Penn State’s new solar array creates student research and intern opportunities

Marchella Verdi
April 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students can prepare to be the next generation of leaders in the solar energy industry thanks to the development of a 70-megawatt solar array near the Mont Alto campus and a partnership with an industry global leader.

“Solar energy is a big industry and we need it,” explained Meghan Hoskins, director of operations and partnerships at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute. “Having people who know how to install, develop and be involved with the entire process will be really important in getting as much solar energy as we can, as quickly as we can, in the near future.” 

Through the University’s Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Lightsource BP, student internships will be available to students at all Penn State campuses, both during the construction of the project and after the solar array is built. The internships will cater to students from many disciplines, including engineering, the sciences and business. Along with the internships, Penn State students and researchers from all disciplines will have an opportunity to propose their own research projects involving the solar array.

With solar jobs continuing to grow — in Pennsylvania, the number of solar jobs grew by about 10 percent in 2018, the third straight year of growth in the industry — Penn State hopes to facilitate student engagement opportunities with industry professionals to advance their understanding of solar development and operations and prepare them for future full-time work in the energy industry. These opportunities will teach the value of solar power, including local economic development, enhanced land biodiversity and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and local pollutants.

Although solar energy is becoming a larger portion of Pennsylvania’s generation portfolio, many communities still have concerns regarding large-scale projects. Having students from various specializations and community members coming together to share in the experience of solar power plant development, construction, operations and maintenance creates a positive community experience that can mitigate these concerns and prepares these students to advocate for similar beneficial clean energy projects in other communities in the future.  

“We hope that because of the way Penn State is a part of the solar energy project, students can see that solar can be done in a communally and ecologically conscious way,” said Peter Buckland, academic programs manager at the Sustainability Institute. 

The solar array internships and research projects will help students understand how to find a balance between ecosystem and community needs, and give them exposure to the interconnected economic, technical, social, political and cultural components of large-scale solar development and operations. 

“There is no divide between people culture and ecosystem culture. It’s really hard to pull these things apart,” said Jeffrey Brownson, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering and a member of the solar PPA team. “I can’t wait to see how students from different concentrations come together to add to the understanding of solar energy.”

More information about how students and faculty will be able to get involved in the internship and research opportunities will be available at Penn State Energy Days Conference on May 29 and 30 at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. To find out more about internships, contact Meghan Hoskins at meh200@psu.edu.

Last Updated April 11, 2019