New Energy: Conversations with Early-Career Energy Researchers

Dates and Speakers at a Glance

  • Septmber 23: Erin Mayfield, Princeton University, "Prioritizing Social Equity in Infrastructure Transitions to Achieve Net Zero Emissions"
  • October 7: Steffi Muhanji and Wester Schoonenberg, Dartmouth College, "Interdependent Energy Infrastructure Systems"
  • October 21: Diana Hernandez, Columbia University
  • November 4: Saurabh Biswas, Arizona State University, "Understanding the energy-poverty nexus: A transdisciplinary approach for designing sustainable energy transitions;" Moderated by Clark Miller, ASU
  • November 18: Tony Reames, University of Michigan, "An Incandescent Truth: Spatial, Racial, and Socioeconomic Disparities in Residential Energy Efficiency"

12 P.M. EDT

September 23: Erin Mayfield, Princeton University

"Prioritizing Social Equity in Infrastructure Transitions to Achieve Net Zero Emissions"

Register here.

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Erin Mayfield
Erin Mayfield

About the Speaker: Erin Mayfield is an environmental systems engineer and public policy researcher, with expertise in sustainable systems, multiobjective modeling, and environmental economics.  She is a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University, where her research focuses on modeling net zero energy system pathways, assessing the multi-attribute conversion potential of existing thermal assets in the U.S., and evaluating the air quality and labor market effects of net zero energy systems.  She completed her Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University (2019), where she developed a macro-energy systems model that optimizes for both cost objectives and sustainability objectives (i.e., climate, air quality, employment, social equity) with respect to sequential decisions regarding the timing, magnitude, and location of energy infrastructure and investments across regional supply chains.  She previously worked as an environmental scientist on natural resource damages litigation, land use planning, and valuation of ecosystem services.  Dr. Mayfield has also held positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Congress, and Environmental Law Institute. She received her bachelor's degree in environmental science from Rutgers University (2008) and master's degree in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University (2011).

Google Scholar

About the Talk: Social inequities are embodied in energy system infrastructure. Transitioning to a net-zero economy entails transformational changes in energy infrastructure, creating the potential to mitigate inequities.  Social equity has historically been treated as ancillary or an outcome rather than an objective of infrastructure system planning and policy in the U.S. 

This presentation first reviews the historical, persistent, and multidimensional inequities embedded in coal and natural gas infrastructure as well as chemical, iron and steel, cement, and lime industrial facilities.  Then, an approach for prioritizing social equity in future infrastructure planning, while achieving a net zero emissions target, is outlined.  As an example, transition pathways are presented in which air quality benefits to environmental justice communities are optimized, with respect to decision regarding the timing and location of investments in the retirement and conversion of coal, natural gas, and industrial facilities in the U.S.

12 p.m. EDT

Oct. 7: Steffi Muhanji and Wester Schoonenberg, Dartmouth College

Interdependent Energy Infrastructure Systems

About the Speakers

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Steffi Mujanji
Steffi Mujanji

Steffi O. Muhanji graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and a Computer Science minor from Vassar College in 2015. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Engineering degree with a focus on energy systems at the Thayer School of Engineering in 2016. In Fall of 2015, Steffi joined the Laboratory for Intelligent Integrated Networks of Engineering Systems (LIINES) as an undergraduate researcher and is now a Ph.D. student. Her research interests are in renewable energy integration, peer-to-peer energy markets, and the energy internet of things. As a graduate research student, she studies the challenges facing the control of the electric power grid given the growing amounts of variable renewable generation. She has written various software models to simulate and understand the performance of the power grid under different scenarios. Recently, Steffi has published a book on the intersection of the internet of things (IoT) and the sustainable energy transition. After graduation, she hopes to utilize the knowledge acquired from her degree to implement sustainable development programs to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

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Wester Schoonenberg
Wester Schoonenberg

Wester C.H. Schoonenberg is a Doctoral Research Assistant in the Laboratory for Intelligent Integrated Networks of Engineering Systems (LIINES), at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.  His research interests include Industrial Energy Management & Demand Response and Integrated Smart City Infrastructure Modeling.  Wester received his B.Sc. in 2014 from the department of Systems Engineering and Policy Analysis Management at Delft University of Technology and joined the LIINES directly thereafter.

About the Talk: Two major trends dominate the 21st century's changing energy landscape: globalization and climate change. The urban population has significantly increased accounting for over 60% of the world's population living on only 3% of the earth's surface. On the other hand, climate change has led to many challenges that are constantly threatening these urban populations. This requires not only sustainable infrastructure systems that can cater to the growing needs of the urban population but also the resilience of these systems and communities towards the effects of climate change. While decarbonization of key infrastructure systems is paramount, recognising the operational interdependence of various systems such as energy-water, and energy-transportation is necessary to realize their synergistic benefits. This presentation covers the study of such interdependent infrastructure systems from two angles: system structure and system behavior.

In the first part, Wester will discuss his work on the advancement of a Hetero-functional Graph Theory to study the structure of interdependent smart city infrastructure systems. Hetero-functional Graph Theory enables the modeling of multiple coupled unlike engineering systems of arbitrary topology to analyze their structure as well as resilience.

In the second part, Steffi will draw upon two full-scale renewable energy integration studies: The ISO New England System Operational Analysis and Renewable Energy Integration Study (SOARES), and the New England Energy-Water Nexus Study to highlight key challenges facing renewable energy integration and the benefits of actively engaging the demand side. Together, these studies show that energy-water resources and more generally demand-side resources can play a prominent grid balancing role in a decarbonized electricity grid.
 

Oct. 21 | Diana Hernandez, Columbia University

Talk title/abstract and speaker bio will be posted soon. 

November 4: Saurabh Biswas, Arizona State University, Clark Miller Moderator

"Understanding the Energy-Poverty Nexus: A Transdisciplinary Approach for Designing Sustainable Energy Transitions" 

About the Speaker and Moderator

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Saurabh Biswas
Saurabh Biswas

Saurabh Biswas, is a post-doctoral research associate at the Center for Energy and Society and a recent PhD from the School of Sustainability (Arizona State University). He is a founding member of the Grassroots Energy Innovation laboratory (https://energythriving.wordpress.com/) at ASU and studies complex relationships at the intersection of poverty and energy systems. His research focusses on advancing the theoretical understanding of the energy-poverty nexus and developing transdisciplinary methods and tools for co-designing energy interventions that transition marginalized communities to sustainable futures. Biswas works closely with civil society groups, small businesses and non-profits in South America, Africa and Asia, for developing localized knowledge, capacities and energy projects for disrupting the energy-poverty nexus. He currently coordinates a long-term applied research project on energy systems transition for socio-economic sustainability of communities in Sierra Leone. Biswas earned a Masters in Energy Systems Engineering form University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Dehradun, India) and gained industry experience as a design engineer for off-grid and grid tied solar PV projects. He was a USAID Global Development Research fellow in 2016 and 2017, when he co-founded the Sustainable Rio Claro 2020 initiative in Brazil (https://rioclaro2020.wordpress.com/).

Clark A. Miller is Professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and Director of the Center for Energy & Society at Arizona State University. His work focuses on the human and social dimensions of energy transitions, including the human work of transforming socio-technical systems, the challenges and opportunities of inclusive and just transitions, and the imagination and deliberation of future designs for societies powered by carbon-neutral energy sources.

About the Talk: Historically, energy systems tend to create classes of 'haves' and 'have-nots'. Thus, some groups gain net positive benefits while others face exacerbated poverty and deepening socio-cultural externalities, diminishing any gains in well-being from modern energy services. Such divides are usually along ethnic, racial and indigenous contours, in rural communities or among the urban poor. This complex relationship can be termed as the energy-poverty nexus. Therefore, while pursuing universal access to clean and affordable energy as part of the global sustainable development agenda, concerns about their outcomes remain in terms of fair and equitable development, freedom of choice and restorative justice, even in a potentially energy sufficient future.

This talk pivots on the increasing evidence from literature and several field investigations of off-grid energy systems which show that a scant understanding of the energy-poverty nexus undermines sustainable energy transitions. Three interlinked aspects of the energy-poverty nexus are discussed here. First, it discusses epistemic tensions created by the multiple and simplistic definitions of energy poverty. Their inadequacy in capturing layered interactions of the energy-poverty nexus necessitates improved theoretical approaches, which are better suited to the complexity of the problem. Second, the energy and human well-being relationship is explored as a contextual and emergent landscape, shifting the theoretical basis from an individualized energy consumption proxy to a holistic perspective of the social value of energy, capturing a range of benefits, burdens and consequences for people and communities. Finally, the actors-interaction-spaces (AIS) framework is discussed as a novel polycentric theoretical framework for understanding energy-poverty nexus. AIS is a synchronous framing of the complex relationships, characterizing structures, conditions and feedbacks that lead to outcomes in multi-layered socio-energy systems, not adequately captured by simple causality. 

12 p.m EDT

November 18 | Tony Reames, University of Michigan

An Incandescent Truth: Spatial, Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in Residential Energy Efficiency

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Tony Reames
Tony Reames

About the Speaker: Tony G. Reames is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability. He directs the Urban Energy Justice Lab. He conducts research in the emerging field of energy justice, investigating fair and equitable access to affordable, reliable, efficient and clean energy, and seeks to understand the production and persistence of spatial, racial, and socioeconomic residential energy disparities. He has a PhD in public administration, a Masters in engineering management, and a BS in civil engineering. Dr. Reames is also a licensed professional engineer and US Army veteran.

About the Talk: The inability of households to afford adequate energy services, such as heating, is a major energy justice concern. Temporary utility bill assistance or improving residential energy efficiency remains the primary strategic interventions. However, program implementation often occurs in piecemeal, individual-based approaches, with little attention to the importance of place. This presentation focuses on the spatiality of distributional injustices in residential energy consumption and illustrates how disparities intersect with policy and pervasive residential segregation by race/ethnicity and class, common in many U.S. urban areas.

About the Series

New Energy: Conversations with Early-Career Energy Researchers is a new online series featuring graduate, post-doctoral, and other early-career researchers sharing their discoveries and perspectives on energy-related topics. From policy to analysis to emerging research, this bi-weekly series will give anyone interested in energy the opportunity to learn from the rising stars in the field. 

This series is a collaborative effort between professors at Dartmouth College's Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society and the following colleges and universities:

Arizona State University

Penn State University

Carnegie Mellon University's Wilton Scott Institute
for Energy Innovation

Princeton University's Andlinger Center
for Energy and the Environment

Cornell University

Stanford University

Columbia University

Technical University of Denmark

Duke University's Nicholas Institute for 
Environmental Policy Solutions

 Tufts University's Center for Environmental and Resource Policy

ETH Zurich

University of Cambridge

Indiana University's Paul H. O'Neill School of
Public and Environmental Affairs

University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment

Northeastern University  

View past talks here.