Dr Natalie Ralph explores frameworks for circular economy design for renewable energy technology

September 30, 2021
Jacqueline Wales

ACES Associate Investigator Dr Natalie Ralph has addressed the design of renewable energy technologies and their related circular economy systems in a paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.


Dr Natalie Ralph

The paper, titled A conceptual merging of circular economy, degrowth and conviviality design approaches applied to renewable energy technology, explores strategies for developing renewable energy and circular economy systems that consider social and political factors alongside the more usually discussed environmental and economic aspects.


In the paper, Dr Ralph outlines a framework for circular economy design that considers ‘​​convivial technology’ design to support scientists’ identification of technology impacts on power distribution, equity and autonomy from industrialisation, localisation, sense of community, and reduced energy use while maintaining wellbeing.


“Current circular economy theory and practice is most often discussed in the context of perpetual growth in economies and (green) consumption, so continuing risks around the overuse of planetary resources. It also lacks rigorous focus on social dimensions,” Dr Ralph explained.


“In this article, I’ve explored circular economy strategies and design tools in the context of an alternate economic paradigm that’s influenced by degrowth theory.


“Ultimately, the goal is to assist technology researchers and designers to create more sustainable technology by questioning the current path of the circular economy and apply strategies in design that potentially could foster more social wellbeing in communities, and independence from the need to have perpetual expansion in economic and resource use terms. Strategies for action by designers and others are suggested.”


The article is focused on the circular economy systems of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, small wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries – renewable energy technologies that can lock communities into technology transitions that may ultimately be unsustainable and weak in generating positive social outcomes.


“There needs to be a balance in design goals between internationalised large-scale, industrial renewable energy technology, infrastructure and related circular economy systems and more localised, accessible, and sometimes less complex technologies and circular systems that support user autonomy and learning and more equitable power distribution along the supply chain.”


Dr Ralph has also recently authored a book chapter titled An Introduction to Social Enterprise for Practitioners in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Countering Violent and Hateful Extremism in Indonesia: Islam, Gender and Civil, published by Palgrave Macmillan.


“The book chapter relates countering violent extremism and social entrepreneurship to examples of renewable energy dissemination,” Dr Ralph said.


In addition, Dr Ralph has co-authored a paper with ACES Chief investigator Prof Linda Hancock on hydrogen exports titled A framework for assessing fossil fuel ‘retrofit’ hydrogen exports: Security-justice implications of Australia’s coal-generated hydrogen exports to Japan in the journal Energy.

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