When Long Nguyen, 17, was six years old, he and his older brother loved to take apart remote control cars and rework the components to make a boat. When it rained, the brothers would float their new boats outside in the puddles along their street.
“I love taking apart something and knowing how it works,” he said. “I always want to know more about it.”
While attending an engineering academy at Valley High School in Santa Ana as a freshman, he was able to apply his love of figuring out how things work. And in less than a week he will begin his studies toward a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Southern California.
Nguyen will have a leg up on his fellow students too. Since June, he has been working part-time at Southern California Edison on a topic he describes as his passion: solar energy.
“I want to make solar energy more popular and more affordable for my community,” said the Edison Scholar, one of 30 students who recently received $40,000 scholarships. “Many people don’t know what solar energy can do and I want to make it more accessible.”
It was what drew Stephen Collins, 26, an SCE engineer, to strike up a conversation with Nguyen at this year’s Edison Scholars reception. Soon, he was offering the student a part-time job working on solar in the company’s Advanced Technology department.
Collins is currently working on a demonstration project in Santa Ana where they are looking at how new technologies can be integrated into the electric grid. The largest producer of solar energy in the demonstration area is the Santa Ana Unified School District, having installed several large solar systems at its various schools, including Nguyen’s Valley High.
“Long’s passion for solar energy and his experience made him the appropriate person for what we are trying to get done,” said Collins, Nguyen’s supervisor. “One of our goals in Advanced Technology is to demonstrate technology that allows us to connect increasing amounts of solar energy to our system in a safe and reliable manner.”
Nguyen recently shared his knowledge of solar with his alma mater as he presented a two-hour, hands-on Solar Science Program at the Advanced Technology labs in Westminster.
Breaking it down to the basics, he used an interactive solar technology workbench to explain that the energy flows from the solar panels to the inverters for immediate use or to the batteries for storage.
“Not too many students are aware of the environmental impacts of solar,” said Nguyen. “We want to have students be more aware of the solar energy around them.”