The national electric grid drives economic growth, but the benefits—and costs—don’t extend equally to everyone.
Low-income households cannot afford electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances. But they often carry the greatest energy burdens.
The Department of Energy (DOE) defines energy burden as the percentage of gross household income spent on heating or cooling the home. According to DOE's Low-Income Energy Affordability Data Tool, the energy burden for low-income households is 8.6 percent, three times higher than for non-low-income households which is estimated at 3 percent. In some areas, energy burden can be as high as 30 percent. Of all U.S. households, 44 percent are considered low-income.
To address these disparities, the Energy Storage Program under the DOE’s Office of Electricity launched the Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative (ES4SE). This is a $9 million effort to help up to 15 disadvantaged communities look at energy storage to meet energy goals.
“Energy storage is an increasingly widespread technology that is flexible and scalable to any point in the electric grid, but to date is mostly applied to wealthier electricity customers, utilities, or private industry,” said Rebecca O’Neil, program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and project lead for ES4SE.
Earlier this year, the Office of Electricity’s Energy Storage program sponsored PNNL to conduct a comprehensive review of how energy storage can distribute energy benefits more equitably and improve local conditions for communities.
For instance, energy storage can integrate with polluting peaker plants. It can also help reduce pollution from coal plants that are disproportionately located near low-income and rural communities, or mitigate outages caused by extreme weather events in coastal communities.
Through this program, eligible communities will have access to free direct technical assistance from PNNL. They may also receive potential support for new energy storage project development through Sandia National Laboratories.
Participants will be provided with the information and tools needed to better understand their energy system challenges. This will help them evaluate whether deploying energy storage technologies will help them meet community needs.
“ES4SE will contribute to our current portfolio of projects and research, while augmenting and enriching our current rural, urban, and tribal programs,” said Dr. Imre Gyuk, who directs energy storage research at DOE’s Office of Electricity and funded the initiative.
Enabling a prosperous energy future for all
The initiative is driven by a vision of a clean energy future where energy system benefits—reliable service, affordability, access, resilience, and economic prosperity—extend to all levels of society, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status.
“Low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged communities are often the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change and aging infrastructure,” said Bethel Tarekegne, energy equity researcher at PNNL and outreach lead for ES4SE. “This is an opportunity to apply new technology to alleviate some of these burdens, extend the benefits of grid investments to historically underserved communities, and advance an equitable energy future for all.”
The initiative anticipates two rounds of applications for technical assistance. The first round closes on December 3, 2021. Another round of applications is expected next year. Those interested in staying up-to-date on program updates, including future opportunities, can email ES4SE@pnnl.gov.