Investigating Industrial-Scale Solar Energy in Southeastern California Using Mixed Methodologies

Authors: Cameron Audras*, University of Southern California, Jennifer Swift, University of Southern California, Jill Sohm, University of Southern California
Topics: Political Geography, Land Use, Energy
Keywords: solar, renewables, energy, PGIS, interdisciplinary, mixed methodology, participatory mapping
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Industrial solar development is a contentious topic in the Mojave desert. This cannot be reduced to “NIMYBism”, a catch-all term invalidates the ecological and social concerns of rural residents. Solar in particular is an increasingly lucrative and permanent component of the world’s energy portfolio given the widespread implications of climate change. This project contributes to the literature on the divide between industrial solar installation and public attitudes, with aspirations for reconciliation and problem-solving.

This paper was conducted in association with the University of Southern California’s Undergraduate Research Associates Program. The project engaged stakeholders including conservationists, solar energy companies, indigenous peoples, and city council members (proxies for constituents) to use Data Basin participatory mapping (PGIS) software to identify least-conflict areas for solar siting in the Mojave. Methods model those implemented in Strittholt et al.’s 2016 San Joaquin Valley Report. Stakeholders contributed to this public participatory GIS project. They also completed surveys and phone interviews to further elucidate attitudes, values, and associated demographics. The resulting datasets present a compelling narrative and suggest least-conflict sites for industrial solar based on physical site suitability as well as the broader socio-political context.

Ultimately, if industrial solar development is going to contribute to America’s energy portfolio, more attention must be paid to the attitudes of those most affected by it, as well as those communities and ecosystems along the commodity chain. This project demonstrates how preemptively understanding local attitudes can lead to solutions that acknowledge local attitudes while furthering our collective clean energy future.

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