EastBay Today

Posted September 6, 2017

Pacific Gas and Electric Company Doubles Funding of Solar Suitcase

New support will spread the program to CSUs and communities across the state

Associate Professor and Department Chair Erik Helgren (second from left) helped launch the Solar Suitcase Partnership at Cal State East Bay — the program has since spread to local high schools and middle schools, and with new support from PG&E, will continue its growth to other CSUs and communities throughout the state.
Garvin Tso

Cal State East Bay’s Social Impact Solar program, also known as the Solar Suitcase partnership, has received a new boost from long-standing supporter, Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Through its Better Together Giving Program, PG&E gifted the university $30,004 in December 2016 and has now more than doubled that support with an additional $75,000 in early August.

“Cal State East Bay is one of more than 315,000 solar customers in PG&E’s service area, making PG&E the nation’s leader in solar interconnections,” said Laura Wetmore, senior manager of PG&E’s Mission Division. “We’re proud to support the Solar Suitcase program and see its positive results; it’s providing local students with tangible STEM education, and communities in the developing world are benefiting from life-changing solar power.”  

The pilot Solar Suitcase program at Cal State East Bay, which won the 2016 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference Award for Sustainability in STEM Academics, combines powerful lessons in social justice and energy equality through a hybrid physics-environmental studies course, in which students learn to build rugged, off-grid, portable solar lighting and power systems. The students then take that knowledge and mentor younger students in local underserved middle and high schools on how to do the same. The finished suitcases are quality checked by We Share Solar, the Berkeley-based nonprofit who invented them, shipped abroad and installed by partners in energy deficient schools, orphanages and community centers in the developing world.

“We are extremely happy with the ongoing commitment from PG&E to support our efforts with the Solar Suitcase partnership — the program has been transformative for Cal State East Bay students in understanding how science can be leveraged to address issues of social equity, and also how a foundation in solar technology can open up career opportunities for them,” said Associate Professor of Physics and Department Chair Erik Helgren.

Alongside Professor Karina Garbesi, who brought the program to the university, Helgren has helped spearhead its curriculum on campus. “Professor Garbesi and I are excited to work toward our goal of expanding the Cal State East Bay program to partner CSUs this year, and we hope to continue sharing it with UCs, community colleges and schools outside California in the years to come,” he said.

The new funding from PG&E will be used to continue providing Cal State East Bay students with the resources and materials needed to further the Solar Suitcase program in the immediate region, but also to make significant gains in spreading it throughout the state. In addition to more CSUs (Monterey Bay, Cal Poly, Humboldt, San Francisco and Sacramento) and training new faculty members in the Solar Suitcase curriculum and program, the grant provides for Cal State East Bay students to visit one or more Native American tribal communities within PG&E’s service area. The intent is to mentor tribal students between grades 7-12 in making the suitcases, and for each community to keep a finished portable lighting system at the end of the workshop.

RISING IN THE EAST: THE CAMPAIGN FOR CAL STATE EAST BAY is underway, and we’re working hard toward our goal of raising $60 million in honor of the university’s 60th anniversary. To date, we have marked 38.4 million in support of initiatives such as student scholarships, faculty excellence and capital improvements. To learn more about our campaign and its priorities, including how you can give, visit the Rising in the East website.