KAMLOOPS – Several First Nations Bands in the Fraser Canyon, Thompson-Okanagan, and Cariboo-Chilcotin regions are now among some of the most solar-savvy communities in BC.

For the last two years, Riverside Energy Systems has been putting on one-of-a-kind solar tech boot camps for these communities, educating and inspiring members of all ages with renewable energy technology.

Founded by Paul Fletcher in 1995, Riverside is one of BC’s most experienced renewable energy design, sales, installation, and maintenance companies.

Fletcher, along with partners Ben Giudici, P.Eng and Greg Lambertus bring over 80 years of combined industry experience to the table, and they have recently expanded their business offerings to include this unique educational experience.

“A couple of years ago, we started working with Chief Patrick Mitchell of the Kanaka Bar Indian Band as they were working toward energy independence,” says Giudici. “They wanted to include a training component into the project, so we created a project-integrated solar boot camp.

“It turned into a four day event, where I would run a classroom session in the morning and Greg would do some hands-on training in the afternoon. The boot camp worked extremely well and the community was very pleased.”

Last fall, Riverside was hired to install a grid-connected solar PV system for the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation, and put on an accompanying five day solar boot camp, which was also well-received.

“Most recently, we were involved in a project for the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT), which is a First Nations college in Merritt,” Guidici continues. “With a very forward-looking vision, the college decided to put up a new Centre of Excellence and Sustainability, where they’ll offer courses in sustainability topics, including solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources.”

Shortly after completion, Riverside used the newly-commissioned facility to host a five day course for members of the Upper Nicola, Lower Nicola, Coldwater, and Nooiatch bands.

“This boot camp has several goals,” he says. “First, we’re filling in the blanks for those who are curious about the technology.

“Additionally, we want to inspire young people, and potentially some older people who want to retrain and retool to prepare for future careers in renewable energy. When you’re doing hands-on training, it’s much better than just sitting in a classroom all day. It’s an immersion experience – people learn about the technology, see what it can do, and see if they have an aptitude for the field.”

In a recent report on the NVIT class, Guidici writes, “A wide range of topics were covered including solar photographic site evaluation, inverter technologies, net-metering in BC, solar PV module electrical characteristics, installation practices, and solar racking systems.

“NVIT’s CoES solar PV Teaching Roof installation proved to be an invaluable teaching resource. Students were able to view data collected by the system over its lifetime and observe the effects of shading, differing panel orientations, and weather on energy production during course computer lab exercises.”

Before joining the Riverside Energy Systems team, Guidici spent 12 years as an engineer with BC Hydro, followed by 21 years as a faculty member at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), teaching technology and engineering courses for the TRU Engineering Transfer program.

Though he left the university to become a partner at Riverside in 2012, Guidici has never lost his passion for teaching and love for First Nations.

“From a personal point of view, while I was teaching, I had occasion to work with a number of First Nations students, and I grew close to some of them,” he says. “I heard a lot of their stories and difficult circumstances they’ve had to deal with . I have always felt it was important  for anyone showing initiative and wanting to forge a better life to have our encouragement support.”

In the future, Riverside hopes to continue to build pathways and partnerships with NVIT, and eventually other BC educational institutions.

Giudici hopes that these partnerships could eventually turn into bridging arrangements, where individuals attending these boot camps could earn credits for courses or programs at TRU and other institutions.