EME 810
Solar Resource Assessment and Economics

9.6 The Sun as a Resource System and Common Pool Resource


Reading Assignment

  • J.R. Brownson, Solar Energy Conversion Systems (SECS),  Chapter 11 - The Sun as Commons (Read the Intro through "Framework: Emerging Local Policy Strategies.")
  • J.R.S. Brownson (2013) "Framing the Sun and Buildings as Commons". Buildings 3(4), pp. 659-673; doi:10.3390/buildings3040659.

I want you to consider the perspective where we view the resource units derived from the sun (light, converted electrons, converted heat, etc.) and the resource systems to enable those conversions (the Sun, the grid, our buildings) as coupled, but separate entities. This is an extension of our work on economics, but leads us into thinking about management of solar energy among the community.

While reading these materials, think how we might collectively manage both the resource units, and the resource systems in a given locale. Community solar is a new and exciting space in the solar field, and this sets up the foundation to address it and think of new strategies in management.

Language of the Commons

In both readings, we are going to see the language developed by Nobel Laureate in Economics Elinor Ostrom, from her seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.

  • Resource Systems: the larger stock from which a good is appropriated.
  • Resource Units: the flow of goods being produced.
  • Providers: teams or individuals who arrange for the provision of a resource system at multiple levels, to ensure long-term stability or sustainability of the resource system.
  • Producers: teams and individuals who construct, commission, and maintain access to the resource system.
  • Appropriators: individuals who make use of resource units.
  • Arbiter: a third party, as either an impartial person or an institution, that is given the power to decide among stakeholders in a controversy.

From this, we state that the Sun is an energetic resource system providing the flow of light (as resource units) in the shortwave band (280–2500 nm). Once we have established our language for resource systems and resource units, we can review the Typology of Goods, discussed with examples in the article by Brownson (2013). We summarize those four main goods below:

  • Excludable Goods: restriction of access to the good. High excludability means access to the good can be intentionally restricted, while low excludability means one cannot easily restrict access to the good.
  • Rivalrous Goods: when the appropriation of a good takes away from another’s ability to appropriate that good (called subtractable). High rivalry means that the goods are subtractable (independent of excludability), while low rivalry means that subtraction of a unit of the good does not take away from the ability of another to use the good.
  • Private Good: when a good is both rivalrous and excludable.
  • Public Good: when a good is both non-rivalrous and non-excludable (really big resource systems like the Sun).
  • Club Good: when a good is non-rivalrous and excludable.
  • Common Good: when a good is rivalrous but non-excludable.

Self-check questions:

1. What distinguishes a Common Good from a Public Good?

Click for answer.

ANSWER: Rivalry, or subtractability--a common good has subtractable units, or high rivalry.

2. What is the difference between a resource system and a resource unit?

Click for answer.

ANSWER: A resource unit can be subtractable, and exists as a flow. A resource system is non-rivalrous, is a stock from which resource units flow, and can be held jointly (again, non-subtractable).