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Solar Living Institute



The Solar Living Institute, located in Hopland, Mendocino County, California

 The Solar Living Institute is a nonprofit solar training and sustainability organization located in Hopland in Mendocino county, California.  It was founded in 1998, and they have been providing professional solar training and a wide array of sustainability courses for over 15 years. Their courses are taught by experienced practitioners who bring years of real world knowledge to the classroom. They focus on helping students prepare for job opportunities, start businesses, and live more sustainably. 

The Solar Living Center is a 12 acre renewable energy and sustainable living demonstration site that is visited by 200,000 people annually.

They offer tour for all ages to learn about a wide range of topics, from solar and wind power, to environmentally friendly building materials, to passive and active design in architecture, to organic gardening and permaculture. 

They offer self-guided tours 7 days a week from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. They also offer guided tours for individuals and families from April 1 – October 31. Tours are scheduled Friday – Sunday from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. These fun and informative tours last approximately 50 minutes. Reservations are not required.

They also offer guided tours for schools from grades K-12. Tours are scheduled Monday – Friday from 9 am. These hands on tours last approximately 2 hours and covers, You Are Solar Power, Building with Mud (Cob) and Their Organic Garden. Fee is $5 per student/teacher.

There are also guided tours for professionals. These specialty tours, are led by senior staff or technical instructors, and are available for professional associations, special interest groups and college level classes. These tours last about 1.5 hours and provide a stimulating technical exploration of renewable energy and sustainable living in a custom tailored format. Professional tours are available Monday – Friday by appointment only, and require an advance notice of 2 weeks. Cost is $10 per person with with a $125 minimum. For a professional tour call 707-472-2460 to request a date.

Workshops and courses became part of the Solar Living Institute in 1998 when our organization was founded. Energy efficiency, solar photovoltaics, wind and hydro systems, passive solar designs, water development, gardening and composting were introduced in these early intensive lecture and hands-on workshops. 

In 1999 workshop offerings had expanded to 25 classes held March through October. Some classes expanded to a full weekend of lecture and hands-on training with the how-to of renewable energy systems and a host of natural building options proving to be all time favorites. Cob, rammed earth, and straw bale construction continued to pique the interest of students  looking for alternatives to a conventional lifestyle. In 2,000 in response to the California energy crisis, 223 students attended class, but by 2003 there were over 1,000 students, and class offerings continued to expand. That year, with a grant from the California Energy Commission, the institute provided 22 solar training workshops throughout the state of California.

Courses currently being offered for solar training:

 Courses currently being offered for sustainable living:

Design and landscape at the Solar Living Center began as a shared vision among the workers of Real Goods Trading Corporation and company founder and president John Schaeffer.

The Solar Living Center’s main showroom is a creation of a tall and gracefully single story building which is so adept in its capture of the varying hourly and seasonal angles of the sun that additional heat and light are nearly unnecessary. During the hot days, the building is kept cool with overhangs and manually controlled by hemp awnings. During coolnights the building can store the cool temperature in the 600 tons of thermal mass of the building’s columns, floor, and strawbale walls. Outside the building, grape arbors shield the building from the intense summer sun and central fountain with its drip ring provides evaporative cooling.

The Solar Living Institute is also home to Solar 2000, one of Northern California’s largest grid tied solar arrays. The electrical system for the facility comprises 10 kilowatts of photovoltaic power and three kilowatts of wind generated power. Solar 2000 allows the Solar Living Institute to sell more than 160,000 Kwh of clean renewable energy back into the grid annually.

At the Solar Living Center, 80% of the plantings produce edible and/or useful crops. Plants are utilized to maximize energy efficiency following the solar year. The Solar Living Center is landscaped as a microcosm of the planet with the Northern Forest laden with evergreens in the north leading to the Mediterranean Chaparral of the sub tropics all the way down to the Olive Bosque on the south side. The garden follows the sun through the season, with zones planted to represent the ecosystems of different latitudes. Trees are planted to indicate the 4 cardinal directions. The fruit garden, perennial beds, herbs, and grasses reflect the abundance and fertility of a home based garden economy. 

Unique to the Center’s gardens is a series of living structures. Through annual pruning, plants are formed into shapes like the willow dome, the hops tipi, the bamboo pyramid and the agave cooling tower where a gentle mist cools overheated visitors. The Solar Living Center is a wonderful place to play. The site features interactive recreational areas, including a sand and water area, where a solar powered pump provides a water source which can be channeled, diverted, dammed and flooded through whatever sandy topography has been constructed. 


The working force at the Solar Living Institute is not only made up of professional instructors but also the interns which are an integral part of the success of the Solar Living Institute on a daily basis and the key to the organizations on-going mission of promoting sustainability through inspirational environmental education. Under a work-trade agreement, interns assist staff and participate in programs operated by the institute. This may include helping to coordinate and host workshops, assisting with maintenance and construction of facilities, caring for the organic garden, landscaping, support logistics for special events, giving tours to school groups, marketing, helping around the office and much more!

The interns have their own special area at the Solar Living Institute known as the Intern Village. Construction began on the Intern Village in March 2006. It accommodates the interns comfortably and sustainably. The intern village includes:

  • Community Yurt with 30-foot kitchen, Wolf stove and comfortable living space
  • Women’s Cob Bunkhouse:  3 beds, and a yurt with 2 bunk beds
  • Men’s Yurt:
  • Bathhouse: Naturally built cob showerhouse with indoor and outdoor shower facilities and mosaic tile design
  • Cob bench, fire circle and earthen oven
  • Chicken coop with 4 laying hens & a rooster
  • New solar hot water system for the large yurt
  • New greywater system for kitchen and showers
  • Village kitchen garden with herbs and tomatoes
  • “Great Wall of Hopland,” a roofed, hand-plastered strawbale wall that separates the village from Highway 101


The Solar Living Center is located 94 miles north of San Francisco in the beautiful rural town of Hopland in Mendocino County. For a detailed map and directions, see Google Maps.

Solar Living Center
13771 S Highway 101
Hopland, CA 95449 
(707) 472-2450

From south of Hopland
Take 101 North to Hopland. After crossing a green bridge on Highway 101, you will pass vineyards on the right—watch for the Solar 2000 array on your right. The entrance to the Solar Living Center is on the northwest side of the 12-acre property directly off of the highway.

From the north of Hopland
The Solar Living Center is about 12 miles south of Ukiah. After passing through Hopland, you will see the Solar Living Center on the left-hand side.

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