Integrating Social Concerns Into Regional Renewable Energy Resource Assessments: A Case Study in Rigolet, NL, Canada

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Carlson, Jordan
Renewable energy , Tidal energy , Energy transitions , Energy geography
This thesis demonstrates a novel approach to integrating social concerns regarding energy development into renewable energy resource assessment. An extensive literature review of the social aspects of energy identifies five perspectives (acceptability, social license, energy justice, community energy, Indigenous criticism) that define social issues in energy development. These perspectives are applied in a review of technical resource assessment and planning literature to identify the approaches taken there. The resource assessment literature demonstrates an instrumentalized approach to social license, emphasising conflict avoidance. More outcome-oriented perspectives that emphasised community ownership, distribution of project benefits, alignment with local ways of life, and similar concerns were not widely used in assessment and planning. Informed by these findings, a mixed methods approach to resource assessment was applied to the tidal energy resource near the community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). Key informant interviews were conducted with participants in the community. Participants understood different energy resources well, and aligned with the outcome-focused perspectives identified in the literature. Results from these interviews were used to identify the resources most preferred by participants: wind, solar, and tidal energy. Computer modeling of the tides allowed for comparison of tidal resources near Rigolet to wind, solar, and existing diesel systems through the microgrid optimisation software HOMER. These comparisons suggest that although there is an abundant tidal resource near Rigolet, existing commercial tidal energy convertors are ill-suited to it. Future low-flow tidal energy turbines may enable Rigolet to pursue tidal energy as part of its energy future. Near term, wind energy with battery backup may be able to significantly reduce diesel consumption in Rigolet, reducing both cost of energy and pollutant emissions. The integrative approach taken to social issues as part of energy resource assessment in this study is useful to energy modelers, planners, engineers, geographers, and policymakers. Social conflict complicates energy transitions, and this thesis demonstrates a synthesising approach to considering social issues from the outset of assessment and planning. The methods demonstrated are most applicable to small geographic scales, but lessons are identified for intermediate and large-scale studies. The importance of scale in considering methods is a key finding.
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