Brown Pre-College Programs take place on campus, online and around the world. Among the offerings are more than a dozen online courses – from engineering to writing to biology – that give students a rigorous, interactive learning experience with expert instructors and classmates from around the world, all accessed from the convenience of their home computer.
One of those courses is “Power from the Sun,” which dives deep into all facets of solar energy, from the technology behind it to the industry’s ever-growing job market.
We caught up with instructor Andrew Gabor, a photovoltaic engineer, and entrepreneur, to learn more about the course and where he thinks solar is headed in the future.
Why is solar an important topic?
Solar is projected to be the primary energy source for the planet within our lifetime, one of the largest industries, and a large portion of the economy and of future jobs. The health and stability of the planet and its inhabitants depend on the growth of renewable energy industries.
Who would benefit from taking this course?
Anyone who is interested in working directly within or peripherally to the photovoltaics (PV) industry
What can students expect to learn and do in the class?
The class addresses the background of PV, the upstream part of the industry (everything involved in manufacturing solar panels), and the downstream part of the industry (developing PV systems in the field). Videos showing the different manufacturing and installation steps as well as interviews with actual workers within the industry provide an overall picture of what is it like to work in different segments. Students will research segments of the industry close to where they live, analyze the economics, read and discuss the daily news on PV, and plan out their own potential pathway to working with solar.
What does the job market in solar look like in the near future?
The U.S. downstream segment is tremendously strong and a large employer. The upstream manufacturing segment has been turbulent but is recently gaining momentum. To put the strength of the market into perspective: Roughly one in 50 of all new domestic jobs created in 2016 was in the PV industry, and the PV industry employs more workers than fossil fuel extraction industries. The world installed a record number of PV projects in 2017, more than net additions of coal, gas, and nuclear plants put together.
Where do you see solar technology headed in the future?
The industry has steadily improved on every metric in terms of cost and performance, leading to the lowest ever quoted prices for new electricity generation. Fossil fuels, particularly coal, are having a difficult time competing. There are no roadblocks in scaling and continuing to improve the manufacturing, performance, cost, and durability of PV technology. This technology will evolve but will not be displaced. Solar and wind already represent the largest share of newly installed generation capacity each year, and this trend will strengthen. As the penetration of PV increases, the need to shift electricity consumption to sunny parts of the day increases, and a variety of technologies (such as storage of electricity and heat and cold) and strategies to shift demand become increasingly important.
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