Penn State Podcast Explores the Use of Solar Energy at WWTPs

Penn State Podcast Explores the Use of Solar Energy at WWTPs

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The latest episode of Penn State University's Growing Impact podcast explores how wastewater treatment plants could use solar power to improve their environmental performance, their communities and their finances.

The podcast features Penn State researchers Christine Kirchhoff, an associate professor in the School of Engineering Design and Innovation and Civil and Environmental Engineering, Kimberly Van Meter, an assistant professor of geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Hannah Wiseman, a professor of law at Penn State Law and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and an Institute of Energy and the Environment faculty member. 

As a first step in determining how solar energy can be implemented at wastewater treatment plants, the team is working to develop a database of wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. that are using solar energy. 

“There are places where solar energy is being used at wastewater treatment plants, but we don't have a great sense of how extensive this is,” says Van Meter. “There's no national registry to show us where solar is being implemented at these plants. This project is going to start moving us in a direction where we can start to quantify where this is happening, to what extent it is happening and what difference it makes.” 

Kirchhoff says the team is interested in understanding what drives or constrains wastewater treatment plants to adopt solar, which can include organizational, financial and legal factors among others. 

“I think municipalities are feeling squeezed by rising energy costs, supporting these facilities that have to run to meet permitted water quality limits at the end of the pipe,” Kirchhoff says. “If business as usual continues, wastewater treatment plants are going to gobble up more and more of a municipality's budget.” 

Additionally, the team is looking at environmental justice and the complexities related to switching to renewable energy. 

“At a broad level, I think there's often a tendency to think that the energy transition is good for everyone,” Wiseman says. “But when we look at the tools necessary to get us to a lower carbon world, such as building more renewable energy, there can be disproportionate impacts of that transition that can fall on the communities we're intending to benefit with these policies. It's important to think about — as we move toward these important new technologies such as solar— how can we do that in a more equitable way, which requires consideration of the impacts of the technologies themselves” 

Growing Impact is a podcast by the Institute of Energy and the Environment. It features Penn State researchers who have been awarded IEE seed grants and discusses their foundational work as they further their projects. The podcast is available on multiple platforms, including AppleGoogleAmazon and Spotify.


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