In February 2019, Penn State and Lightsource bp signed a 25-year contract for clean, renewable electricity to power the university. The agreement is for 70 megawatts of large-scale offsite solar, providing 25% of Penn State’s state-wide electricity requirements.
This solar project called ‘Penn State Powered by the Sun’ enables the University to achieve its goal of a 35% GHG reduction by 2020 while saving the over $14 million over the contract term through solar’s lower costs for electricity and giving Penn State long-term budget certainty.
Increased biodiversity & pollinator habitat creation
Here in Pennsylvania as well as around the world, habitat loss, disease and environmental contaminants have caused pollinator populations to decline. According to the US Department of Agriculture, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops are dependent on pollinators to reproduce, so declining populations have detrimental effects on food systems worldwide.
Each of the three solar farms – Nittany 1, 2 and 3 – were seeded with a specially formulated seed mix aptly named Fuzz and Buzz. Developed by the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) in partnership with Ernst Conservation Seeds and Pollinator Service, Fuzz and Buzz was specifically designed for solar sites to support grazing, and biodiverse enough to support a range of pollinators.
Agrivoltaics: combining solar photovoltaics with agriculture
The Nittany 1 site will be the first to support agrivoltaics through grazing activities, to begin in Spring 2021. Sheep grazing will keep the farmland in farm production and employ Pennsylvania farmers. By controlling the timing, intensity, and frequency of grazing events to mimic the natural relationship between native grasslands and large herds of grazing animals, managed grazing can actually improve soil health and increase the cycling of nutrients, carbon, water and energy. Solar grazing also reduces or eliminates the need for mowing at solar sites, reducing associated emissions.
Bringing Real World Experience to the Classroom
During the spring semester of 2020, the Lightsource bp Communications team partnered with Penn State’s Sustainable Community Collaborative and Professor Karen Winterich who teaches Sustainable Marketing at Smeal College, Penn State’s business school, to involve her class in a real-world project with the goal of advancing Lightsource bp’s sustainability goals. Throughout the semester, the class of 38 students worked to first better understand consumer attitudes toward solar and the competitive landscape in the US, and then to propose a marketing plan for Lightsource bp in the US based on those findings.
The class was divided into 8 teams who worked collaboratively on the project all semester. The students were told to behave as if they had their own marketing consultant business, and so each team came up with a ‘company’ name. Some of them were quite clever:
- Sunny Side Up
- Green is the New Black
- JSMS Consulting
- SaveEarth Consulting
- STARK Inc.
- Students for Solar
- Pennsylvania Sustainability Associates
- Grasshopper LLC
Kickoff was mid-January in-person, and the project culminated with virtual presentations from the 8 teams in mid-April. The students did an amazing job – especially considering that the University moved to virtual learning in the middle of the semester.
"Getting to work directly with Lightsource bp was a great experience. Though I'm not a marketing major, this has been one of my favorite projects in college because it gave me real world experience." - Analise S.
"This opportunity truly opened my eyes to the benefits of solar farming and why it should be supported by communities." - Samantha M.
"Working with an actual client, like Lightsource bp, allowed me to gain valuable real-world experience before graduating and entering the workforce this summer." -Samantha B.
Hands-On Learning: Using Technology to Advance Solar
“Cheat Sheet” for Interconnection for Solar and Wind Market Participants
Lightsource BP sponsored a capstone design project through Penn State’s Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory. The Learning Factory facilitates University-Industry partnerships, where students design real-world projects that benefit industry sponsors who interact with students and faculty to help them create world-class engineers and make a significant difference in engineering education at Penn State.
The capstone project that Lightsource BP sponsored was for two teams of students to create a guide to help market participants interconnect solar or wind power generation systems to the electric grid. The project specifically targeted Pennsylvania, a deregulated state with several utilities that have different interconnection rules. An interactive Microsoft Excel guide was created to help wind and solar developers through the grid interconnection process.
The guide identified various local, state, and federal grid requirements, along with the required fees based on the geographic location of the generator project. The guide simplified the interconnection process by summarizing the grid requirements and utility expectations during the initial phases of their project planning. The final deliverable prompts users to input the county the generator project will be in, select the utility company (if multiple) they are connecting to, and provide the corresponding technical requirements and specifications.
During the Spring 2020 semester, Lightsource BP team members from Engineering and Development met with both teams of Penn State students on a weekly basis. The purpose of each meeting was to provide the students feedback on their progress and ensure they were on track to meet their objective. Students provided Lightsource BP a written weekly report summarizing their current achievements and providing a work plan for the upcoming week. The project began by having each team design a large-scale solar generating facility. This gave the students a baseline in understanding what type of details go into connecting a project to the grid. The students spent many hours researching utility requirements and were able to compile them into a modifiable user-friendly Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. By the end of the semester, the students were able to deliver an interactive interconnection guide which can be used by Lightsource BP in evaluating potential sites in Pennsylvania.
Penn State Interns: Our Story
In spring of 2020, the Lightsource bp Communications team partnered with Penn State’s Sustainability Community Collaborative and Professor Karen Winterich who teaches Sustainable Marketing in the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Throughout the semester, a class of 38 students researched to better understand consumer attitudes toward solar and then proposed a marketing plan for Lightsource bp in the US based on their findings. Recommended ideas included a real-life story campaign, the addition of a community webpage, social media updates, a PSU annual report, and more.
Ultimately, through Penn State’s Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Lightsource bp, students from many disciplines have the opportunity to participate in internships during construction of the project and after the solar array is built. When the marketing project concluded, three Penn State students from the class joined the Lightsource bp team as summer interns. Emily Marsh and Samantha Bott supported the Marketing department, while Elise McGrath joined the Development team. While they weren’t able to be in the traditional office setting due to COVID-19, they worked remotely from home and successfully implemented many different ideas from their spring semester project. Lightsource bp team members from Communications and Development met virtually with the interns to provide guidance and feedback on their projects.
Here’s what the PSU interns have to say about their experiences:
"I was first introduced to Lightsource bp through my BA 442, Sustainable Marketing, class at Penn State. After hearing about the marketing internships available over the summer, I was excited about the opportunity to continue working with a company that shares my passion for creating a sustainable world for both present and future generations."
“I have learned so much from working on various projects in the Northeast and learning about the project development process along the way. I am so grateful for this opportunity and to be able to work for a company that upholds the same values I do!”
“I was able to continue the work that my class started by joining Lightsource bp as a Marketing intern for the summer. I have gained hands-on experience with social media campaigns, website design, and communication skills and it has been so exciting to see our work come to fruition over the last eight weeks! I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to learn more about marketing and the solar industry.”
Funding Research in Solar: Living Lab Collaboration Opportunities
Penn State students and researchers from all disciplines have the opportunity to propose their own research projects involving the solar array. The solar array research projects 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. To date, Lightsource bp has provided three long-term research grants to Penn State students and faculty.
Pennsylvania's Solar Future: Comparing Potential Between Urban and Rural Areas
Stephen Mainzer, Ph.D. & Travis Flohr, Ph.D.
#SolarEcology is Here in PA: Farming Electricity with the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
Jeffrey Brownson, Ph.D.
Solar Array Affect on Birds
Linghao Zhong, Ph.D.