Social Science Research

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Drivers and energy justice implications of renewable energy project siting in the United States

The rapid expansion of solar and wind energy projects is raising questions of energy justice. Some scholars argue that solar and wind project development could burden under-resourced communities with negative impacts such as environmental harm and reduced access to resources. Conversely, other scholars argue that project development could be a boon to under-resourced communities, providing local economic and cultural benefits. Here, we analyze the drivers of solar and wind project siting patterns in the United States and explore their potential energy justice implications. We find that siting patterns are driven primarily by technoeconomic factors, especially resource quality and access to open undeveloped spaces. These technoeconomic factors channel projects into sparsely populated rural areas and, to a lesser extent, areas with lower income levels. We avoid simplifying assumptions about the broad justice implications of these siting patterns and explore our results from multiple perspectives.
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Examining Existing Policy to Inform a Comprehensive Legal Framework for Agrivoltaics in the U.S.

This study applies Legal Framework Analysis to identify barriers and opportunities for a comprehensive legal infrastructure to enable agrivoltaics in the U.S. The State of Massachusetts is used as a case study to understand what elements of their regulatory regime contribute to their novel agrivoltaic policy program, while also considering the surrounding federal and local government dynamics in which this state program is embedded. The case study shows that a comprehensive legal framework for agrivoltaics should arguably include a combination of federal and state energy financing mechanisms coupled with favorable state and local land use policies. Specifically, a state-level feed-in tariff and local government allowances for mixed land use between solar and agriculture will be the key features of an enabling legal framework.
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The Agricultural, Economic and Environmental Potential of Co-Locating Utility Scale Solar with Grazing Sheep

The study revealed that grazing sheep on solar sites is a cost-effective method to control on-site vegetation and prevent panel shading. At no time in the growing season did vegetation shade the panels. Maintenance was less labor-intensive than traditional landscaping services and, thus, less expensive. The grazing trial at the Musgrave solar site was a full success for the site owners and operators, as well as the sheep farmer. The aim of this study was to compare economic and agricultural benefits and challenges of traditional land management strategies (mowing, string trimming) with rotationally grazed sheep on solar sites. Sheep were grazed between May and November 2018 to obtain agronomic and economic data, as well as to gather knowledge of the feasibility of grazing sheep on solar sites.
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Land Use Conflicts Between Biomass and Power Production – Citizens’ Participation in the Technology Development of Agrophotovoltaics

This paper addresses the concern that despite the technical feasibility of renewable energy technologies and their contribution to climate-friendly power production, public opposition can be a hurdle for new installations of renewable energy installations, including agrivoltaic operations. This study assesses citizens’ perceptions of the Agrophotovoltaics (APV) technology by applying the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) concept. In the workshop discussed in this paper, citizens’ perception on APV before building the first pilot plant was investigated to analyze relevant aspects for the innovation process and its framework at an early stage of the technology development process. This paper describes the impact of APV on landscape, biodiversity, economy, and on the requirements for regulatory framework.
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Planning and Zoning for Solar Energy Systems

The purpose of this guide is to help Michigan communities meet the challenge of becoming solar- ready by addressing SES within their planning policies and zoning regulations. This document illustrates how various scales and configurations of photovoltaic SES fit into landscape patterns ranging between rural, suburban, and urban. This guide will aid in community development and guidance related to public policy decisions related to solar energy development, which often includes agrivoltaic operations and development as well.
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Stakeholder Interactions Around Solarsiting on Agricultural Lands: Toward Socio-Agrivoltaic Interventions

This study includes discussion on key benefits, tensions, and paradigms influencing farmers and farming communities’ decisions to host utility-scale solar generation. The first goal of this study is to develop a conceptual map of stakeholder interaction(s) around utility-scale solar deployment on agricultural lands. The second goal includes the critique of agrivoltaic solutions that fail to consider stakeholder priorities as technological fixes. Scientists and engineers have recommended agrivoltaics to solve conflicts between land use for energy versus agriculture. The study discusses and focuses on stakeholder perceptions and paradigms about using agricultural land, particularly prime farmland. The study covers the question of how does the existing context of energy and agricultural systems affect solar siting, and how are stakeholders interacting to coproduce decisions? The results of this study provide a conceptual map of stakeholder interaction on solar development on agricultural lands and argues that agrivoltaics are currently treated as a “technological fix.”
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The Social Dimensions of a Technological Innovation: Agrivoltaics in the U.S.

This thesis lays the groundwork for the broader realization of agrivoltaics by identifying the socio-political opportunities and barriers to development. Combining theoretical frameworks on technology diffusion and social acceptance of renewable energy with expert perspectives, this work seeks to understand, address, and accommodate the role of society and policy in combining solar energy and food systems. Three empirical studies are presented that first investigate the impediments to farmer adoption of the technology, then explore the challenges to development from the perspective of solar industry professionals, and conclude by outlining a comprehensive legal framework for agrivoltaics in the U.S. The findings identify the key socio-political opportunities for agrivoltaics include: the retention of agricultural land and rural interests, and increased local level acceptance of solar development. The key barriers include: ensuring long term agricultural productivity is not compromised, and subnational localized zoning strategies.
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Surveying the Solar Power Gap: Assessing the Spatial Distribution of Emerging Photovoltaic Solar Adoption in the State of Georgia, U.S.A.

Despite a global push in the development and implementation of widespread alternative energy use, significant disparities exist across given nation-states. These disparities reflect both technical and economic factors, as well as the social, political, and ecological gaps between how communities see energy development and national/global policy goals. Known as the “local-national gap”, many nations struggle with fostering meaningful conversations about the role of alternative energy technologies within communities. Mitigation of this problem first requires understanding the distribution of existing alternative energy technologies at the local level of policymaking.
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Renewables, Land Use, and Local Opposition in the United States

Wind and solar generation require at least 10 times as much land per unit of power produced than coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, including land disturbed to produce and transport the fossil fuels. Additionally, wind and solar generation are located where the resource availability is best instead of where is most convenient for people and infrastructure, since their “fuel” can’t be transported like fossil fuels.
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Is the just transition socially accepted? Energy history, place, and support for coal and solar in Illinois, Texas, and Vermont

To analyze public perception of coal and solar energy and support for public policy that assists in a just energy transition, we conducted a mail survey in the summer of 2018 among a random sample of residents in three regions of the United States: Houston, TX, a large city with close ties to the oil industry, Burlington, VT, a medium-sized city that is solely powered by renewable energy sources, and Saline County, IL, a rural area with a long history of coal mining.
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Sector-wide Social Impact Scoping of Agrivoltaic Systems: A Case Study in Japan

The recent rapid promotion of renewable energy technology (RET) worldwide may have led to a greater social impact on local communities, where multiple otherwise-small individual units of RET are concentrated in one place, as may occur in the case of small photovoltaic power generating units, for example. This study examines such a case of the dissemination of innovative agrivoltaic systems (AVSs), a system in which photovoltaic power facilities are installed above cultivated farmland, across Japanese rural areas.
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Integrating solar energy with agriculture: Industry perspectives on the market, community, and socio-political dimensions of agrivoltaics

Despite the mature and promising potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) technology to retrench global reliance on fossil fuels, large-scale PV development is experiencing complex challenges, including land use conflict and — as the scale of solar has increased — social resistance, which has previously been more commonly associated with large-scale wind farms. Growth in large-scale PV development can create land use disputes, especially in instances of competition between land for agriculture versus energy production. This history and growing concern over land use highlights the challenge of meeting the soaring demands for solar power while conserving rural and agricultural lands. It is posited that the impact of solar development on land will be diminished by siting PV in a manner that is compatible with multiple uses, suggesting changes in conventional practices will be necessary. The specific intent of this study was to draw insight about solar development from participant experience, and responses indicate that the most considerable opportunities and barriers center on social acceptance and public perception issues. Perspectives about the opportunities and barriers to agrivoltaic development were captured via interviews with solar industry professionals, and inductive analysis revealed that interviewees were most focused on opportunities and barriers that correspond with Wüstenhagen et al.’s three dimensions of social acceptance: market, community, and socio-political factors. The social acceptance of renewable energy is shaped by a complex interplay among market, community, and socio-political factors. While this framework is constructive for understanding the varying dimensions of social acceptance, Devine-Wright et al. assert that it is weak in terms of the relationships between dimensions, suggesting that further research should apply a holistic approach for discerning the interdependence among factors shaping social acceptance of renewable energy. The purpose of this study is therefore to explore the perceptions of industry professionals in the U.S. and consider the implications of the identified opportunities and barriers from a social science perspective. To address global demands for both food and energy, the relationship between critical land uses must become complementary rather than competitive. Because social acceptance of renewable energy technology is pivotal to energy transitions, this study reflects a proactive attempt to understand agrivoltaics from a solar industry professional’s perspective to better understand the significant opportunities and barriers to development. This research suggests that agrivoltaics are potentially accretive to the long-term growth of the solar industry, possessing the capacity to increase social acceptance of local solar developments. While the agrivoltaic concept is widely supported by the participants in this study, popularity of an emerging technology among industry experts may not indicate local level acceptance of a specific development. As new energy technologies such as agrivoltaics transcend niche applications to become more prevalent, localized resistance is to be anticipated and the dimensions of social acceptance, including the opportunities and barriers associated with each dimension, can help inform decision making to enhance the growth of agrivoltaic development.
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Driving and restraining forces for the implementation of the Agrophotovoltaics system technology – A system dynamics analysis

The innovative Agrophotovoltaics (APV) system technology combines agricultural biomass and solar power production on the same site and aims at reducing the conflict between food and power production. Unrelated to this benefit, this technology may impact the landscape negatively and could thus be subject to public opposition and/or restraining frameworks. The presented study offers a System Dynamics (SD) approach, through Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) models, based on the results of citizen workshops, literature research, and expert discussions on the technology. A comprehensive analysis of the driving and restraining forces for the implementation of APV-technology and expected or potential impacts reveals influential factors. Hence, this SD approach identifies bottlenecks and conflicting objectives in the technology implementation that need to be further addressed.
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Drivers and barriers to public acceptance of future energy sources and grid expansion in the United States

With the coming of the 21st century in the U.S., reliance on fossil fuels, in particular coal, decreased while renewable energy sources increased their contribution to the U.S. energy portfolio. The factors behind this emerging trend toward a decreased reliance on coal are many, including economic as well as policy goals. Nationally, support is strong for the general transition to renewable energy, but this support can decline at the local level particularly if renewable energy is perceived as have negative local economic impact, impeding implementation. However, some look at this as part of a transition to a new economic power structure. Due to a lack of research on identifying public preferences for energy production in the United States, the authors conducted a national survey to identify drivers and barriers of acceptance of different types of electrical energy production.
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Applying a Relationally and Socially Embedded Decision Framework to Solar Photovoltaic Adoption: A Conceptual Exploration

This paper provides a conceptual exploration of how a proposed framework can guide decision making for solar development across multiple scales and settings, while also illuminating the potential barriers and bottlenecks that may limit the potential of solar energy development to occur in scales and forms that receive community acceptance and at the pace necessary to address the greenhouse gas emissions currently contributing to the rapidly changing global climate.
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Aesthetic Impact of Solar Energy Systems

As a result of the lack of consensus, a new qualitative theoretical framework is proposed that can serve as a basis for future research in the field of the integration of solar energy and its aesthetic impact. The framework comprises three sub-impacts: land use, solar system energy and glare.