AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 14, 2013 — A research project on solar power led by Varun Rai, assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a grant award as part of the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative.

Varun RaiThe three-year UT Austin project, with a proposed budget of $492,096, will use a data-driven integrated modeling approach to better understand customer needs and systematically identify opportunities for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of utility solar programs in Texas.

"Through powerful analytical tools developed by our nation's top universities and national labs, we can gain unparalleled insight into solar deployment that will help lower the cost of solar power and create new businesses and jobs," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a DOE announcement on Jan. 30. "Projects like these will help accelerate technological and financing innovations — making it easier for American families and businesses to access clean, affordable energy."

In addition to UT Austin, six other institutions have been selected by the DOE to explore new opportunities for reducing costs and accelerating solar energy deployment in the United States. These institutions are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, SRI International, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Yale University.

“This opportunity is truly unique in that it emphasizes a measurable direct impact on the solar industry in the U.S. as well as prioritizes research that would have broader impact on other emerging energy technologies such as electric vehicles and home energy management systems,” said Rai. “Through the opportunity afforded by this collaborative effort, this project will support the mission of the SunShot Initiative — to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.”

Rai will be the principal investigator for the project, and Eric Bickel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Jay Zarnikau, adjunct professor of public affairs and statistics, will act as senior research advisers. This DOE award will also engage multiple graduate students in various project-specific research endeavors.

This project builds upon ongoing, cutting-edge research on diffusion mechanisms of low-carbon technologies, an effort spearheaded by Rai's Energy Systems Transformation (EST) Research Group. The goal of the EST Group, which studies the political and economic drivers of large-scale energy transformations, is to produce policy insights that enable energy-system transformations in ways that maximize societal benefits.