15 Solar and Renewable Energy Instructors to Know

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Say ‘solar energy’ and most people instantly think of those large panels that go on the tops of homes or vast structural arrays outside of buildings that are designed to collect the rays of the sun. The chemistry, engineering and nanotechnologies behind these materials and systems often play an important part in their cost, availability, and effectiveness — something many of the individuals on this list of solar and renewable energy instructors already know about. This is a driving factor in looking for more effective solutions, processes and materials, and in disseminating any new found knowledge through instruction, shared research, or publication – so that others can make advances.

Nanotechnology, by the way, is an examination of materials or science on a vary small scale, including through atoms and molecules. That said, there are many different manifestations of green energy systems and sustainable energy, whether that’s HVAC, solar, wind power or something else unique. This list examines that broad range, hitting on instructors who are involved in research, but also others who engage in hands-on teaching and/or work with students through energy laboratories and institutes. Many have a degree in engineering, but others work in related science fields, such as chemistry. This just goes to show there are many facets to renewable energy careers and that’s true whether you are looking at a start though an associate-degree level program (with HVAC as a possibility) or seek to advance your knowledge through upper-level education.

Jeffrey Brownson

He is an associate professor at Penn State, has a research interest in solar energy that ties into nanomaterials and electrochemical technology. He serves as the Solar Option lead for the online intercollege Masters of Professional Studies program in Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems, and on the Board of Directors for the American Solar Energy Society. He's given many talks about the impact of solar energy, including one in Burkina Faso in 2015 that was called "Global Energy Perspectives to 2050: The Role of Solar."

Brandi Cossairt

She is an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, works in the lab to develop new materials that could be effective in creating more energy-efficient LED technology as well as play a part in solar energy harvesting and fuels generation. Cossairt is a member of the university's Clean Energy Institute and has her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cris Folk

He is the renewable energy project director at Madison Area Technical College, in Madison, Wis. Showing that hands-on skills are important, he teaches subjects that include wind energy, energy management and DC/AC circuits. He also is a member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) for which he is a photovoltaics and small wind instructor, as well as an ISPQ Certified photovoltaics instructor. Additionally, he has practical experience installing solar thermal and photovoltaic systems.

Andrei G. Fedorov

He is a mechanical engineering professor at Georgia Tech, investigates C02 capture and utilization among other research topics, which include thermal radiation heat transfer, and portable and distributed power generation, all of which tie into energy use. C02, of course, is the emission that comes from gasoline-powered vehicles that is released into the air. One article covering his work is "Carbon Capture Strategy Could Lead to Emission-Free Cars" in which he talks about trapping a vehicle's carbon dioxide so that it can be later processed at a fueling station.

Paul Berg

He is an energy researcher at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., with interests that include alternative transportation fuels, specifically biofuels, as well as U.S. energy policy. He received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1980 and is on the Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy at the Hoover Institute. This task force addresses energy policy within the United States and its impact on domestic and international priorities, particularly as related to national security.

Justin Poland

He is an associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Orono, Maine, has research interests that include the collection and use of solar energy, energy conservation in buildings, and HVAC and refrigeration systems. On the teaching level, he assists junior and senior students in mechanical laboratory experimentation, and design projects. He also teaches technical elective courses in thermodynamics and heat transfer applied to heating and cooling of buildings, solar energy systems and combustion engines. Some of these classes include: Solar-Thermal Engineering, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning System Design, and Thermodynamic Design of Engines.

Daniel Kammen

He is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group, the Goldman School of Public Policy, and the department of Nuclear Engineering. He is engaged in public policy on multiple levels, and in 2016 he was asked to serve as the Science Envoy for U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry. He was the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy laboratory, and was director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center from 2007-2015. In addition to that, he has authored or co-authored a dozen books, and written more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.

Craig Arnold

He is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, in Princeton, N.J., has an interest in renewable energies that include photovoltaics, energy storage, wind power and improved batteries. He also is the director of the school's program in materials and science engineering, and a member of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative and the Mid-InfraRed Technologies for Health and the Environment Center .

Harvey Bryan

He is a professor in the School of Engineering for Matter, Transport and Energy at Arizona State University, in Tempe, specializes in building technology and "the design of ecologically responsible environments." Bryan serves on several professional and technical societies, including for ASHRAE. He also has served on the board of directors for the Arizona Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Certified and is certified in LEED and well as BREEAM (a green-energy rating system more commonly used in Canada and Europe). He also is a Fulbright Fellow and a Fellow of the American Solar Energy Society.

Robert Kaufmann

He is the co-director of the clean energy and environmental sustainability initiative at Boston University. He also is the director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies in the school's College of Arts and Sciences. He has a PhD in Energy Management and Policy from the University of Pennsylvania and has published dozens of book chapters, journal articles, reports and reviews. As well, he is the author of three books.

Jane Davidson

She is a professor in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Minnesota, is also the chair of renewable energy and director of the school's solar energy laboratory. Her group is involved in solar system research related to heating water, warming and cooling buildings and providing heat for agriculture and industry. Davidson also is interested in the development of new materials that would help reduce costs for and provide long-term energy storage in cold climates. Davidson has served as editor of the ASME Journal of Solar Energy Engineering and chair of the ASME Solar Energy Division.

David Fenning

He is a professor of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, works to develop new ways of defining and detailing defects in photovoltaics and similar material types. This can have benefits in terms of high-volume manufacturing as well as potentially lower costs for solar power and solar energy storage. He and his team also study the way in which semiconductor physics and electrochemistry interface.

Harry Atwater

He is a research professor at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, Calif., with interests in solar energy and nanophotonic materials. Among other areas, his research group looks at creating low-cost but very efficient thin-film photovoltaics, which could create a future alternative to today's solar cell panels. They also study the use of thin layers of semiconductors in these to absorb sunlight. His interest in the field dates back to the 1970s energy crisis when he was a teenager and his high school was shut down for a few weeks because of a lack of oil.

Sean Shaheen

He is an associate professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder has a main research interest in organic photovoltaic devices that can be used for low-cost, renewable energy storage and harvesting. Shaheen is a Scialog Fellow of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and a fellow of the school's Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute. He also works with staff at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he was once employed.

Cheng-Xian (Charlie) Lin

He is an associate professor in the department of mechanical and materials engineering at Florida International University, oversees the Computational Fluids and Energy Sciences (CFES) Laboratory and the Sustainable Energy and Thermal Transport Systems (SETTS) Laboratory. His current interests include HVAC, computational fluid dynamics, heat transfer, solar and geothermal energy utilization and more. Lin is an active member of ASHRAE, ASME and other organizations.


This list is not meant to be comprehensive by as means, as there are many knowledgeable, skilled solar and renewable energy instructors working in education as well as other fields, such as research and outreach. However, the following considerations were used in compiling this list.

Advanced degrees: Most of the professors on this list have advanced degrees, many at the doctoral level.

Research: Most of these professors are involved in research, some with a specific focus on making photovoltaic materials more effective and cost-friendly. Others lead research groups at their schools or universities.

Publication: Many of these professors disseminate their knowledge through article publication, presentations and talks.

Barry Franklin

Before co-founding Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, Barry Franklin was a VP at a Silicon Valley software company, and is an investor in and advisor for Impellia. Barry believes that education and lifelong learning are paramount. Barry met his wife at Carnegie Mellon University and they have two beautiful daughters. He also volunteers for various committees at his kids’ high school.