AE 878
Solar Project Development and Finance

AE 878 Syllabus


AE 878: Solar Project Development and Finance

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract."

Bob Barkanic

Bob Barkanic

President and Managing Director at The Barkanic Group, LLC

Adjunct Instructor in the Energy and Sustainability Program

NOTE: Please also consider making use of the "Questions and Answers" discussion forum on Canvas, because other students may be able to share experience dealing with certain issues. Just like all of us, I have other work and family responsibilities in addition to AE 878. So even though I have every intention of addressing questions efficiently, at times I need to delegate my time and plan ahead to get everything done. Because of this, I would like to institute a policy that it is expected that I will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums at least once per day (more likely several times) during the work week (Monday through Friday). I will make an effort to be online occassionally in the evenings and on the weekends, but please don't count on it! Note: This means I will be able to answer questions posted up until NOON on the day before an Assignment is due. There will be no guarantees on anything posted later than noon will be addressed in sufficient time for you to complete the assigned work effectively, so make sure you take this into account as you're planning your own schedule.

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Course Overview

Prerequisites: None

A E 878 course examines the theories and practices of photovoltaic system policies, business development and financing. The course builds upon a fundamental understanding of systems engineering, engineering economics, and building energy systems to prepare students to conduct investment grade solar energy system analyses, including proposals and financing plans which consider policy implications as well as project impact to stakeholders. The objective of this course is to provide students with the full systems perspective of a solar energy project including an in-depth understanding of the financial policies and analysis tools required for development and implementation. Students will gain an understanding of the design tools, solar policies, financing tools, and factors affecting the short term and lifecycle costs of solar energy systems.

What I Expect of You

On average, most students spend 8-10 hours per week working on course material and assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different than a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me, as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson and projects are detailed within each lesson.

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Required Course Materials

All materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access all materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (World Campus student) or IT Service Desk (all other campuses).

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Assignments and Grading

This course will rely upon a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Quizzes: Each lesson is accompanied by a quiz that will assess understanding of the course material. 
  • Anticipatory Questions: Each lesson will begin with anticipatory questions. You are asked to give the question(s) a couple minutes of thought before you begin reading through the lesson material and jot down your initial thoughts in the entry box. Perhaps think of it as a hypothesis on the answer. You are not graded on the accuracy of this submission. Instead, there will be a question on the quiz at the end of the lesson which asks you to reflect on this question again based on what you've learned in the lesson. You will receive full credit on this question if you have both answered the original Anticipatory question and written a thoughtful response on the quiz. If you have not answered the anticipatory question, your quiz response will be reduced by 1/2 of the point value of the question.
  • Homework & Discussion Assignments: typically these will be design assignments that encourage the use of advanced critical thinking skills. Occasionally, these assignments may involve questions that you answer individually and upload in Canvas or questions that you discuss with the class using a Discussions in Canvas. Assignments will be graded on the depth of research, accuracy of results, use of appropriate references, and clear communication of results.  For Discussion Assignments, it is important that you post your initial thoughts earlier than the final deadline so that you can go back and respond to others' posts as well to get full credit on these assignments. 
  • Exam - There will be one mid-term exam which will evaluate your retention of the material covered in Units 1 - 3.
  • Project - There will be a final project which applies your knowledge of solar financial analysis tools as well as solar marketing strategies.

**Note that adherence to standards of the University's Academic Integrity Policy are expected in every aspect of this course.  Submissions to discussion assignments, quizzes, exams, and homework assignments are to be in your own words or properly cited as necessary.  Please see the Course Policy section below. 

Grade Weightings:

  • Quizzes (12 - I have built in an extra grace period of 1 day - quizzes submitted in this window will be accepted with a 20% grade penalty, additionally the lowest 2 will be dropped): 20%
  • Discussion Assignments: 20% (typically a post and a response to others is required, so allow time for this discussion!)
  • Homework assignments: 20%
  • Exam: 20%
  • Project: 20%

It is important that your work be submitted in the proper format to the appropriate Canvas Assignment or Discussion and by the designated due date. Many of these activities require some interpretation and independent thinking on your part. As you are working on the assignment, you are encouraged to share ideas and questions you may have in Canvas Discussions. I will read daily and reply as needed. I strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier!

Due dates for all assignments are posted on the course Calendar in Canvas. Assignments are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time on the due date. Requests for extensions will be made on a case by case basis.  Please make requests in ADVANCE of the submission deadline for full consideration. 

I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your assessments. You can see your grades, too, by clicking on the Grades tab in Canvas.

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Letter Grades

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages (percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student):

Letter Grades
Grade Percent
A 93 - 100%
A- 90 - 92.9%
B+ 87 – 89.9%
B 83 - 86.9%
B- 80 – 82.9%
C+ 77 – 79.9%
C 70 – 76.9%
D 60.0 – 69.9%
F < 60.0%

Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. Each lesson is one week long with a week for each mid-term exam as well as the final project submission. See the Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

AE 878 Course Schedule
Lesson Tasks
Course Orientation
  • Perform tasks outlined in course orientation to become familiar with the course and the course environment
  • Post a self-introduction to the course Discussion Forum
Unit 1: Solar Project Development Process
Lesson 1.1: Project Development Overview
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 1.1
  • Discussion Assignments (2)
Lesson 1.2: Solar Technologies
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 1.2
  • Discussion Assignments (2)
Lesson 1.3: Solar Industry Supply Chain
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 1.3
  • Discussion and Homework Assignment
Unit 2: Solar Energy Policy and Impacts
Lesson 2.1: Energy Policy – Federal, State and Local
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 2.1
  • Discussion and Homework Assignment
Lesson 2.2: Influence of Energy Policy on Private Enterprise
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 2.2
  • Discussion Assignment
Lesson 2.3: Mechanics of Legislation and Interplay with Regulatory Agencies
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 2.3
  • Discussion and/or Homework Assignment
Unit 3: Solar Project Economic Analysis
Lesson 3.1: Engineering Economics
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 3.1
  • Homework Assignment
Lesson 3.2: Solar Project Cost Accounting
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 3.2
  • Homework Assignment
Lesson 3.3: Financial Analysis Tools
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 3.3
  • Possible Discussion and/or Homework Assignment
Unit 4: Marketing Solar
Lesson 4.1: Solar Marketing Overview
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 4.1
  • Homework Assignment
Lesson 4.2: Solar Marketing Tools to Grow Businesses
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 4.2
  • Possible Discussion and/or Homework Assignment
Lesson 4.3: Preparing Marketing Materials
  • Read Lesson and assigned material
  • Quiz 4.3
  • Possible Discussion and/or Homework Assignment

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Course Policies

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines for undergraduate students and Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines for graduate students. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Inclement Weather

In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.