Prospectus for Energy Research, Education, and Outreach At Penn State

Our Vision

The Pennsylvania State University is committed to advancing Pennsylvania’s global leadership in responsible and effective energy production and management. In partnership with industry, government, and community stakeholders, we are collaborating across disciplines and campuses to address the globe’s most vexing energy challenges. We already rival the best of the world’s energy universities, with leading contributions in all aspects of energy research for the future. But we need to do more. The stakes are high: affordable, accessible, clean, safe, and abundant energy is essential for humankind to survive, thrive, and progress. To ensure our global future, we must all work together to secure our energy future.

Our work involves our best scientists and engineers. As we explore technologies and resources, we combine our technical expertise with our drive for innovation, sustainability and impact. This work spans from miles below earth’s surface to miles above it. It is in rural communities and our cities –  with architects, farmers, urban planners, corporate leaders, economists and technologists  –  to understand and predict energy needs and to develop approaches and systems for production, distribution and use that balance performance with sensitivity to the environments in which they occur.

Our work involves our social-science scholars, law and policy experts, and educational leaders. The public need for energy drives societal development, and we must value the human dimensions of energy demands and use. Thus, we must recognize how individuals and communities understand and make choices about energy, and work with them to develop solutions that are flexible and responsive to diverse attitudes, values, beliefs, and ways of life. This requires better information on how public sentiment shapes and is shaped by law, policy, sociology, economics, communication and education. It also requires working across disciplines to ensure that regulatory systems effectively interact with fast-moving science and technology.

Our work involves our artists, writers, philosophers and poets. We must dive deeply into the connections between our energy systems and our humanity to create solutions that span generations and continents. Thus, we must communicate about energy in ways that reflect and challenge collective social values. That means exploring taken-for-granted assumptions, considering cultural differences, and creating new avenues for public engagement.

Our work involves everyone at Penn State. We lead by example, with demonstration projects and a commitment to sustainability where we live and work. Our efforts to educate and engage also start at home: with our students, who are the generation that will extend our work and who will live with the results.

We are united to build the planet’s secure energy future. We bring the expertise and the commitment essential for an aspiration as audacious as that of empowering generations of global citizens. We are ready to move forward with the collaboration and support of those who share our compelling vision.

Our Context

Energy is a Pennsylvania tradition. Energy has been a top industry in the Commonwealth since colonial times and is a field where Penn State has been a leader for over a century.

Pennsylvania forests powered the iron industry for the American colonies. Pennsylvania coal powered the industrial revolution.  Our state is the birthplace of the oil and nuclear power industries, with the world’s first commercial oilfield and first commercial nuclear power plant. Today, Pennsylvania’s natural gas, renewables, batteries, and building and grid technologies power clean, safe, abundant and affordable energy – an engine for economic and human development.

Energy is also a Penn State tradition. Since our founding we have taught students about energy, and today we have more energy degree programs than any other U.S. university. Our students are growing the workforce for advanced energy systems, a sector of the economy with over seven million jobs. Our facilities that span the Commonwealth are living laboratories, teaching our students the best new ideas in heat and power, batteries, smart grid, building efficiency and transportation, as well as the laws that regulate them. Our energy research impact has outstanding depth and breadth, and we are the only university in the top five across all five energy research domains: fossil energy; renewables and nuclear; smart grid and efficiency; policy, economics, and law; and environmental impact.

Our ambition to be a global leader in energy research, education and outreach requires us to do more.  It requires us to elevate our efforts to meet the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century. We must build stronger connections across disciplines and across campuses, and we must build deeper partnerships with government, industry, citizens and communities.

Our Imperatives

Maximizing the impact of our ambition requires building on our substantial strengths and leveraging collaboration across education, research and outreach:

  • Education:  We will deliver on the promise of energy education for students, professionals and citizens.  For our students, we can renew the curricula across our campuses, colleges, departments, and majors so that every discipline logically connects its students to energy. We are committed to experiences that ensure every Penn State graduate is energy literate, understanding the origins, consumption, and impact of energy on society and on the earth. For those students that major in an energy discipline, we will create best-in-class learning experiences that start with the degree and continue through a lifetime of discovery.  To do this, we will expand our living laboratories, create and assess new pedagogical approaches, launch pilot programs across campuses, and consider innovative co-curricular and embedded strategies. This effort will invite contributions from every part of the University.
  • Research: Our focus continues to be the cross-disciplinary challenges that take advantage of the breadth and depth of innovation among our faculty. While we will continue to research all energy technologies, we will emphasize climate-smart and resilient solutions that reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases and provide security and reliability for the future. We remain committed to promoting interaction with stakeholders that aligns and bridges activities in research, development, and energy market needs with stimulating economic growth, minimizing environmental impact, and transitioning to future energy supplies.  Our research will fully explore the human dimensions of energy. It will answer questions about energy communication and consumer decision-making and consider key levers in the dynamic relationship among the physical, market, regulatory, and societal dimensions of our energy system. That commitment is one that necessarily engages faculty and students across Penn State.
  • Outreach: We realize that partnerships with alumni, communities, businesses, and organizations in Pennsylvania and around the world are essential. As a land-grant University, we have a rich history of extending our expertise and resources to partners across the Commonwealth,  including through Extension, and we are committed to this role for energy.  But we have work to do in engaging our energy-related stakeholders. To serve the needs of communities, the energy sector, and society leaders, we must always be committed to listening to them. That involves open and transparent discussions, and initiating partnerships grounded in common goals. It will take the whole of Penn State for the deep engagement we need across many stakeholder groups.

Our Future

We will continue building on our promise to provide the research, innovation, and leadership to achieve a bright and sustainable future for the Commonwealth, nation and world. Our foundation is strong; it is time to build by powerfully engaging across the University – and beyond it.

With our collective expertise and our partners, we will transform both technology and the workforce to create clean, safe, abundant, and affordable energy systems.  With our global reach, we will educate students and citizens everywhere to understand energy and its relationship to their lives and the planet’s future.  And with our interdisciplinary strengths, we will connect energy technology with economics, law and policy, and, ultimately, with humanity.

Our work strives to ensure a healthy planet and empower generations. We invite partners, collaborators, and supporters as we seek to fulfill this bold, yet essential, vision.