Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems




Two rows of solar panels
Credit: Pixabay from Pexel licensed under CC0

Innovations in solar energy, specifically photovoltaics, have seen significant progress in efficiency and installation area over the past decade. The further production of photovoltaics is a necessary component for any sustainable energy portfolio. Industrial choices of raw materials, their use, flows, and wastes are central to many aspects of industrial ecology. In the case of solar materials, there are significant broader impacts questions around strategic mineral availability, mining impacts, toxicity in manufacturing, and material lifespan and end of use. The determination of system boundaries for material life cycle analysis require significant considerations of issues such as selection of cognitive values when choosing sustainability indicators, classification of boundaries (closure of sets), and framework assumptions about how materials are consumed and circulated.

Lesson Objectives

  • Comprehend the scope of the science behind PV systems.
  • Describe and Classify various parts of life-cycle assessments.
  • Differentiate between and ethical reasons for Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) compared to Life-Cycle Cost Assessments (LCCA).
  • Recognize where in the LCA process ethical considerations can be included, such as in choosing goals and scope.
  • Identify and categorize key ethical issues in the analysis of material flows for PV.

What is due for Lesson 5?

This lesson will take us one week to complete. Please refer to the Course Syllabus for specific time frames and due dates. Specific directions for the assignment below can be found within this lesson.

Lesson 5: Assignments
Requirements Assignment Details
To Do Watch and familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 5 materials.
Read and Watch Week 7:
  • Jeroen B. Guinée, Reinout Heijungs, Gjalt Huppes, Alessandra Zamagni, Paolo Masoni, Roberto Buonamici, Tomas Ekvall, and Tomas Rydberg. "Life Cycle Assessment: Past, Present, and Future," Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (1), 90-96
  • Watch videos (in order) on the course website for Lesson 5 Parts 1 and 2.
Week 8:
Assignment Week 7:
  • Draft of an LCA. Post comments on LCA in discussion forum. To post, go to the course in Canvas, click on Lesson 5, and post to Lesson 5 Discussion.
Week 8:
  • Complete and apply Ethics Matrix 2c in the choice of Goals and Scope for an LCA. To submit, go to the course in Canvas, click on Lesson 5, and submit to Ethics Matrix 2c.


If you have any questions, please post them to our Questions? discussion forum (not email), located under the Discussions tab in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.