Two-megawatt solar project completed, will serve as living lab for students

By Matthew J. Long
October 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While the large scale offsite solar project in Franklin County just broke ground last month, an array in the State College area has finished completion and is operational, while offering a multitude of research opportunities for Penn State. The project serves as a visible reminder of Penn State’s commitment, through the support of University leadership and the Board of Trustees, to renewable energy.

On Oct. 18, the Office of Physical Plant and University partners celebrated the completion of an on-site, 2-megawatt, advanced utility-scale solar photovoltaic system along Orchard Road next to Mount Nittany Medical Center. The project, which was announced in September 2018 and visited by members of the Board of Trustees during a sustainability tour early in its construction, will provide University Park with 1% of its electricity needs, while also serving as a living lab for students.

Rob Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering at the Office of the Physical Plant, kicked off the celebration with a few remarks on the benefits that the array offers for the University.

“This project will help us to ensure a sustainable future, one of the foundations for Penn State’s Strategic Plan,” said Cooper. “This project will continue Penn State’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, lowering our dependence on fossil fuel based electric generation, while supporting research and grant development by creating this microgrid.”

Following Rob Cooper’s comments, Chris Fraga, founder and CEO of the Alternative Energy Development Group (AEDG) and the project’s lead developer, spoke about all the different entities that worked together on this project. About 70 individuals and 40 organizations from Penn State departments and company divisions helped develop the array.

Randall L. Swope and Wendall Landis from the Department of Animal Science cooperated with AEDG to help ensure the native species to the area would still be able to thrive in the area after the project’s completion. Along with the Department of Animal Science, Fraga thanked professor Frey Brownson from the Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering for supporting the project’s proposal and Paul Shrivastava and Meghan Hoskins from the Sustainability Institute.

Solar panel signing at Orchard Road solar array

Paulo Soares, graduate student, signs a solar panel that was used in the design phase of the project. All attendees at the event were invited to sign the panel.

IMAGE: Penn State

Fraga emphasized the importance of students in the design and post-production process of the project: “The challenge that we were given was that 'this has to be integrated into the colleges, to [their curricula], to academia and it has to it has to produce energy that is cost-effective for the University.'"

Currently, research and development is being conducted at the site by students to improve radiance measurement and measurements on units of solar energy being produced, making it more accurate for solar arrays across the world. Next spring, a student-designed observation deck will begin construction above the solar array. The deck will serve as an immersive and long-term platform for the public to see the array up-close and will include a live solar-energy production meter.

Just prior to the ribbon cutting, Fraga had some final words for the ceremony's attendees.

“May the sun shine bright on this beautiful solar array,” said Fraga, “May it shine bright on Penn State, its faculty, its Board of Trustees, its students, and its alumni and friends.”

Last Updated October 30, 2019