Overcoming social, technological, and environmental obstacles in regional-to-global renewable energy transitions.


The endpoints of sustainable development, as they are often understood, are seemingly at odds. For example, the objectives for energy transition, social development, and environmental preservation are, at times, in conflict. This requires a paradigm shift in the way researchers, policy makers, economists, and a myriad of other disciplines approach sustainability. The pursuit of one “good” does not inherently have to circumvent the pursuit of others. Historically, haphazard energy deployment has placed strain on environmental, social, and economic systems. Intentional renewable energy integration is of upmost importance to ensure that these systems embody sustainable interactions. In order to achieve a paradigm shift that enables cooperative systems and does not place sustainability endpoints at odds, we must expand and support opportunities for innovation, adaptation, and education within the overlapping sectors of the Energy – Water – Land Nexus. Within this dissertation, I explore two central themes regarding renewable energy transitions: First, that the socio-technical systems needed to support energy transitions is often lacking based on energyshed literacy, goal setting, and planning efforts. These social obstacles allude to limitation on fully realized renewable energy transitions. Chapters Two and Three unpack these concepts through assessing current progress in energy transitions from a regional spatio-temporal standpoint, and community planning standpoint respectively. The second theme is that renewable energy growth - namely hydropower - and environmental mitigation efforts do not have to be at odds, and in fact, can complement each other. Hydropower is one of the few renewable energy technologies that is not intermittent, but it also has a record of resulting in the highest environmental impact. In using hydropower as a case study, I explore some ways in which renewable energy growth can still be achieved while minimizing ecological footprint. Chapters Four and Five seek to quantify increases from hydropower using environmentally benign approaches – where environmental impact is largely realized at existing dams/hydropower plants – yet hydropower potential remains untapped at both national and global scales. This work aims to highlight opportunities for successful energy transitions rooted in a nexus mindset – where the needs of the people and the planet can exist in cooperation.