ERC Workshop Aligns Research with Environmental, Economic, and Social Sustainability Concepts

Achievement date: 
2014
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST), which is headquartered at Arizona State University (ASU), convened a workshop of engineers, scientists, industry, and sustainability researchers. Participants were presented with scenarios describing the future growth of photovoltaics (PV) and asked to discuss which elements of future PV growth are most certain, how these elements interact with the PV-technology research agenda, and how QESST should use sustainability considerations in augmenting technical research thrusts.

Impact/benefits: 

Effective communication between disparate disciplines requires careful mentoring.  Convening this workshop has aligned technical research agendas and milestones with environmental, economic, and social sustainability concepts to understand the full impacts of PV at the terawatt scale.

Explanation/Background: 

The research, industrial engagement, and educational activities of QESST focus on the Terawatt Challenge to provide clean, affordable, and sustainable energy to meet the growing energy demands of the planet with PV. However, when PV can reach that very large scale, the environmental, social, or economic impacts of PV will not be a simple extrapolation from current conditions. Solutions for these non-technical challenges must be developed a priori to prevent unintended consequences from impeding the continued growth of PV.

Sustainability considerations should not be viewed as restraining or limiting technical research; rather, the engagement between sustainability researchers and engineering should result in a common research trajectory. This was accomplished with the workshop on Sustainability Scenarios for Terawatt- Scale PV (see figure).