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Understanding the Social Value of Solar Energy Production in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area

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With an abundance of sunshine, the state of Arizona has the potential for producing large amounts of solar energy. However, in recent years Arizona has also become the focal point in a political battle to determine the value and future

With an abundance of sunshine, the state of Arizona has the potential for producing large amounts of solar energy. However, in recent years Arizona has also become the focal point in a political battle to determine the value and future of residential solar energy fees, which has critical implications for distributed generation. As the debate grows, it is clear that solar policies developed in Arizona will influence other state regulators regarding their solar rate structures and Net Energy Metering; however, there is a hindrance in the progress of this discussion due to the varying frameworks of the stakeholders involved. For this project, I set out to understand and analyze why the different stakeholders have such conflicting viewpoints. Some groups interpret energy as a financial and technological object while others view it is an inherently social and political issue. I conducted research in three manners: 1) I attended public meetings, 2) hosted interviews, and 3) analyzed reports and studies on the value of solar. By using the SRP 2015 Rate Case as my central study, I will discuss how these opposing viewpoints do or do not incorporate various forms of justice such as distributive, participatory, and recognition justice. In regards to the SRP Rate Case, I will look at both the utility- consumer relationship and the public meeting processes in which they interact, in addition to the pricing plans. This work reveals that antiquated utility structures and a lack of participation and recognition justice are hindering the creation of policy changes that satisfy both the needs of the utilities and the community at large.

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2015-12

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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

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Viewing Tellurium Production and Usage in Solar Panels Through an Energy Justice Lens

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Climate change has necessitated the transition from non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas to renewable, low-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric. These energy sources, although much better equipped to reduce carbon-induced climate change,

Climate change has necessitated the transition from non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas to renewable, low-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric. These energy sources, although much better equipped to reduce carbon-induced climate change, require materials that pollute the environment when mined and can release toxic waste during processing and disposal. Critical minerals are used in low-carbon renewable energy, and they are subject to both the environmental issues that accompany regular mineral extraction as well as issues related to scarcity from geopolitical issues, trade policy, and geological rarity. Tellurium is a critical mineral produced primarily as a byproduct of copper and used in cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar panels. As these solar panels become more common, the problems that arise with many critical minerals’ usage (pollution, unfair distribution, human health complications) become more apparent. Looking at these issues through an energy justice framework can help to ensure availability, sustainability, inter/intragenerational equity, and accountability, and this framework can provide a more nuanced understanding of the costs and the benefits that will accrue with the transition to low-carbon, renewable energy. Energy justice issues surrounding the extraction of critical minerals will become increasingly prevalent as more countries pledge to have a zero-carbon future.

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2022-05