewables, especially solar photovoltaic. Low natural gas prices and favorable costs for renewable energy result in natural gas and renewables as the primary sources of new generation capacity.

Between 2011 and 2016, net coal capacity decreased by nearly 60 gigawatts, mostly as a result of compliance with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. In EIA’s projection, coal-fired generating capacity decreases by an additional 65 gigawatts between 2017 and 2030 as a result of low cost natural gas and increasing renewable generation and then levels off near 190 gigawatts through 2050.

EIA projects substantial nuclear power retirements as the industry continues to have problems competing in competitive power markets. EIA expects nuclear electric generating capacity to decline from 99 gigawatts in 2017 to 79 gigawatts in 2050 (a 20 percent decline)—with no new plant additions beyond 2020.

Renewable generation is projected to increase 139 percent by 2050, led by wind and solar generation, which account for 94 percent of the total growth in the reference case. The extended federal tax credits account for much of the accelerated growth in these renewables in the near term. Solar photovoltaic growth continues throughout the projection period due to continued assumed decreases in solar PV costs.

Support Growth in Energy Storage.

Source: EIA

Between 2020 and 2050, utility-scale wind capacity is projected to grow by 20 gigawatts and utility scale solar photovoltaic capacity is projected to grow by 127 gigawatts. Between 2018 and 2021, 80 gigawatts of new wind and solar photovoltaic capacity are added due to assumed declining capital costs and the availability of federal tax credits.

In AEO 2018, EIA represents two distinct solar photovoltaic technologies to account for the cost and value trade-offs between fixed-tilt and tracking-solar technologies. EIA also represented energy storage on the electric grid with four-hour batteries in AEO 2018 to model electric grid operations, including the integration of wind and solar generation.

Over the forecast period, utility-scale storage is expected to grow by 34 gigawatts. In the near term, policies such as storage mandates in California and market participation rules in the PJM electricity market support growth in storage systems to stabilize grid operations, improve utilization of existing generators, and integrate intermittent technologies such as wind and solar into the grid. In the longer term, wind and solar growth are projected to support economic opportunities for storage systems and enable renewable generation produced during the hours with high wind or solar output to supply electricity at times of peak electricity demand.

Conclusion

EIA sees fossil fuels as dominating the U.S. energy sector through 2050, despite significant penetration of wind and solar power for electric generation. EIA’s forecast retires 85 gigawatts of coal and nuclear capacity and replaces them with natural gas, wind and solar capacity spurred by low natural gas prices, federal tax credits for wind and solar, and state renewable portfolio standards, with solar PV increasing the most.

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History of solar documentary, ‘Solar Roots,’ to screen in Paonia, Colorado

PAONIA, Colorado — Renewable energy advocates and solar training professionals will have the chance to see the story of the start of the modern solar photovoltaic (PV) industry through the eyes of its pioneers. On March 26, Solar Energy International (SEI) and the Paradise Theatre in Paonia, Colorado, present “Solar Roots – The Pioneers of PV” as part of the SEI’s 11th Annual Instructor Training, which brings together over 70 PV instructors and staff for three days of learning, camaraderie, and industry best practices.

Executive Producer and SEI alum Jeff Spies explains that “’Solar Roots” is the true story of how a small group of backwoods engineers and business hippies brought PV technology down from space into homes around the world delivering ‘solar power to the people’.

Starting in 2015, Spies and director Jason Vetterli embarked upon a two year journey, traveling the country, interviewing more than 50 pioneers of the PV industry in the making of this educational, humorous, and touching film. “Solar Roots” features Colorado’s own solar pioneers Johnny Weiss, who co-founded the nonprofit training organization SEI in Carbondale, Colorado, in 1991, and Ed Eaton, who has taught solar to thousands of people from around the world, including many of SEI’s instructors.

“The story starts in the mid 1800s with the early scientific discoveries in photovoltaics, and quickly progresses through the development of the Bell Silicon Cell in the 1950s, the rapid deployment of PV in the space race of the ’60s, and the debut of terrestrial PV in the 1970s, before finally focusing on the colorful group of men and women who gave birth to the PV home power movement in the early ’80’s,” which Spies said “eventually grew to define the modern day solar PV industry.”

Today Johnny lives  in Paonia, where SEI’s world-class training facility is now based. Johnny frequently travels abroad and to Native American reservations in his work as a philanthropist and solar consultant.  Ed lives off-grid in Paonia, continues to install PV systems, designs and builds solar ovens, solar cooks feasts of vegetarian food, and continues to teach a variety of energy-related classes and workshops. Weiss, Eaton, and Spies will participate in a Q&A session immediately following the March 26 film screening.

Due to the limited seating, viewing is by invitation only. If you are interested in receiving an invitation or learning more, contact SEI’s Executive Director, Kathy Swartz, at kswartz@solarenergy.org, or you can find out more about the film at www.solar-roots.com. Though the film is free, all donations to support SEI’s charitable outreach programs will be greatly appreciated!

About Solar Energy International (SEI)
Solar Energy International (SEI) was founded in 1991 as a nonprofit educational organization. Our mission is to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower people, communities, and businesses worldwide. We envision a world powered by renewable energy! Visit www.solarenergy.org.

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SEI’s updated PVOL202: Advanced PV System Design and the NEC course launches February 26th!

Want to learn about Photovoltaic (PV) Design and the 2017 National Electrical Code (NEC) from a technical team with over 100 years of collective solar industry experience? Take Solar Energy International (SEI)’s updated PVOL202: Advanced PV System Design and the NEC course, which launches February 26th!

Last October,  SEI’s PV Curriculum Development Team decided it was the perfect time to get started on an extensive update to SEI’s industry-leading PV design course, PVOL202: Advanced (Grid-Direct) PV System Design and the NEC.  This course has served as a technical training rite of passage for over a decade, helping students transform themselves into Code-loving, quality-obsessed, NABCEP-certified industry professionals.

With the NABCEP PV Installation Professional Exam switching from the 2014 to the 2017 National Electrical Code at the beginning of 2018, and the majority of U.S. adopting the 2017 NEC by the end of this year, the timing of the February 26th updated course launch is ideal. Along with covering the extensive 2017 NEC updates, PV202 also features new equipment available in our rapidly-advancing industry. In this course, you certainly won’t find old gear from manufacturers who closed their doors years ago! Instead, think efficient, industry-leading equipment used in residential, commercial, and utility-scale PV applications TODAY.

Who are the folks behind this 4-month curriculum update project? SEI’s Rebekah Hren and Brian Mehalic led the charge, along with SEI instructor Kelly Larson. This powerhouse technical team brings over 47 years of collective PV industry experience; add in critical project support from SEI’s five other curriculum developers and you have amassed over 112 years of experience, spanning all sectors of the solar industry.

Rebekah and Brian have been knee-deep in the NEC for years, writing technical articles for Solar Pro Magazine, teaching classes all across the country, and just last month, Rebekah and Brian represented SEI as principal and alternate on NFPA Code-Making Panel 4 (CMP-4) for the 2020 NEC. Together they brought their PV expertise to the table, working alongside other panel members to review and respond to hundreds of Public Inputs submitted for consideration as revisions to Articles 690, 691, 692, 694, 705, 710, and 712.

Rebekah notes: “In order to develop curriculum that’s technically accurate and truly reflective of current issues, it’s critical to stay involved. I’m thankful to contribute to the evolution and education of the solar industry!”

SEI is proud to have such a dedicated team of professionals bringing you the best technical training available. Sign up for solar installer training today to take your career to the next level!

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