Team working to reduce energy burdens in Detroit recognized with award

Source: Electrical & Computer Engineering

Xavier Farrell and Joshua Brooks accept the Michigan Difference Student Leadership Award at the award ceremony on March 23, 2023 in the Michigan League Ballroom. The third member of the team, Madeline Miller, was unable to attend.

A team of doctoral students working to improve home energy efficiency and to lower monthly utility bills for low- and moderate-income households in Detroit have been recognized with a Michigan Difference Student Leadership Award. Joshua Brooks and Xavier Farrell are PhD students in ECE, and Madeline Miller is a PhD student in the School for Environment and Sustainability.

“If successful, this project can serve as a scalable model for how to effectively mitigate the energy related hardships experienced among low-to-moderate income households,” Farrell said. “This means reducing the number of ‘heat-or-eat’ type decisions where persons are forced to choose between paying for energy expenditures and other physical or medical necessities.”

On average, energy costs for Black and Hispanic households are 43% and 20% higher, respectively, than white households. Some Detroiters spend up to 30% of their monthly income on home energy bills, which places the city among the top ten nationally in a category that researchers call household “energy burden.” These disproportionately higher energy burdens result in household energy insecurity, or the inability to adequately afford their energy costs. Energy insecurity can lead to or exacerbate a host of physical, social, economic, and health issues in communities of color.

“Behind the metrics, numbers and data, there are real people in our communities experiencing cold winters, financial hardships, and insecurity relating to their energy that are in need of help,” Farrell said. “As engineers and compassionate people, we are equipped with many tools to help them.”

The team has been exploring how smart meter data can be used to improve utility programs and rate recommendations. They are also researching possibilities for reforming the utility rate structure to provide the basic electricity needs of LMI households for free while ensuring that the utility provider’s costs are covered.

Read more from Electrical & Computer Engineering.

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