Penn junior launches solar energy internship program to tackle climate change

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Frank Lapinski launched the Summer Solar Initiative this summer. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Wharton junior Frank Lapinski was fed up with people who only talk about tackling climate change, so he started an internship program focused on renewable energy.

This summer, he launched the Summer Solar Initiative with the Center for Strategic Policy Innovation, a nonprofit think tank, to provide Penn students with work opportunities in the renewable energy industry. The 12 students who participated in the virtual internship worked with 14 solar power sites in six states from May to the end of August.

“Climate change is real. We have to invest in it and we have to make sure that we don’t just talk about it, but that we also have an impact, ”said Lapinski. “This is what is so important about this project – everyone speaks well, but we have to have a good fight.”

Lapinski contacted the Center for Strategic Policy Innovation to see if it needed student help with projects over the summer, and recruited interns from the Wharton Undergraduate Energy Group.

The Center for Strategic Policy Innovation provided student interns with oversight of the three project teams, contacts at solar power sites, and training on the use of key tools.

The Feasibility Consulting team advised cities in six states on the best sites to develop solar energy projects. The Budget Research team studied how government funding, such as the Senate’s $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill, can ease the transition to solar power. The Grants and Budget team solicited 35 different funding opportunities in the form of grants and loans for renewable energy projects worth over $ 14 million.

Lapinski spoke to environmental science and economics professors at Penn, as well as Center for Strategic Policy Innovation president Kevin Daehnke, to determine how Penn students could have the greatest impact. in the field of renewable energies.

“It was only after I sat down with [Daehnke] that everything started to kick in and that we were able to get projects that worked, ”said Lapinski.

Alina Ho, a sophomore engineering student, a member of the grants and budget team, said she was looking for grants that applied to solar power products and advised how the Center for Strategic Policy Innovation could use them.

Ho said his team’s biggest achievement has been building a bespoke grant database for the Center for Strategic Policy Innovation, which will help the think tank find funding opportunities to pursue.

During the internship, Ho said she learned a lot about the renewable energy industry from members of her team and the Center for Strategic Policy Innovation.

“To have this type of exposure and meet all of these industry experts was amazing,” she said.

Wharton senior Wilson Morse said his favorite part of the camp was also the hardest. As a member of the Feasibility Consulting team, Morse learned how to use modeling software called SAM, or System Advisor Model, which models renewable energy systems.

“Most of us were from the business side, so trying to figure out what an inverter is and things like that is a little difficult,” he said. “Discovering this software was super rewarding. ”

Morse modeled the types, sizes, and costs of potential solar power systems for each of the 14 solar power sites. He said the Summer Solar Initiative was focusing on “ready-to-go solar projects,” which could get underway immediately without having to build anything.

Since the internship was virtual, Morse said it was easy for members to work flexible hours while attending other summer internships. Morse said he spent about five or 10 hours on the project each week.

Ho said the internship provided impactful exposure for students interested in renewable energy.

“The point of an internship is for you to learn more about the industry, acquire basic skills, and then apply them, and that’s exactly what this internship does,” she said. . “It is a wonderful experience for any student interested in climate change and energy.

Morse added that he was grateful that the Summer Solar Initiative gave Penn students the opportunity to get involved in the fight against climate change, as he feels. there aren’t a lot of opportunities at university.

“We have a ton of smart people,” he said. “I think [Penn] should make it easier for people to work on this problem that will define our generation.

Lapinski said that while he’s not sure the program will happen again next summer, he hopes it can continue.

“It was amazing to be at the forefront of energy and politics as a whole, as well as helping people build a cleaner future,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure in the social space for that, but being able to help develop it and really get that tangible impact – it was amazing.”


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