Solar power and the just transition

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Contribution to a Book

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The Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Cities and Landscapes in the Pacific Rim



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As solar power continues to be a key decarbonization strategy, it will drive demand for materials, natural resources, and land. This will create new environmental pressures from land use change, new extractive industries, new occupational hazards, and waste management. Increased and new demands for minerals and metals such as quartz, bauxite, cassiterite, copper, silver, new forms of metallurgy and smelting, the migratory workforces and occupational safety challenges at semiconductor and composite manufacturing fabs, emissions and effluents from specialty chemical industries are just a few emerging areas of socio-ecological conflict in renewable energy futures. Photovoltaics also pose environmental management issues at the end of their useful life, posing new waste disposal and recycling challenges that will have implications for environmental justice, but also offer opportunities for circular economies in these critical materials. Utility-scale solar in particular presents ecological or cultural resource challenges due to rapid land use change. Drawing on the ideas of a “just transition,” this chapter suggests considerations for a more equitable approach across the solar energy commodity chain.


Environmental Studies