Penn's Kleinman Center seeks innovative energy policy ideas

When Penn alumnus Scott Kleinman gifted $10 million to the University in 2014, the idea was to support five years of innovative energy policy work. Now in its second year of grants, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy is once again looking for interested Penn faculty and postdocs—academics well versed in the policy implications of their work and also those who haven’t yet considered it. The application deadline is Wednesday, Sept. 30.

“One of the most significant challenges facing the United States is creating a stable energy policy that allows us to … transition the energy system for a changing world,” says Mark Alan Hughes, director of the Kleinman Center and a professor of practice in PennDesign. “American political institutions have had difficulty over the last few decades constructing that reliable, stable, smart energy policy.”

Penn staff have a proven track record of working across disciplines to overcome this type of obstacle, with research that looks not only at the technical and scientific sides of the problem, but also the political and financial, according to Hughes.  

“It really is a Franklin’s University kind of approach, trying to integrate the worlds of theory and practice and being comfortable with integrating theories from a variety of disciplines,” he adds. “That [combination] is exactly what energy policy demands.”

Arthur van Benthem and Ruben Lobel, both assistant professors at the Wharton School, participated in the Kleinman grant program during its inaugural year. Van Benthem received $15,000 to further his work on vehicle fuel-economy standards; Lobel was awarded $12,000 to continue solar panel research focused on how buying versus leasing affects consumers.

For both researchers, the process has been seamless. “My interaction has always been very positive,” Lobel says. “They are a fantastic group of people, helpful and friendly, and they try to be as supportive as they can.”

Van Benthem recalls an early interaction with the Center’s namesake. “The energy crowd at Penn isn’t that large,” he says. “[Scott Kleinman] approached me right after the Center was founded”—an invitation the researcher welcomed.

Connecting the dots among faculty is part of the Center’s mission and the goal of the grants, which fall into five specific categories, plus a sixth open-ended one. Four cover Philadelphia’s energy strategy, business models for future electric utilities, ideas to revitalize coal communities, and research around nuclear power, both how to better understand its issues and how to move beyond them.

The fifth looks at what Hughes describes as “emerging technology research that could have policy implications.” In its first year, the Kleinman Center awarded this grant to a department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science working on tribology, or the study of friction. 

Applications require a two-page proposal, submitted by e-mail to Deputy Director Cory Colijn at

The length is intentional, Hughes says. “These are relatively small grants and we’re trying to make it very easy to just dip their toes, if you will, into this kind of work.”

Kleinman Center