Applying a Relationally and Socially Embedded Decision Framework to Solar Photovoltaic Adoption: A Conceptual Exploration
2. Socio-Technological Systems Transitions Frameworks
- RQ 1.1: What community visions, values, perceptions, and priorities are associated with which risks, barriers, and opportunities for renewable energy system transitions?
- RQ 1.2: How does this vary across the community context?
- RQ 1.3: What trade-offs or compromises do communities make when making energy decisions?
- RQ 2.0: What socio-cultural, technical, biophysical, and regulatory variables facilitate or impede renewable energy transitions given the benefits, risks, and opportunities associated with renewable energy development?
- RQ 3.0: What novel technologies and approaches can facilitate energy transitions and how can decision-support tools enable communities to envision alternative futures and make energy transition decisions while considering relevant social, technical, and biophysical impacts?
- RQ 4.1: How does community participation in energy decisions shape energy transitions and community well-being?
- RQ 4.2: What policies and management options, across which community and state scales, best empower community decision making and are most likely to facilitate renewable energy transitions?
- RQ 4.3: How can we support communities in making choices that involve difficult tradeoffs between their own values and visions, and those of other communities, regions, and scales?
3. Applying the Framework
3.1. What Do We Care about?
3.2. What Do We Know?
- PV are massive net energy producers: For some time now, PV modules have been shown to produce far more energy than is used to produce them . PV efficiencies have steadily climbed , only driving the energy return over energy invested higher (with some PV “paying” their energy back in a year) .
- PV has “generational” long lifetimes and warranties: PV modules, in general, carry a warranty for 90% production at 10 years and 80% production at 25 years . That means 25 years after the purchase of a solar panel, consumers can expect it to still be outputting 80% of its rated capacity. Many studies have shown that PV degradation rates are below 1%/year [84,85,86,87,88,89].
- PV has low maintenance costs and no fuel costs: Solar PV systems do not require frequent inspection or maintenance  and require no fuels to operate (and thus no transport and storage of fuel either). This is a distinct benefit for communities globally without access to professional operations and maintenance (O&M).
- PV reduces sound pollution: PV systems operate silently and with no movement (most systems) and minimal movement (single and dual-axis trackers).
- PV is extremely safe: PV systems do not require the use, transport, or storage of combustible fuels; they have no environmental emissions during use and are electrically safe when properly designed and installed. They also produce no nuclear waste.
- PV allows for flexible system architectures with grid-tied, decentralized generation, and grid independence: PV systems may operate independently of grid systems, but also can improve grid reliability with decentralized generation [92,93]. PV systems can be operated off-grid  and, when coupled with storage technologies and/or hybrid generation, can provide lower-cost power for those with poor electric infrastructure , as well as those in rural and low-income, previously colonized communities continuing to lack basic infrastructure.
- PV systems are flexible and modular: Unlike conventional systems, PV modules may be added to photovoltaic systems to increase available power; they can be deployed almost anywhere the sun shines at scales appropriate for the situation. This is simply not possible with most conventional electric sources.
- PV can create jobs and enhance tax revenues: Currently, more than 250,000 Americans work in the solar industry [98,99]. Globally, the solar industry employs more than 3.6 million people . Depending on the tax regime, some governments that support solar see a return on investment (ROI) based on taxes; the Canadian government, for example, would earn a profit under any scenario supporting PV, including giving multi-million-dollar PV plants away for free .
- PV reduces the liability costs for conventional power plant operators: For the nuclear case, reduced potential liability from nuclear disasters [101,102,103] is so substantial that just displacing the nuclear insurance subsidy to solar would provide an additional 48,600 TWh of electricity over nuclear worth $5.3 trillion . In fossil fuel cases, moving to solar would reduce carbon emission liability costs, which, similarly, could be worth hundreds of trillions of dollars .
- PV can enable low-income countries to leapfrog conventional centralized power plants and their concomitant problems: By encouraging the adoption of PV, rural areas in low-income and previously colonized country contexts, who have not built economies based on extractive exploitation of global economies, have particular promise to leapfrog conventional power sources, and the pollution and economic challenges they represent [106,107,108].
- Reduces conventional electricity market prices due to reduced peak demand
- Provides a valuable price hedge from using a free, renewable fuel rather than variably-priced fossil fuels
- Reduces costs due to avoiding new transmission and distribution infrastructure to manage electricity delivery from centralized power plants;
- Reduces need to build, operate, maintain, and buy fuel for fossil fuel-generating plants
- Reduces reserve capacity costs, distribution, and transmission costs
- Reduces electric outages due to a more reliable, distributed electric power system
- Reduces future costs of mitigating the environmental impacts of fossil fuel and nuclear generation
- Avoids health liability costs as well as saves lives (e.g., replacing all of coal-fired electricity with solar energy would save ~52,000 American lives per year ).
3.3. What Is Possible?
3.4. What Should We Do about It Together?
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Schelly, C.; Lee, D.; Matz, E.; Pearce, J.M. Applying a Relationally and Socially Embedded Decision Framework to Solar Photovoltaic Adoption: A Conceptual Exploration. Sustainability 2021, 13, 711. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020711
Schelly C, Lee D, Matz E, Pearce JM. Applying a Relationally and Socially Embedded Decision Framework to Solar Photovoltaic Adoption: A Conceptual Exploration. Sustainability. 2021; 13(2):711. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020711Chicago/Turabian Style
Schelly, Chelsea, Don Lee, Elise Matz, and Joshua M. Pearce. 2021. "Applying a Relationally and Socially Embedded Decision Framework to Solar Photovoltaic Adoption: A Conceptual Exploration" Sustainability 13, no. 2: 711. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020711