Geographies of Biomass and Solar Energy: Spatial Decision Support for Regional Energy Sustainability
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This thesis applies concepts and techniques in geography in order to contribute to our understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with the transition toward renewable energy. The work is best understood as the sum of two parts. In the first part, the methodological and philosophical underpinnings of the field of energy geography are explored in order to situate the research in the broader constellation of geographical practices surrounding energy. I make the case that energy transitions are not merely shifts in energy supply but are also simultaneously fundamental shifts in prevailing spatial relations, so that energy transition management is best conceived as a spatial strategy with emphasis on regional level land-energy planning. In the second part of the thesis, I aim to provide decision support in favour of this spatial strategy. This begins in Chapter 4 with a comprehensive critical review of how GIScience and remote sensing has been applied in RE assessments and spatial planning. The next three chapters engage key gaps in this literature and are the analytical contributions of the thesis. The focus of the research is on biomass and solar energy in (eastern) Ontario. In Chapter 5 I develop geographically explicit supply-cost curves for forestry and agricultural biomass and assess the relative merits of a mixed biomass feedstock stream. In Chapter 6 I recognize and address the issue that developers of dedicated bioenergy crops and ground-mount solar PV systems prefer the same type of land. Land-energy trade-offs are modeled and their implications in the context of incentivizing RE development are discussed. In Chapter 7 I explore ways in which targeted facility siting can capture ancillary benefits related to RE production. I argue that focusing on the benefits as well as the costs of system siting is critical to linking developer and public interests. Ontario’s feed-in tariff program is evaluated in the light of this claim. Chapter 8 concludes with a summary of key findings and describes the ways in which this thesis can be used as a platform upon which a broader research program can be raised.
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