Lycoming students learn about the benefits of solar energy

by Sarah Feaster '09



Megan Schulze (left) and

Tracie Curtis with a solar panel

Lycoming College students Megan Schulze of Reedsville, Pa., and Tracie Curtis of Kirkville, N.Y., are a little ‘greener’ after attending the Solar Scholars Program summer conference July 28-Aug. 1 at Dickinson College. The ground-breaking solar energy education program was hosted by Pennsylvania’s Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF), which supports programs that benefit residential, commercial, institutional and industrial customers. Schulze and Curtis attended the conference with Dr. Mel Zimmerman, professor of biology at Lycoming.

The conference centered on teaching the application and implementation of solar energy. It also featured a workshop that offered hands-on training in the application of photovoltaic studies, which focus on the use of solar cells by converting sunlight directly into electricity as part of a larger renewable energy curriculum.

Classes were led by Bill Brooks, a leading national expert on standards for grid-connected photovoltaic solar systems. During his graduate studies at North Carolina State University, Brooks’ work helped lead to the establishment of the North Carolina Solar Center, which serves as a clearinghouse for solar and other renewable energy programs, information, research, technical assistance and training.

For Curtis, the new information provided to her and the other students put the potentially dangerous future of the environment into perspective.

“By the time I’m 70-years-old, the northeastern part of the United States will be as hot as Florida if we don’t make any changes in the way we are living,” said Curtis, a senior ecology and environmental science major. “I don’t think people realize how hot Florida and other warmer places like Arizona will become. Some locations may become inhabitable. It’s a bit of an eye-opener.”


Schulze and Curtis making bio-diesel fuel

While attending the conference, the students received an education on more than just solar energy as a campus eco-friendly option; they were also given a tour of the Dickinson Farm. According to Schulze, along with the efforts being made at Lycoming, the tour shed a new light on environmentally friendly practices on campuses.

“We were astounded at the lengths that some colleges were going to make their campuses ‘greener,’” Schulze said. “At Lycoming, we plan on installing permanent recycling containers in all buildings, use the food waste from the cafeteria as compost for a local farm and possibly experiment with making and using bio-diesel fuel for vehicles.” 

Photovoltaic studies are just one of the many ideas supported by the Sustainable Campus Initiative, a campaign that plans to institutionalize the idea and practice of environmental sustainability throughout college campuses. In the future, Lycoming hopes to utilize more than just photovoltaic studies. 

Some of the 31 colleges and universities that participated in the conference include Bloomsburg University, Bucknell University, Penn State University and Susquehanna University. It was attended by more than 90 faculty members and students, who will be invited this fall to apply for grants to install a photovoltaic system on their campus that generates a minimum of 3 kilowatts. Lycoming plans to apply for a grant.

“Most of the colleges at the conference already have solar panels and other sustainable practice in place on their campuses,” Schulze said. “At Lycoming, we are hoping to receive a grant to add solar panels somewhere on campus.”

Applying for the grant is open to colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania and offers the financial sponsorship for selected students to attend a weeklong, hands-on training and certification workshop on applied photovoltaics and design. The goal is to have individuals who attended the conference return to campus ready to advocate solar power as a viable, efficient and environmentally sound solution. Campuses also receive Internet-based education resources on solar and other emerging clean energy technologies to support an academic curriculum on sustainability.

“Our hope is that these students and professors will go on to become solar champions,” said Jennifer Hopkins, president of SEF. “We want to see renewable energy become an even bigger part of university programs and instruction.”

This year, PPL Electric Utilities will provide $250,000 to help support Solar Scholars and fund solar power education and the installation of 12 solar power systems at Pennsylvania colleges and universities.

“Support for renewable electricity helps to protect the environment and strengthen our nation’s energy supply,” said Tom Stathos, director of Customer Programs for PPL Electric Utilities. “This initiative will help raise awareness about solar energy among tomorrow’s leaders.”

One new solar champion, Schulze, is a confirmed believer in the good solar energy technology can do for society.

“The addition of solar energy to any business is a great investment,” Schulze said. “Although panels are a little pricey to install, they pay themselves off in energy prices in only a few months. Most of the time you will find that people are impressed and more interested in working with or applying to a business or college that has established itself as a ‘green’ facility. I think that people are finally realizing that something needs to change before it’s too late and adding solar panels to a business or college is only working in the right direction.”

Curtis, who hopes to work with animals after graduation, said the conference provided her much more awareness about the world’s current environmental issues.

“It was a life changing experience learning about not just solar energy, but sustainability as well,” Curtis said. “I think everyone should have the kind of insight that was given to me there. It makes you want to change the world.”

For Schulze, the conference has confirmed for her the desire to obtain a career in the ecology field.

“After attending the Solar Scholars Conference and seeing how passionate people are about renewable energy, I think I want to choose a career that consists of bettering the environment or at least raising awareness that our ecosystem is in trouble,” Schulze said. “This conference really opens your eyes and helps to put your college experience in perspective. Would you rather coast along and accept that people don’t want to be bothered by recycling or turning the lights off to save energy, or do you want to make a definite change in your campus?”

Sustainable Energy Fund is a non-profit, private organization dedicated to promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean energy technologies, energy conservation and energy education initiatives in Pennsylvania with a focus on eastern and central Pennsylvania.

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