Dustin Mulvaney on "Are Green Jobs, Just Jobs? Innovation, Environmental Justice, and the Life Cycle Impacts of Photovoltaics"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 (All day)

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IBS 155A, University of Colorado at Boulder

This paper explores the environmental justice (EJ) implications from solar energy manufacturing, deployment, and end-of-life. Photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing processes involve hazardous materials and processes similar to those found in the electronics industry, where groundwater contamination and occupational burdens were widespread. Seen as the frontiers of innovation and darlings of venture capital, some emerging thin film PV semiconductors are made of toxic materials or by novel nanoscale processes. These new commodity assemblages are producing new political ecological configurations of energy procurement and generation, linking Malaysian thin film PV fabs to public lands in the US Desert Southwest. To understand these impacts researchers have turned to life cycle assessment tools to evaluate and compare the impacts of various technologies through the construction and commensuration of performance metrics. By integrating traditions in global commodity chains, political ecology, and science and technology studies, this research explains how such renewable energy metrics can obscure potential environmental justice impacts from PV manufacturing, and how an uncritical moral economy of carbon is shaping solar energy deployment.

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