Energy Days 2021 Agenda

Wednesday, May 19 | Thursday, May 20

All listed times are in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

Wednesday, May 19

11:00–11:10 am

Welcome and Opening Remarks


Tom Richard, Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Penn State

Welcome to Energy Days, an opportunity to learn about recent innovations in energy research, policy, and implementation, and to develop partnerships among business, government, and academia to address critical energy challenges. We are glad that you were able to join us and look forward to the dialogue and new connections that will develop over the coming two days.

This past year we have faced many extraordinary challenges, some distant and many close to home. In August, we lost one of the nation’s energy leaders, Barry Worthington, a proud Penn State graduate, who over the last three decades built the U.S. Energy Association. In his role as the USEA’s Executive Director, Barry helped spur energy innovation, guide energy transitions, and enhance energy access across the U.S. and in over 100 nations across the globe. In gratitude for his lifetime of service, this year’s Energy Days is dedicated to Barry Worthington. 

Watch Recording

11:10–11:30 am

Conference Orientation & Profile Set-up 

Learn about the event platform and how to set up your conference profile.

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Getting to Negative: Strategies, Ethics, and Co-Benefits

Increasingly aggressive strategies are needed to reduce current and future carbon emissions and proactively remove carbon-based heat-trapping gasses that have been emitted to date. Calls for net-zero emissions by 2035 from the electric sector, for example, present a monumental decarbonization “call-to-action” but have numerous direct and indirect effects on society.  In this session, experts will discuss key challenges and opportunities for decarbonization in Pennsylvania and nationally from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Panelists will discuss the potential pathways for net-zero emissions as well as the ethical dimensions and socio-environmental tradeoffs in making these critical changes. 

Lead Convenor: Erica Smithwick


Watch Recording

12:30–1:00 pm


1:00–2:15 pm

Breakout Sessions #1 (Select one)

Energy Systems I: Utility-scale solar 

With over 300 utility-scale solar projects currently listed for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland (PJM) power pool the emergence of a new solar-based power capacity has the potential to shift the energy profile of Pennsylvania.  The Commonwealth estimates that 80,000 acres of land could transition to solar if planned state targets are met by 2030.  This session will explore this trend in greater detail.  Key Issues include: 

  • What are key siting issues viewed up close through a virtual field tour 

  • Policy and market drivers moving utility-scale solar 

  • Farmland conversion to energy production and the role of agrivoltaics 

  • The state of municipal solar ordinances in PA  -planning land use for energy production 

After a series of opening comments by the panel, there will be time for a moderated discussion on the gaps where additional research is needed to solve upcoming issues, and what outreach is required to facilitate a social license to operate at the community level.

Lead Convenor: Bruce Logan


Energy Systems II:  The Role of Advanced Nuclear in Sustainable Development 

Nuclear energy is a fundamental part of any achievable, near-term carbon-free future. It is reliable, safe, and with advancements in new reactor designs, will open multiple sectors to decarbonize beyond electricity. Sustainable development powered by different forms of nuclear energy can create opportunities for cheap, accessible, portable, low-maintenance power in areas of the world and our nation that would otherwise not be able to afford or access carbon-free power. Existing light water nuclear power, advanced nuclear power, and fusion power options can be deployed in planned succession to maximize carbon-free benefits and sustainability goals. The benefits and challenges facing these forms of nuclear energy will be discussed.


Lead Convenors:  JP Allain and Erin Blumsack


Global Building Network:  How Energy Shapes Equity

This panel will be broken into (3) points of view, and then be a discussion around where they intersect. With only 15 minutes total of slides, the speakers will give some context as to who they are and the organizations they represent, and then break into a conversation around the renewable energy supply, broad-based energy demand, and thinking about the carbon footprint of supply chains. A common thread will be how all of these can shape equity. 

Energy Supply – Transitioning to 100% Renewables 

  • Where does our energy/power come from? 

  • How are we transitioning toward a clean energy supply? 

  • Who benefits from a decarbonized grid, who bears the brunt of dirty energy? 

  • What are the policy drivers, who are the decision-makers, and what is the role of government? 

Energy Demand – Cutting Cost and Optimizing Use 

  • How/where do we use energy? 

  • Why is reducing demand essential for increasing supply of renewable energy? 

  • What is energy burden?  

  • How does efficiency/clean energy support workforce development, public health? 

  • If this is so easy, why is it so hard? 

Supply Chain/Embodied Carbon 

  • You cleaned the grid and stopped energy waste – but you’re not done yet!  

  • How industry is shifting to low embodied carbon 

  • Nested scales in the supply chain 

  • What role energy supply/demand play in procurement & how we can ensure small, diverse businesses don’t get left behind 

Lead Convenor: Lisa Conway 


Discussion: Community Engagement in Energy 

Communities are increasingly concerned about climate impacts and their community members increasingly vocal in their expectations around clean energy, clean air, and clean water. This discussion will focus on promising efforts to engage communities proactively in charting the course toward a future built around a clean energy economy. We will provide a few recent examples from efforts in Pennsylvania to start the discussion and invite participants to share innovative approaches from their own and other communities.




2:15–2:45 pm


2:45–4:00 pm

Breakout Sessions #2 (Select one)

Energy Systems I: Prospects for Pennsylvania in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Pennsylvania is in the process of joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a voluntary mechanism for managing greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector. Pennsylvania would be the first major fossil fuel state and largest electricity producer to join RGGI since its inception. Penn State's Center for Energy Law and Policy is leading an interdisciplinary research effort around the legal, policy, and economic environment for Pennsylvania joining RGGI, and issued its initial white paper in December 2020. At Energy Days, the Center for Energy Law and Policy will host a discussion around RGGI's potential effectiveness at reducing air emissions from power plants in Pennsylvania and the region, impacts on the regional power market and air quality, and the big legal and policy questions around implementing RGGI in Pennsylvania. 

Lead Convenor: Seth Blumsack 


Energy Systems II: Working within and across Communities to Reduce Emissions and Increase Resilience 

As greenhouse gas emission targets continue to be adopted, communities in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. have a growing need to outline specific pathways for implementation and attainment. The events of the past year have, additionally, underscored the vulnerabilities that exist in our nation’s existing energy systems and critical food supply chains. Unique opportunities exist to simultaneously increase community resilience and reduce carbon emissions if solutions can be coordinated within and across communities. The panel will first highlight several advanced community energy coordination projects in PA and other U.S. regions. Presentations will highlight both the opportunities and challenges and panel discussions will aim to explore drivers and barriers that can help or hinder widespread adoption and replication in other communities.

Lead Convenor: Greg Pavlak 


Global Building Network: Health + Energy Efficiency 101: Key Concepts and Questions at the Nexus of Health, Energy, and the Built Environment 

This session will help researchers and practitioners focused on energy and the built environment understand how these areas relate to individual and community health, from climate change to in-home wellness. The session will also provide an overview of emerging opportunities to leverage these links, including the potential to more comprehensively serve vulnerable populations and to braid funding streams between the health, energy, and housing sectors. Highlighted topics may include an overview of stakeholders at this nexus, case studies of existing programs successfully implementing some of these concepts, and areas in which the research community could contribute to advancing the evidence base for work in this evolving space.   

Lead Convenor: Christine Gerbode


Discussion: Reimagining the Gas Grid for Renewables

When most people think of renewables and the grid, they are thinking of the electric grid for solar and wind. Few are aware that the natural gas grid is now carrying renewable natural gas from coast-to-coast, and is already providing enough renewable natural gas (biomethane) from landfills and farm-based anaerobic digesters to fuel more than half the natural gas transportation fleet in the US. Renewable gas options include biomethane, which is fully substitutable for fossil natural gas, and also hydrogen which can be blended with natural gas at several percent for existing pipelines and applications. How will we use the gas grid(s) of the future? Do we need a separate hydrogen grid?  And what about carbon dioxide from bioenergy and other sources? There are already 4000 miles of CO2 pipeline in the US, which can carry captured carbon dioxide to geologic storage sites, several billion dollars of additional CO2 pipeline have been announced this year, and hundreds of billions of additional investment will be required in the future. Come join us to reimagine the gas grid for the future. 

Facilitator: Tom Richard

Invited participants: 

4:00–5:00 pm

Poster Session

View Posters

Thursday, May 20

10:30–11:00 am

Poster Session

View Posters

11:00–11:30 am

Penn State Energy University


Watch Recording

11:30 am – 12:45 pm

Energy Justice in a World on Fire

Keynote Speaker

Shalanda Baker, Department of Energy, Energy Equity and Inclusion

Watch Recording

12:45–1:00 pm


1:00–2:15 pm

Breakout Sessions #3 (Select one)

Energy Systems I: The EV Revolution is Here

Automakers are rolling out hundreds of new electric vehicle (EV) models and planning to stop production of gas-powered vehicles in the coming decades. Plug-in vehicles accounted for 4.2% of new car sales globally in 2020 with sales rising 43% to 3.24 million vehicles. EV sales are booming in Europe with plug-in electric vehicles accounting for 10.5% of new cars sold in the fourth quarter of 2020. New battery manufacturing plants are springing up across the U.S. and Europe to provide battery packs for EVs. Startup companies with sky-high valuations are promising disruptive new battery technology that will reduce cost. Our panel of Penn State, government, and industry experts will address key remaining questions in the EV revolution. Will American consumers transition to EVs? Is range anxiety real and how can it be reduced? When will battery cost reach the magic $100/kWh needed to make EVs cheaper than gas-powered vehicles? What emerging battery technologies are real versus hype? What infrastructure do we need to accelerate the EV transition? What is Penn State doing to make our campuses EV-friendly? How will the EV transition impact the environment?

Lead Convenor: Chris Rahn 


Energy Systems II: Steps Needed for Domestic Production of Rare Earth and Critical Minerals 

Several mineral products that are required by the defense and electronics sectors, are classified as “critical minerals” by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and as “Strategic Materials” by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The Commonwealth of PA hosts numerous firms that are engaged in production activities in the critical minerals chains which are needed for defense aircraft, manufacturing of permanent magnets for wind turbine generators, and electric vehicle motors for sustainable growth. Reclamation of abandoned coal mines, environmental waste streams such as mine tailings, acid mine drainage, coal refuse piles, underclays, and roof rock is a way to fix the pollution of air, land, and water streams and aid in domestic production of these critical minerals. Penn State Center for Critical Minerals with support from has been active in developing methods to recover these in an environmentally benign way.

Power and Minerals Industrial Stakeholders Group (PMISG) at Penn State was formed because of Clean Coal Session during Penn State Energy Days in 2017. Over 40 Industry representatives that include coal, power, transportation, chemicals, and rare metals industries meet and discuss the need for research and technical support for commercial plant development in the Commonwealth of PA. In this session, an Expert Panel will discuss the current activities and some of the hurdles in the path forward for domestic production of these critical minerals.

Lead Convenor: Sarma Pisupati

Moderator: Pete Rozelle


Global Building Network: Development, Social Justice, and Low Energy Housing: Advancing a Just Energy Transition at Scale 

The Global Building Network’s social justice agenda is based on our respective institution’s commitment to advancing the quality of life for vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Our philosophy for engagement is underpinned by the United Nation’s leadership role in centering human right in the delivery of adequate housing (United Nations Human Rights Declaration, 1948), making our cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable for everyone ((United Nations SDG #11), and supporting a global transformation of buildings in the built environment towards low energy and low carbon solutions (UNECE Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings). There is a significant opportunity for well-designed, constructed, and operated low-energy housing that contributes to positive health, well-being, prosperity, and social justice outcomes. The kind of research, education, and outreach that is required to accelerate the translation of evidence to policy and action in a way that will advance our efforts from one-off pilots to scale at both the regional and global level to make low-energy housing the norm requires working across disciplines, sectors and geographical regions. It also requires inclusive and participatory processes that can allow those whose lives we seek to impact to work alongside researchers, practitioners, and policymakers as partners. With this context, our panel uses both national and international case studies to explore scalable and sustainable interventions at the intersection of social justice and affordable, low-carbon residential buildings.

Lead Convenor: Esther Obonyo 

Moderators: Esther Obonyo and Scott Foster  


Discussion: Energy Education: K-12 and STEM Activities

The energy workforce is beginning to turn over to a new generation and there is a strong push to recruit more diverse employees. Additionally, diversity and inclusion efforts have led to new strategies and perspectives in terms of achieving energy equity. Much of the growth in careers nationwide is in the Renewable Energy sector, including wind, solar, storage as well as energy efficiency. How will the energy industry attract its future workforce? What are existing programs which aim to provide hands on experiences for K-12 students to explore future energy careers? How can these programs become more inclusive to a wider population? What are best practices and how can we engage more people in outreach activities? Join the discussion as we explore opportunities and challenges of Energy Education Outreach.

Facilitator: Susan Stewart

2:15–2:30 pm


2:30–3:00 pm

How to Engage with Penn State

Penn State builds lasting relationships with industry aligned with each company’s needs. The discussion will provide insight into paths to exploring your talent recruiting, workforce development, technical assistance, and/or research collaboration needs. Whether a small to mid-size company or a scaled multinational corporation, there are opportunities to partner with Penn State toward reaching your goals. State’s innovation ecosystem has expanded considerably in current years and there are many new ways to engage.  You will also learn about the many ways that investors, technologists, or entrepreneurs can connect with Penn State startup companies, intellectual property, and the broader research enterprise


Watch Recording

3:00–4:30 pm

The Path to a Carbon Negative Penn State 

Penn State has made significant progress in reducing its emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases, but more rapid and complete reductions are required to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In keeping with our university’s values and mission, the Penn State Carbon Negative (PSU CaN) group of faculty, staff, and students have worked since January 2020 to identify possible strategies that will enable the university to responsibly eliminate greenhouse gas pollution from its operations as quickly as possible and become either carbon neutral (emitting no greenhouse gases on balance) or carbon-negative (removing more greenhouse gases than we emit). Strategies include continuing the decarbonization of Penn State’s power, heating, and transportation systems; adopting methods to produce carbon-free energy and store it to meet fluctuating demand; and optimizing agricultural and forest lands to sequester carbon and improve soil fertility and ecosystem health. These strategies will position Penn State as a global leader in research, education, and action that addresses the climate challenges currently facing humanity. All who are interested in decarbonization are invited to participate in this session, where we will discuss roadmap to a carbon-free Penn State. 

Introduction: Nick Jones 

Moderator: Lara Fowler