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Reinventing Energy Ethics

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Societies seeking sustainability are transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources to mitigate dangerous climate change. Energy transitions involve ethically controversial decisions that affect current and future generations’ well-being. As energy systems in the United States transition towards

Societies seeking sustainability are transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources to mitigate dangerous climate change. Energy transitions involve ethically controversial decisions that affect current and future generations’ well-being. As energy systems in the United States transition towards renewable energy, American Indian reservations with abundant energy sources are some of the most significantly impacted communities. Strikingly, energy ethicists have not yet developed a systematic approach for prescribing ethical action within the context of energy decisions. This dissertation reinvents energy ethics as a distinct sub-discipline of applied ethics, integrating virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism with Sioux, Navajo, and Hopi ethical perspectives. On this new account, applied energy ethics is the analysis of questions of right and wrong using a framework for prescribing action and proper policies within private and public energy decisions. To demonstrate the usefulness of applied energy ethics, this dissertation analyzes two case studies situated on American Indian reservations: the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Navajo Generating Station.

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2019

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Justice in Transition: A Case of Decentralized Renewables from India

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As India expanded its grid infrastructure, decentralized renewable energy technologies, such as off-grid solar, also emerged in parallel as an electrification solution. This dissertation critically examines the role of off-grid solar in facilitating rural electrification efforts in India. Specifically, it

As India expanded its grid infrastructure, decentralized renewable energy technologies, such as off-grid solar, also emerged in parallel as an electrification solution. This dissertation critically examines the role of off-grid solar in facilitating rural electrification efforts in India. Specifically, it applies the frameworks of the multi-level perspective, capabilities approach, and energy justice to achieve three objectives: (1) trace the evolution of off-grid solar in India; (2) understand the role of solar micro-grids in improving household capabilities and well-being; (1) examine whether and how community-scale solar micro-grids can operate as just means of electrification. This research relies on qualitative case-study methods. The historical research in Paper 1 is based on published policy documents and interviews with energy experts in India. It finds that landscape-regime-niche actor relations and politics were crucial in shaping off-grid solar transition outcomes. There is also a narrative component, as the key narratives of energy security, environmental degradation, climate change and energy for development converged to create spaces for state and non-state interactions that could nurture the development of off-grid solar. The community-level research in Papers 2 and 3 analyze a local energy initiative of community operated solar micro-grid using semi-structured interviews and participant observations from three villages in Maharashtra. Solar micro-grids play an important part in expanding people’s choices and opportunities. The benefits are not uniform across all people, however. Increases in energy-related capabilities vary by economic class and gender, and to some extent this means certain biases can get reinforced. In addition, the inability of solar micro-grids to keep up with the changing electrification landscape and daily practices means that the challenges of affordability, reliability and community engagement emerged as important concerns over-time. Empirically, this dissertation finds that off-grid energy initiatives must be carefully designed to be in alignment with local values and realities. Theoretically, it adds to debates on justice in energy transitions by showcasing the regime-led innovations, and temporality elements of energy justice local energy initiatives.

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2021