Energy Equity

PNNL is laying the groundwork for advancing energy equity through research to develop an innovative energy system that benefits everyone.

Energy Equity in the Power Grid

Researchers at PNNL are laying the groundwork for incorporating equity and environmental justice as a central pillar of grid modernization initiatives.

(Photo courtesy of sirtravelalot | Shutterstock.com)

PNNL’s Vision Statement for Equity in the Power Grid

Drawing from a wealth of interdisciplinary research in grid modernization, PNNL is spearheading an effort to advance equity and energy justice through the role of scientific research with the goal of building an advanced national power grid, transitioning to clean reliable energy, and designing smart buildings that are more just and equitable. PNNL envisions an energy system that is not only clean and resilient, but also affordable and accessible to all.

What is energy equity?

Energy equity recognizes that disadvantaged communities have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution, underinvestment in clean energy infrastructure, and lack of access to energy-efficient housing and transportation. An equitable energy system is one where the economic, health, and social benefits of participation extend to all levels of society, regardless of ability, race, or socioeconomic status. Achieving energy equity requires intentionally designing systems, technology, procedures, and policies that lead to the fair and just distribution of benefits in the energy system.

Related Energy Equity Efforts at PNNL

We’re informing our approach to energy equity by drawing from a wealth of existing interdisciplinary research. Our researchers have a track record of using their technical expertise to achieve equitable outcomes for disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations through efforts, such as:

A map of the United States depecting electricity affordability metrics by county..
Exposing equity gaps by calculating and mapping electricity rate affordability.
Strengthening community resilience through rural and island grid cohorts.
(Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District)
Improving patient and student outcomes through tunable lighting installations
(Photo by melissamn | shutterstock.com)
Identifying potential impacts of nuclear siting on minority and low-income populations by conducting environmental justice reviews

Enabling a Just and Equitable Power Grid

The national electric grid is a major driver of economic growth and prosperity, but policies mandating how energy is sourced and distributed rarely consider the implications to vulnerable populations or lower-income communities. The current body of research on equity and environmental justice in the power grid is underdeveloped and not broadly adopted. Moreover, the voices of minority, low-income, and protected populations are often not present in conversations regarding grid planning and resource allocation.

Equity gives equal footing to marginalized groups so they can access, participate, and benefit from energy markets regardless of ability, race, or socioeconomic status. Science and research have pivotal roles to play in designing creative human-centered solutions that improve standards of living for all.

Achieving equity in the power grid requires an intentional and concerted effort by leaders in science, academia, policy, and industry, as well as direct collaboration with communities. To that end, researchers at PNNL are laying the groundwork for incorporating equity and environmental justice as a central pillar of grid modernization initiatives. We’re actively organizing thought around equity and environmental justice in research and giving shape to how we go about integrating it into future research and initiatives. We’re starting by:

  • Conducting a workshop to brainstorm solutions and mobilize activities around energy equity and environmental justice;
  • Coordinating a community of practice consisting of researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders;
  • Providing initial research questions as a springboard for deeper scientific inquiry into energy equity in the power system; and
  • Backcasting and baselining to understand the relationships between energy systems and demographics and evaluate the equity implications of grid and technology futures.

Creating a Vision for Equity in the Power Grid

Equity is just as important a goal as decarbonization when envisioning the future power grid. With that in mind, we’re embarking on a course to integrate energy equity in current grid modernization discourse and research efforts. Initially we’re defining and illustrating what energy equity in the power grid might look like with the goal of creating a guiding set of research aims scientists can work from.

Energy equity is a dynamic and multi-faceted issue, but as a start, researchers may choose to focus on:

  • Improving affordability and access to the power grid;
  • Extending the financial benefits from investments in research and development to more sectors of society;
  • Designing equitable systems, technology, and programs that increase value of those investments to more communities; and/or
  • Prioritizing solutions that mitigate direct or systemic environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.

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