Behavioral and Social Sciences for Energy Equity
NREL behavioral and social scientists help expose and address imbalances in energy equity, making it possible to develop and deploy clean energy solutions that will meet a range of needs.
Understanding how opportunity plays out across people of different incomes, beliefs, backgrounds, and identities is an important step in shifting to a clean energy economy.
Advancing Energy Equity for Clean Energy Transformation
True transformation will take more than technological innovation. It will require equitable access to clean energy solutions that improve the quality of life for diverse populations.
As an example, NREL research shows that if plans to power transportation with electricity instead of gas continue to focus on privately owned electric vehicles (EVs), then these transportation innovations will primarily serve wealthy populations that can already afford EVs. Researchers and manufacturers tend to overlook the wider spectrum of mobility options that might better meet the needs of working class and minority populations, including electrifying transit such as buses and trains, ride-sharing, and community car-sharing as well as expanding access to electric bikes and scooters (known as micromobility).
Expanding energy access in underdeveloped countries provides jobs and generates income for economic growth and poverty eradication. It also can provide women with an equal opportunity to enter and succeed in energy-related fields. For example, the Economic Community of Western African States is rich in clean energy resources—including biomass, wind, and solar. Therefore, distributed renewable energy solutions have significant potential to both address the region's energy access challenges and empower women socially and economically—two priorities that are central to Power Africa's mission.
Providing clean and affordable energy services to the more than 1 billion people globally who lack access to any kind of electricity at all is a critical driver for poverty reduction, job creation, improved health, and social outcomes. Mini-grids hold tremendous promise to advance energy transitions in rural areas. However, although the fundamental electrical engineering principles of mini-grids are well established, construction and operation vary considerably in practice, resulting in extreme variations in power quality and reliability.
Learn more about our work with USAID and microgrids. Also, find out more about our research to expand equitable energy access to state, local, and tribal communities.
NREL develops and delivers inclusive energy solutions that enable all people to participate in the transition to sustainable energy. NREL research prioritizes equitable distribution of energy benefits and burdens by highlighting equitable distribution of social, economic, and health benefits and burdens across all segments of society.
Overcoming the Legacy of Energy Inequity
NREL's behavioral science can lead to meaningful gains in energy justice by identifying entrenched issues, including diverse stakeholders in planning and decision-making, and uncovering solutions that will improve the quality of life for people of all backgrounds.
The Solar Energy Innovation Network helps communities develop transformative approaches to adopting solar energy. Teams develop their ideas in real-world contexts, yielding results that can unlock tomorrow's solar markets. The initiative seeks to overcome barriers to solar adoption by connecting teams of stakeholders that are pioneering new ideas with the resources they need to succeed.
The Communities Local Energy Action Program Pilot aims to facilitate sustained communitywide economic and environmental benefits primarily through the U.S. Department of Energy's clean energy deployment work. This opportunity is specifically open to low-income, energy-burdened communities that are also experiencing either direct environmental justice impacts or direct economic impacts as a result of shifting away from fossil fuels. Under this program, the department will provide supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.
A Data-Driven Mobility–Energy Typology Framework for New York State, Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science (2021)
Energy Justice: Key Concepts and Metrics Relevant to EERE Transportation Projects, NREL Technical Report (2021)
Inequality and the Future of Electric Mobility in 36 U.S. Cities: An Innovative Methodology and Comparative Assessment, Energy Research & Social Science (2022)
Looking Beyond Bill Savings to Equity in Renewable Energy Microgrid Deployment, Renewable Energy Focus (2022)