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Topic 1 - Solar Infrastructure in the City of Boston

1. I am interested (and aware of the difficulty) in pursuing a spatial analysis of large-scale solar infrastructure in the city of Boston, specifically installed, on-building PV systems, in order to analyze the geographic difference in installed capacity between two different business models that disseminate cost-saving solar technology. The traditional method of acquiring large-scale solar (large scale, here, is defined as PV systems that serve buildings larger than those single-family residential buildings, such as affordable housing projects, multifamily homes and mixed-use spaces) involves a developer or building owner acquiring subsidies and tax credits to support the installation of solar. As these installations can be very costly, the projects likely require some investment on the part of the owner.  A second business model for the installation of PV systems (and practiced by Boston Community Capital) involves third-party ownership of the PV system. This organization pays for the installation of the system, as well as the system itself, and generates a revenue stream through tax credits, acquiring the Renewable Energy Credit (REC), and locking the building owner (as well as the tenants) into a years-long power purchase agreement (that reduces the cost of electricity for the tenants, as compared to taking only from the grid). Solar panels work in series; if one panel is not functioning optimally (i.e. a small shadow is cast by a rogue branch on a nearby tree, soot build-up, or bird droppings), this affects the performance of the entire system. In the traditional model of installing PV, the building owner and tenants are not as likely to maintain the panels and keep them functioning at peak levels as is an organization like Boston Community Capital whose revenue stream is dependent on the optimal performance of these systems. Monitoring equipment allows for performance oversight, and suboptimal performance leads to the dispatching of maintenance personnel.

The two business not only differ in the benefit to the customer (or tenant), but they may also differ in their geographic distribution. Given the income disparity between various Boston neighborhoods, energy prices have a disparate impact in different parts of the city. The high upfront cost of PV systems may prevent Boston's lower income populations from gaining the benefit of on-site renewable energy infrastructure; yet, these are the populations whose incomes are most impacted by increases in the cost of electricity. With rising energy prices, it is important to evaluate these different business models for the "energy equity" they create. Spatial questions that I would like to pursue, include:

2.1 Where is PV (of any kind) installed in Boston?
2.2 Where are traditional-model large-scale solar installations located?
2.3 Where are third-party-owned large-scale solar installations located?
2.4 What does the census data tell us about the median income of these areas? Does one model seem to have penetrated Boston's lower income areas, giving access to renewable energy to those who need it most? What do energy costs look like in these areas?

3. Painuly, J. Barriers to Renewable Energy Penetration: A Framework for Analysis. Renewable Energy. Volume 24, Issue 1, September 2001, Pages 73-89.

Reddy, S. and Painuly, J. Diffusion of Renewable Energy Technologies-- Barriers and Stakeholders' Perspectives. Renewable Energy. Volume 29,
Issue 9, July 2004, Pages 1431-1447.

Kempton, W. and Layne, L. The Consumer's Energy Analysis Environment. Energy Policy. Volume 22, Issue 10, October 1994, Pages 857-866.

Robinson, John. The Proof of the Pudding: Making Energy Efficiency Work. Energy Policy, Volume 19, Issue 7, September 1991, Pages 631-645.

Tsoutsos, Theocharsis. Marketing solar thermal technologies: strategies in Europe, experience in Greece. Renewable Energy. Volume 26, Issue 1, May 2002, Pages 33-46.

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Topic 2 - Coal Industry Expansion in the Appalachian Basin Region: Understanding Costs and Benefits to Low-Income and Environmental Justice Communities

1. With the looming attempt to decrease dependence on Middle Eastern oil and increase reliance on domestic alternatives, the U.S. coal industry is predicting a huge increase in demand. One of the most important coal-producing regions in the world is the Appalachian Basin region. Many of the communities that stand to be potentially affected by local industry expansion meet one or more of the requirements of environmental justice communities, deemed by the MA Executive Office of Environmental Affairs as communities where "the residents are likely to be unaware of or unable to participate in environmental decision-making or to gain access to state environmental resources" (Executive Office of Environmental Affairs 2007). The costs of expanded coal operations could include increased infrastructure though the community, truck travel to and from mines, pollution to the air and water from the operation itself. As low-income communities may weigh the benefits of increased revenue and job opportunities greater than the environmental externalities of an expanded coal industry, it is important to first spatially analyze the location of active mines in the Appalachian Basin region and compare that against the location of low-income, environmental justice communities. A campaign to disseminate information about the industry or explore its true costs could then be directed at or take place in the most at-risk communities. 

2.1 Where are the active coal mines in the Appalachian Basin region?
2.2 Where are these mines compared to abutting rivers and streams that may be at risk?
2.3 Where are the environmental justice communities in this region? Where are the low-income communities?
2.4 What communities are already overburdened with pollution or environmental degredation? Are there areas already hosting Superfund sites?
2.5  What does census data tell us about levels of unemployment in these regions?

3. Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2007. U.S. Coal Supply and Demand 2007 Review.

Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2008. United States Energy Profile.

Dubey, Sunita. 2007. Coal-to-Liquids (CTL): A Misplaced Solution For An Oil-Starved World. GroundworkUSA.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 3 (WG3). 2007. Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 4: Energy Supply.

MIT Interdisciplinary Study. 2007. The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon-Constrained World.

Northern and Central Appalachian Basin Coal Regions Assessment Team. 2000. RESOURCE ASSESSMENT OF SELECTED COAL BEDS AND ZONES IN THE NORTHERN AND CENTRAL APPALACHIAN BASIN COAL REGIONS, Chapter A: Executive Summary---Coal Resource Assessment of Selected Coal Beds and Zones in the Northern and Central Appalachian Basin Coal Regions.

Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, 2007.  Available at Last accessed September 17, 2008.

4. GIS data on coal resources in Appalachian Basin free to download at (used in Assignment 1)

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