Category Archives: green energy

How Can We Limit or Mitigate Contention Over Solar Power Infrastructure Development

920x920Human reliance on fossil fuels has led to a wide range of adverse environmental and health effects. As our understanding of these impacts has grown, so has the search for other, more sustainable sources of energy. One such source is solar power. The federal and state governments of the United States have created various policies and financial incentives to encourage adoption of solar energy technologies.

While solar energy offers tremendous potential benefits, siting utility-scale ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays can give rise to strong public reaction. In her 2014 thesis, Siting solar energy facilities in New York state: sources of and responses to controversy, Casey Stein (MCP 2014) examines the controversy, or lack thereof, surrounding the siting of utility-scale solar energy facilities in New York by exploring two case studies – the Skidmore College Denton Road solar array and the Cornell University Snyder Road solar array.

Despite the large number of commonalities between these two solar energy facilities, the Skidmore College array created a much greater level of controversy than the Cornell University array. Analysis of this divergence indicates that choice of the physical site is a crucial determinant of the extent of controversy. While local impacts are an important concern, Casey demonstrates the reasons for controversy go well beyond those tangible impacts. Issues related to information, equity, and trust played roles as key sources of controversy.  By comparing and contrasting the controversy surrounding these two solar energy arrays, Casey is able to offer recommendations to limit or mitigate contention around future solar power infrastructure development.

To read Casey’s thesis, click here.

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Can grass-roots innovation be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks?

Solar1*600The states are the “laboratories of democracy. ” They are often the source of new policy ideas, including new strategies for encouraging investment in renewable energy. Some of these ideas spread; others don’t. The process of diffusion is inherently a social process; implementation is achieved via a network of actors.  Ryan Cook’s thesis looks closely at the way in which Solarize, a community-based energy program has moved across the country.

Ryan Cook  (MCP ’14) examines the way policy actors adopt and adapt innovative ideas to their particular needs. Through a study of Solarize on both the west coast and the east coast, Ryan documents the way in which network structure can facilitate the spread of energy programs. He argues that policy innovations are rarely entirely original. Instead, they are often an amalgamation of ideas which have been implemented elsewhere. The pathways that new policy ideas follow lead to substantial differentiation. For example, the core elements of Solarize include competitive contractor selection, community-based outreach, public education, and limited sign-up campaigns. However, as Solarize moved around the country, there are some versions that involve multiple contractors as well as different technologies.

By analyzing the social networks underlying the process of policy adoption, Ryan has discovered that issue-specific relationships that cross multiple policy networks are important. He has also identified organizational creativity, programmatic flexibility, and a commitment to continuous learning (rather than just imitation) as important explanations for why and how policy innovations diffuse.  Read more about the ways in which grass roots innovation can be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks. Ryan’s thesis complete thesis can be accessed here.