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IU researchers lead $2.5M Department of Energy effort to explore solar energy transition

Jun 10, 2024

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The decision-making processes that determine the location of clean-energy facilities can play a critical role in the success of such projects. A team of researchers, including a group from the Indiana University Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to evaluate how these processes, called siting practices, shape community support for large-scale solar projects and how those dynamics differ across communities.

The United States has set a goal of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2035, and solar power will play a critical role in achieving thi... The United States has set a goal of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2035, and solar power will play a critical role in achieving this objective. Photo by Tod Martens for Indiana University

David Konisky, the Lynton K. Caldwell Professor in the O’Neill School, will serve as principal investigator for the Indiana University arm of the effort. He is a leading expert in U.S. environmental policy and politics, specializing in environmental and energy justice, regulation, federalism and public opinion. Konisky leads IU’s Energy Justice Lab and the Environmental Justice Fellows program. He will be joined by O’Neill professor Shahzeen Attari, an expert on the psychology of resource use and climate action, and associate professor Jennifer Silva, whose research focuses on political culture, social class, inequality, and family and intimate life.

“We are thrilled to receive this award from the Department of Energy to continue our research on the clean-energy transition,” Konisky said. “Siting solar power is not just a technical challenge but a social challenge, and our project will study how the siting process affects community support for large solar installations.”

The United States has set a goal of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2035, and solar power will play a critical role in achieving this objective. However, the location of energy infrastructure can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and acceptance of the technology. A lack of support from a local community can delay projects or lead to their cancellation altogether.

O'Neill School Lynton K. Caldwell Professor David Konisky, a leading expert in U.S. environmental policy and justice, will serve as p... O'Neill School Lynton K. Caldwell Professor David Konisky, a leading expert in U.S. environmental policy and justice, will serve as principal investigator for the IU arm of the effort. Photo by Indiana UniversityThe goal of the research is to better understand the challenges inherent in the siting of solar technologies so more effective policies can be developed for future projects. The team will conduct surveys and interviews, as well as monitor media coverage of 24 proposed solar projects across the country over time, with a specific focus on disadvantaged communities and historic fossil fuel communities.

“Community buy-in is important for all local economic development,” Konisky said. “Large-scale solar developers engage in a variety of approaches when siting new facilities, and we want to study which approaches are most effective, and for whom.”

The funding will come from the SEEDS 4 program, part of the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It is part of a total $9.5 million in grants designed to support social science research that examines the ways that siting practices can influence public attitudes toward and permitting of large-scale solar facilities. The Department of Energy has supported a wealth of research to understand the social elements of solar energy adoption, generating strategies to speed solar deployment while ensuring that all Americans benefit from the clean energy transition.

“Solar energy can support regional sustainability goals, unlock stronger economies, and increase access to reliable and affordable clean energy resources,” said Jeff Marootian, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Department of Energy. “These projects will support DOE’s commitment to helping communities across the nation make informed decisions about their own energy needs and ensure projects provide meaningful benefits to the host community.”

The IU research team will collaborate with researchers from Loyola University Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, including principal investigator Sanya Carley a former IU professor of energy policy and city planning who co-directs IU’s Energy Justice Lab with Konisky.

Author

IU Newsroom

Mark Bode

Executive Director of Media Relations
Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Ken Bikoff

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