- Sep 21, 2021 4:06 pm GMT
Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is key to a clean energy future. Equity is emerging as a driving principle in the transition of the energy system, particularly as policies are designed to expand inclusion of communities facing unpredictable energy costs, which can either be alleviated or exacerbated by new policies and technologies.
While there are many well-established affordability programs, newer efforts to promote programs such as energy efficiency, electric vehicle adoption, and rooftop solar can remain out of reach for many households due to financial barriers, lack of access to information, and minimal applicability to renters. As such, identifying the distinctive equity considerations and dimensions emerging in the clean energy transition is critical to capitalizing on opportunities, while avoiding actions that may inadvertently worsen disparities experienced by economically weaker segments of society.
In March 2021, The Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) Strategic Sustainability Science Program hosted a virtual “fireside chat” with three industry experts, including Dr. Marilyn Brown, Georgia Institute of Technology; David Ribeiro, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; and Katie Southworth, JD, EMV Energy Solution. These panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities in the equity-energy affordability nexus and defined key terms as follows:
- Procedural equity is fairness and transparency of the processes that allocate resources and resolves disputes, with a focus on inclusive and authentic engagement to develop, implement, and adjudicate programs or policies.
- Distributive equity refers to fairness in the allocation of rights, resources, or information, and is recognized as achieved when programs and policies result in fair distributions of benefits and burdens across all segments of a community, prioritizing those with the greatest need.
- Intergenerational equity frequently involves deliberating which current aspects should be maintained or changed by considering obligations to future generations. Actions that serve to increase rather than limit the development options of future generations can be said to improve intergenerational equity.
- Structural equity involves making decisions with the recognition of the historical, cultural, and institutional dynamics and structures.
- Energy burden refers to the share of a household's income that is spent on energy utilities.
- Energy insecurity is the uncertainty that a household might face in being able to make utility payments.
- Energy poverty means living in a home that does not have access to enough energy to meet their essential needs.
- Energy access- access to adequate and affordable housing with basic services (including affordable utilities).
- Energy affordability as described in EPRI’s 2021 list of Sustainability Priorities is affordability of energy bills for all customers accounting for the value of services delivered.
To address equity and affordability, panelists encouraged identification of synergies with existing programs at the local and federal level. For example, the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program can be paired with utility programs for scaled long-term impact. “Pay as you Save” programs, such as the La Grange, GA SOUL Program (Save On Utilities Long-term), can provide the opportunity to pay off efficiency upgrades using the savings generated reducing up-front cost burdens.
Additionally, panelists spoke about opportunities to engage with landlords, tenants, and community partners to both educate and involve key stakeholders in the transition to clean energy. Amid this shifting landscape, there may be opportunities for economic empowerment to build wealth in disadvantaged communities by diversifying educational programs like training solar and energy-efficiency technicians and investing in local infrastructure.
Continued research plays an important role in informing policy design and technology advancement as well. Efforts to further map and understand these equity considerations could capture multiple perspectives and reflect the diverse populations who will ultimately be impacted by approaches used in addressing energy equity and affordability.
EPRI’s recent white paper, “Equity and Environmental Justice Considerations for a Clean Energy Transition”, presents key areas of decarbonization with equity dimensions and the role of research in informing policy, technology, and program development. Additionally, EPRI’s Strategic Sustainability Science Program is conducting an Energy Affordability Context Metrics Pilot in 2021 to identify and evaluate appropriate metrics for tracking and benchmarking progress on energy affordability. With EPRI’s public-benefit mission and portfolio of technical research and expertise, the Institute is well suited to advance this evolving dialogue by developing and informing analytical tools to understand impacts and tradeoffs, and supporting demonstration projects that, when executed in tandem with local organizations, can deliver early benefits to historically disadvantaged communities.
To learn more about the many ways EPRI is advancing research and development relating to energy affordability and equity in the clean energy transition, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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