It’s always sunny in Portland with this Community Ed class
Story by Christina Holmes. Photos by Vern Uyetake.
John Patterson’s 30-plus years in the solar industry have allowed him to see the highs and lows when it comes to using the sun to heat swimming pools and water heaters and power appliances.
Now he shares his knowledge of all things solar with hundreds of PCC Community Education students in the popular Solar, Thermal and Electric Systems Installer Series, a hands-on eight-week course that provides up-to- date information and training on the principles of solar energy systems, solar hot water, solar electric controls and photovoltaic systems. It’s the perfect set of classes for do-it-yourself homeowners as well as solar industry specialists looking for continuing education credits.
“Ever since I got into this business, part of my job has been educating people about solar energy,” said Patterson, a former real estate agent who built a home in the 1970s using solar panels which set in motion his fascination with solar. “One of my mentors took the time to teach me everything about the business and I took on that attitude myself. I like teaching people about the benefits of solar. It’s just great when they understand the concepts and principles.”
Patterson’s business, Mr. Sun Solar, was a pioneer back in the early ‘80s when the solar wave fanned across the country. Many homeowners took advantage of federal tax breaks for installing solar panels on their houses, and contractors warmed to the idea of using the sun as a source of energy.
“About 15 to 20 percent of the students in these courses are young people looking at solar as a career option,” said Patterson, adding that the class draws everyone from professional home builders, architects and engineers to homeowners and apartment dwellers curious about solar.
The series of classes is approved for 20 hours by the State Renewable Energy Apprenticeship Committee. The solar industry is tightly governed by the Oregon Electrical Specialty Code, and Patterson ensures that students know all about compliance with the set of rules and regulations. “It’s more complicated than a lot of people think,” he added.
Patterson’s classes are held on Saturday mornings at his shop on NE Portland Highway. Students learn about the uses of solar panels for water heating and pool heating, and also about solar photovoltaic systems for all or partial electric needs. The courses are practical with a mix of lecture and lab. Patterson built a structure behind his shop for students to practice installing panels on the roof.
“A lot of people come to class with their blueprints in hand, and they have specific questions about where to put a hot tub or a stove or a pool,” said Patterson, who’s been teaching the Community Education classes since 1995.
Waleed Almulla took the classes last fall as an introduction to the solar industry. He was impressed with the level of detail shared.
“We were exposed to different ways of installing the solar panels over roofs, what is required to do it, how the electrical connections need to be done all the way to the distribution box and how the system connects to the grid,” said Almulla, a longtime Intel employee now serving as a senior manager for a design team. “Also, from a business point of view, we learned about what discussions to hold with a potential customer, how to evaluate the eligibility of a specific home for a tax credit, how to estimate the tax credit and what licenses are needed to perform the work.”