Harnessing Renewable Energy

SU Alumni on the Cutting Edge

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Outlet in grass

By Bruce E. Beans

HERE ARE TWO COUNTERINTUITIVE BUSINESS CONCEPTS.

A Texas oil-and-gas man partners with his brother to concoct a wind energy concept so unique that it likely will not only decrease the demand for oil and gas, but also make traditional, large wind turbine propellers obsolete.

A husband and wife join forces with the wife’s family business, which depends in part on the good health of the fossil fuel economy, to construct the nation’s second-largest solar energy field. The field will be located not in the sunny Southwest, but rather in a narrow, mountainous valley in eastern Pennsylvania’s embattled anthracite coal region.

Behind both improbable projects, which share the goal of improving the nation’s alternative energy supply, are Susquehanna University alumni. The Texas oil man trying to lasso the wind—and even the water—with a revolutionary new kind of turbine is Dallas resident Gunther J. Weisbrich, ’74, a geology major whose Wind Amplified Rotator Platforms™ (WARP) technology is attracting interest in Europe, India, China and South Africa.

Closer to home, business school graduates Richard “Ric” Reaman ’93 and his wife, Kathy Kovatch ’93 Reaman, are involved in the efforts of her family’s business, the Kovatch Organization, to lease more than 100 acres for a massive solar energy field just outside Kovatch’s headquarters in Nesquehoning, Pa.

“I think Susquehanna always was very forward thinking, encouraging all of us to think outside the box,” says Kathy Reaman, as she and her husband survey the solar energy site, a former coal mining refuse dump now cloaked in weeds, scrub oaks and birch trees. Shining brightly on them is an early fall sun—one that would soon be covered by dark clouds.

“Solar energy wouldn’t seem to be a natural fit here,” she says. Agreeing, Ric Reaman, a native of nearby Tamaqua, says, “People ask, ‘Why have it here? It’s not sunny; it snows.’ But Susquehanna gave us a great perspective: It’s not so much thinking about what’s here now …”

“… but what’s in the future,” Kathy Reaman says, completing his sentence.

By next summer, the hillside is expected to be transformed into the $65 million Pennsylvania Solar Park, with 44,640 solar panels mounted in 25-foot-high by 40-foot-wide grids on more than 900 dual-axis trackers following the sun, east to west and at the most effective angle, throughout the day. The resulting 10.6 megawatts of electricity, a 10-fold increase in Pennsylvania’s solar output, will power 1,450 homes. And it will do so without any of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with coal-fired electric plants. That represents an annual reduction of 10.1 million pounds of released CO2—the equivalent carbon offset of planting trees on 25,100 acres.

 

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