Directory Info

Jeffrey R. S. Brownson

Associate Professor of Energy and Mineral Engineering

Solar Option Lead: iMPS Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems

212 Hosler Building / 265 MRL Building

814-867-4227 (MRL Building only)

Biographical Sketch: 

Dr. Jeffrey Brownson is Associate Professor of Energy & Mineral Engineering, and courtesy faculty of Materials Science & Engineering. Dr. Brownson directs solar research collboration for the 2iE-PSU Centre for Collaborative Engagement in West Africa, and serves as the Solar Option lead for the online intercollege Masters of Professional Studies program in Renewable Energy & Sustainability Systems.

Jeffrey researches the evolving interdisciplinary themes of photovoltaics, community solar integration, solar resource assessment, energy engineering and economics, and sustainability in the built environment. His work has lead to transformative approaches to designing solar energy conversion systems, sustainable materials selection, economics of solar assets, and measuring the solar resource. Dr. Brownson also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Solar Energy Society, representing the interests and voice of students and faculty from the academic sector, and advocating the critical importance of our young professionals in the health and future of the organization. He also serves as the faculty lead for the Penn State Student Chapter of the American Solar Energy Society.

Educational Background: 

Ph.D. (Environmental Chemistry & Technology), University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2005

M.S. (Geology), University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001

B.S. (Geology), University of North Dakota, 1999

Research Interests: 
  • Transdisciplinary investigations of solar energy conversion systems
  • Sustainability in energy systems planning and integrative design
  • System-Integrative Photovoltaics (SIPV): design for building integration
  • System scale transient energy simulations for built structures and solar technologies
  • Geographical Information Science (GIS) for simulation & solar resource assessment
  • Thin film materials synthesis for photovoltaic devices
Active Research Projects: 

The Brownson Research Team is housed at the Materials Research Laboratory at the University Park campus, and currently focuses solar resource assessment, economic risk in solar goods and services, and on photovoltaic materials. Our research and educational philosophy is to foster a unique integration of expertise within the field of solar energy conversion.

Current Projects

Community Solar on State:

The power of community solar is in the collective action of the shared community! Our co-created purpose statement: "To develop a community-created PV array in Happy Valley, in a way that evolves transparently, enhances living systems, and values the choices of the community (both individual and collective), so that future local energy projects embed energy resilience as a cultural value that enhances the quality of life in our region and empowers imaginations in this community indefinitely". Our goal was to develop a compelling and transparent process among all stakeholders, to form a compelling message of solar farming right here in active partnership with Penn State. Through generous support from the PSU Sustainability Institute during 2014-15, our team developed an integrative approach to inquiry and design, also developing a rich outreach and educational process was developed to explore community-place identity, goals, and a platform for community solar development in our area (three workshops and a bridging event).

All-Seeing Eye System (ASE) for measuring DNI:

Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) is a critical component of solar irradiation for estimating Plane of Array (POA) irradiance on flat plate systems and for estimating photovoltaic and concentrating system power output. Current approaches to measuring or estimating DNI suffer from either high equipment costs or low precision and may require detailed environmental data. We have developed an alternative approach, using artificial neural networks and irradiance measurements of multiple pyranometers.

Metal chalcogenide thin film materials for PV devices:

Current materials research is focused on synthesis and characterization of tin monosulfide (SnS), an interesting and promising light absorbing materials for thin-film solar cells due to its favorable light absorption properties, stable nature and the inexpensive availability of the raw materials.

Computational simulation and testing of System Integrative Photovoltaics (SIPV):

Rather than replacing one element in a home with PV and sacrificing performance in both components, we focus our integration of PV into a wall or roof system, we arrive at interesting synergies that maximize performance of all the system components. Our research into the thermal benefits of Green Roof Integrative PV (GRIPV) is a complement with the Natural Fusion project at Penn State.

Selected Publications: 

Peer Reviewed

  1. Srikrishnan, V., Young, G. S, Witmer, L., Brownson, J. R. S. Using Multi-Pyranometer Arrays and Neural Networks to Estimate Direct Normal Irradiance. Solar Energy. 2015 (in press)
  2. Kumpf, K. Blumsack, S. A., Young G. S., Brownson, J. R. S. Portfolio Analysis of Solar Photovoltaics: Quantifying the Contributions of Locational Marginal Pricing and Power on Revenue Variability. Solar Energy. 2015 (in press)
  3. Brownson, J. R. S., Gardner, D. Nieto, A. Solar Resource-Reserve Classification and Flow-Based Economic Analysis. Solar Energy. 2015, 116, 45-55; DOI:10.1016/j.solener.2015.03.028
  4. Bayrakci, M., Choi, Y. Brownson, J. R. S. Temperature Dependent Power Modeling of Photovoltaics. Energy Procedia. 2014, 57, 745-754; DOI:10.1016/j.egypro.2014.10.282
  5. Banai, R. E., Burton, L. A., Choi, S. G., Hofherr, F., Sorgenfrei, T., Walsh, A., To, B., Cröll, A., Brownson, J. R. S. Ellipsometric characterization and density-functional theory analysis of anisotropic optical properties of single-crystal α-SnS. J. Appl. Physics. 2014, 116, 013511; DOI: 10.1063/1.4886915.
  6. Yan, X., Michael, E., Komarneni, S., Brownson, J. R. S., Yan, Z.-F. Microwave-Hydrothermal/Solvothermal Synthesis of Kesterite, an Emerging Photovoltaic Material. Ceramics Intl. 2014, 40(1B), 1985-1992, DOI:10.1016/j.ceramint.2013.07.108.
  7. Brownson, J.R.S. Framing the Sun and Buildings as Commons. Buildings 2013, 3, 659-673. DOI:10.3390/buildings3040659
  8. Brownson, J. R. S. Solar Energy Conversion Systems. Elsevier-Academic Press. 468 pp. 2013 [textbook]
  9. Rayl, J., Young, G. S., Brownson, J. R. S. Irradiance co-spectrum analysis: Tools for decision support and technological planning. Solar Energy. 2013 95, 364-375, DOI:10.1016/j.solener.2013.02.029
  10. Choi, Y., Rayl, J., Tammineedi, C., Brownson, J. R. S. PV Analyst: a new tool for coupling GIS with solar energy simulation models to assess distributed photovoltaic potential in urban areas. Solar Energy. 2011, 85(11), 2924. DOI:10.1016/j.solener.2011.08.034

Conference Publications

  1. Banai, R. E., Lee, H., Tanen, N. J., Urena, R. E., Cordell, J. J., Horn, M. W., Brownson, J. R. S. Investigation of RF-sputtered tin sulfide thin films with in situ heating for photovoltaic applications. In: Proceedings of the 40th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialist Conference, Denver, CO. June 8-13, 2014. 290-294. DOI: 10.1109/PVSC.2014.6924916
  2. Brownson, J. R. S., Taylor, A. H. Open Educational Resource Model in Solar Energy through e-Education. In: Proceedings of the 43nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, San Francisco, CA. July 7-9, 2014.
  3. Srikrishnan, V., Brownson, J. R. S., Young, G. S. The All-Seeing Eye: Using Multi-Pyranometer Arrays And Neural Networks To Estimate Direct Normal Irradiance. In: Proceedings of the 43nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, San Francisco, CA. July 7-9, 2014.
  4. Ranalli, J., Brownson, J. R. S. Sensitivity of Shading Calculations to Horizon Measurement Accuracy. In: Proceedings of the 43nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, San Francisco, CA. July 7-9, 2014.
  5. Kim, D., Witmer, L. Braun, J. E., Brownson, J. R. S. Impact of Solar Estimation on MPC Performance of Multizone Buildings. In: 3rd International High Performance Buildings Conference at Purdue, West Lafayette, IN, USA. July 14-17, 2014
  6. Bayrakci, M., Brownson, J. R. S. Using Avoided Cost Metrics to Communicate Present Value in PV Systems. In: Proceedings of the 42nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Baltimore, MD. April 16-20, 2013.
  7. Ranalli, J., Brownson, J. R. S. SAGE-ly solar: Online math tools to teach solar energy. In: Proceedings of the 42nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Baltimore, MD. April 16-20, 2013.
  8. Witmer, L., Poerschke, A., Brownson, J. R. S. Retrocommissioning a Small Commercial Building to Achieve Net-Zero Energy. In: Proceedings of the 42nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Baltimore, MD. April 16-20, 2013.
  9. Yates, K., Witmer, L., Brownson, J. R. S. Graphical Analysis of Real Skies with the Clear Day Index: Using Penn State SURFRAD Data. In: Proceedings of the 42nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Baltimore, MD. April 16-20, 2013.
  10. Burger, S., Witmer, L., Brownson, J. R. S. Irradiance Modeling Variance on Vertical Plane of Array Surfaces. In: Proceedings of the 42nd American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Baltimore, MD. April 16-20, 2013.

EME 810 Solar Resource Assessment and Economics (online): Methods, economic criteria, and meteorological background for assessing the solar resource with respect to solar energy conversion technologies. (Fall 2013, Summer 2014, Fall 2014-present)

EGEE 437 Design of Solar Energy Conversion Systems: Examines principles of solar energy conversion to build a foundation for explaining the basic concepts and practical implementation of solar technology systems. Reviews the properties and availability of solar irradiation and geometric relationships of sun/collector, principles of photovoltaic conversion and properties of materials used in PV systems, designing PV systems, procedures for solar thermal engineering calculations, and thermal power plants for electricity generation. [Currently enrolls 60-80 students, required for Energy Engineering degree.] (Spring 2008 – present, Fall 2011–Fall 2013)
EME 301 Thermodynamics in Energy and Mineral Engineering: Treatment of classical thermodynamics targeted to the needs of students in the Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering.

Recent Activities: 

Invited Talks:

  • Solar Utility: A common framework for transdisciplinary energy research and innovation. 2iE International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering, Laboratory for Solar Energy and Energy Savings (LESEE), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Feb. 3, 2015.
  • Integrative design in solar energy: Pattern with a purpose. Paul Smith’s College, North Country Sustainability Speaker Series. Paul Smiths, NY. Apr. 25, 2014.
  • Power Quest: Are we solving the sustainable energy puzzle? PSU Research UnPlugged, Spring 2013 Series. State College, PA; Schlow Centre Region Library. Mar. 28, 2013.
  • I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day: Diversified energy systems and the influence of the Sun. Penn State Donor Retreat: For the Future Campaign. Palm Beach, FL. Feb. 11-13, 2011.
  • Renewable Sources: Why are we doing this? Greenbuild International Conference. Session R09: "Living with Sustainable Energy in a Global Society". Phoenix, AZ. Nov. 11-14, 2009.
  • People-Planet-Profit: How the Solar Decathlons are reshaping the way we develop solar technology. World Environment Center Roundtable (co-hosted by Bayer Materials Science and the Natural Resources Defense Council). "Implementing Sustainable Development in the Building Industry: Green Design and Business Strategy". National Press Club in Washington, D.C. May 11, 2009.
  • Power from the Sun: Solar 101. NE Renewable Energy Conference. University Park, PA. August 27 2008.


  • Brownson, J. R. S., Iulo, L. D. Upsetting the Balance-Beam: System Integrative Photovoltaics as purposeful manipulation of energy demand and microclimate in the built environment. 39th American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Phoenix, AZ. (May 2010)
  • Iulo, L. D., Brownson, J. R. S. Seed vs. Catalyst: How the beanstalk reached beyond the clouds—sustainability ethic in the Pennsylvania Solar Decathlons. 39th American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Phoenix, AZ. (May 2010)
  • Rayl, J., Brownson, J. R. S. Integrative Photovoltaic Awnings in the Natural Fusion Home: Solar Decathlon 2009 Prototype Analysis. 39th American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Phoenix, AZ. (May 2010)
  • Tammineedi, C., Brownson, J. R. S. Modeling Improved Behavior in Stand-Alone PV Systems with Battery-Ultracapacitor Hybrid Systems. 39th American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Phoenix, AZ. (May 2010)
  • Witmer, L., Brownson, J. R. S. Transforming the Built Environment – System Integrative Design in the 2009 Penn State Solar Decathlon Net-Zero Energy Home. 39th American Solar Energy Society Meeting, Phoenix, AZ. (May 2010)
  • Brownson, J. R. S., Rayl, J., Blumsack, S. A., 2009: Matching Photovoltaic Systems to Energy Loads. Presented at 38th American Solar Energy Society National Conference, Buffalo, NY, May 11-16, 2009.
  • Brownson, J. R. S., Tsang, E., Anderson, M. A., 2007: Coarsened TiO2 nanoparticles generated from basic titanate precursors. Presented at the 233rd ACS National Meeting, Chicago, IL, March 25-29.
  • Brownson, J. R. S., Georges, C., Larramona, G., Jacob, A., Delatouche, B., Lévy-Clément, C., 2007: Chemistry of tin monosulfide (d-SnS) electrodeposition: Effects of pH and temperature with tartaric acid. Presented at 211th ECS Meeting, Chicago, IL.

Synergistic Activities:

  • Board Member: American Solar Energy Society. (Apr. 2013-present)
  • ABET Communications Strategic Review Committee, Energy Engineering Program, Penn State. (2012-2013)
  • Recruiting & Outreach Coordinator: EME undergraduate studies (July 2007-June 2014)
  • Director, Natural Fusion project: Supervising research/education/outreach for the Pennsylvania State University faculty/student/industry team in Solar Decathlon 2009. Involving seven colleges and three industrial partners. November 2007-January 2010.
  • Transdisciplinary Course Development: Living with Sustainable Energy in a Global Society. Leading collaboration with engineering, science, design and policy faculty and students for a yearlong course sequence that included summer voyage to experience sustainable energy in Germany and France. July 2008-Dec 2009.
  • 2014:  Wilson Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • 2012:  Faculty Marshal, EMS College Graduation
  • 2010:  Gladys Snyder Education Grant (with R. A. Kimel)
  • 2009:  CAUSE: Center for Advanced Undergraduate Study and Experience (Penn State Award supporting innovative research experiences, with R. A. Kimel)
  • 2002:  Mineralogical Society of America: Edward H. Kraus Grant for Research in Crystallography