Energy Days symposium explores Penn State’s role in shaping the future of energy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – More than 250 industry leaders, government officials, and Penn State students, faculty, and staff gathered last week on Penn State’s University Park campus to address how the University can help meet the goals of energy affordability, sustainability and security.

Penn State Energy Days, a two-day symposium organized by the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (PSIEE), took place May 19 and 20 at Penn State Law. The agenda included guided tours of Penn State’s energy facilities in University Park, a poster session highlighting cutting-edge energy research, breakout workshops on emerging trends and opportunities in the field, and two keynote addresses on the future of environmentally responsible energy production.

The event was organized as part of Penn State’s Energy University initiative, which President Eric Barron announced last year to harness the University’s vast expertise in a wide range of disciplines with the goal of tackling the world’s energy challenges, improving national energy security and independence, and further strengthening Pennsylvania’s status as a national leader in energy production and innovation.

“I see the future of an energy university so clearly,” said Barron, who formerly served as the dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “We have considerable breadth and depth and the future of energy requires a high-quality institution with the ability to cross different disciplines. We cross these boundaries well.”

The symposium’s plenary session kicked off with a welcome from Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones, who introduced the first keynote speaker, Mark Brownstein, vice president in the Climate and Energy Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. Brownstein’s talk, “Energy Challenges of the Next Century,” highlighted some of the risks to the environment associated with conventional energy production and opportunities in which alternative sources can provide energy to more of the world’s population.

Day two of the symposium began with remarks from Neil Sharkey, Penn State’s vice president for research, and Tom Richard, director of PSIEE. They highlighted the University’s strengths in the energy field and Sharkey noted that Penn State is the only institution among the top five universities in scholarly output in five key energy categories: energy policy and law, fossil fuels, renewable and nuclear energy, energy systems and technology, and environmental impact.

Penn State has more than 320 investigators conducting research in these areas and the University’s efforts extend across all academic colleges, all 24 campus locations and the online World Campus, interdisciplinary research institutes, and agricultural extension. In addition, Penn State offers more than 30 undergraduate and graduate degrees and more than 20 workforce development and continuing education programs with a focus in energy.

Highlighting Pennsylvania’s role as a leader in energy production, William Hederman Jr. of the U.S. Department of Energy, said that Penn State and other researchers must continue to balance the competing needs of economic growth and environmental protection when thinking about energy production. Hederman, who is counselor to the director and senior advisor to the secretary of the DOE, also shared some of Washington’s major energy policy objectives during his keynote address.

Weaved in throughout the symposium were 11 workshops, designed to facilitate discussion in small groups on emerging topics ranging from energy and climate change, to bringing new energy technologies to market. Each workshop group was tasked with drafting a list of recommendations on strategies to move the concerted research efforts at Penn State forward. Richard presented the recommendations at the conclusion of the symposium, and the complete list will be made available online on the PSIEE website

Other Energy Days speakers included U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, who highlighted Pennsylvania’s historic role in energy production, including the lumber, coal, and oil industries, and James W. Houck, interim dean and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, who offered some context on the law school playing host to a symposium on energy.

“The law touches all aspects of energy,” Houck said, “by providing processes to bring different points of view together, mechanisms for implementing policy decisions, and forums for resolving disputes. We may think we have too much law, or we may think we have too little; but we all know we can’t ignore the law and regulatory processes.”

Last Updated May 25, 2016