By Gerald Bernstein

Every two years, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon brings together collegiate teams from around the world to compete in the design, construction, and operation of cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered homes.   This year, nineteen teams competed in Irvine California from October 3 – 13. In support of this event, two of the DOE Sunshot Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) regions teamed to provide information about the effectiveness of PV systems to the public.

The South-Central region has developed a trailer equipped for basic PV system training, including a battery-backed 1 kW PV array powering an air conditioning unit.  This trailer was relocated to Irvine for the event where it was staffed by college faculty from various parts of California.

California/Hawaii solar trailer appears at 2013 Solar Decathlon
CA/HI Team Members Tom Hersh and Nick Transue at Solar Decathlon in front of the South-Central Training Trailer

Tom Hersh, PV instructor at Golden West College and another staffing volunteer was struck by the lack of initiative shown by many attendees who said wanted to take a PV course, but didn’t know where to find one.  “Whether for their own information or for professional development, I was asked innumerable times which colleges in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas offered PV instruction. Fortunately, I could provide them information based on where they lived.”

“It was an eye-opening experience,” observed Gerald Bernstein, SITN’s PI for California and Hawaii, “The amount of misinformation about PV system costs was amazing, particularly in light of the amount of TV and radio advertising in this part of the country.  One public attendee understood that if PV reduced his family’s electric bill, the reduction would come of the lower-tier cost– just the opposite of what actually happens. The opportunity to have these kinds of discussions with an interested public appeared to be of value to them, and was invaluable for us to obtain a perspective on public understanding.”

Despite widespread public awareness of PV system benefits in California based on the expanding installed number of units and widespread advertising, it is clear that more public outreach is required.  The California-Hawaii region is evaluating its own training vehicle to serve the dual purpose of student and public education.