The physical and virtual structures and systems that enable power generation, transmission, distribution, and grid communications make up our energy infrastructure. Energy infrastructure includes power plants, transmission lines, voltage regulators, grid controls, and more. It is the backbone of our society and the economy, but historically, it has been the root of many environmental and social problems in the United States.
For too long, U.S. communities of color and low-income and indigenous communities have borne the brunt of the carbon-based energy landscape, suffering the effects of air, water, and soil contamination more than other U.S. populations. Recognizing these systemic injustices, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is working to ensure new and existing energy infrastructure is equitable.
Efforts to improve energy equity and environmental justice are woven into every program and initiative DOE launches. Here are some examples of these efforts related to infrastructure.
Energy Planning and Resilience
EERE is funding research on energysheds—places where energy is sourced and then used—to help communities understand the impacts and benefits of consuming locally generated energy. In 2022, EERE awarded the Georgia Institute of Technology $2.3 million to build an organization that can assess the social, economic, and technical effects of potential energy scenarios within its home energyshed in Atlanta. Georgia Tech will use local information to help increase diversity, equality, and inclusion in regional energy planning.
Energysheds and renewable energy can help communities increase resilience—the ability to rapidly recover from power disruptions. EERE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awarded the Electric Power Research Institute $1 million in November 2022 to develop a community-focused planning framework using distributed energy resources like solar. The framework will be deployed in a historically Black neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, that suffered extended power outages from severe storms in 2020.
Energy planning can bolster resilience. To support energy planning in underserved communities, DOE, the Treasury Department, and the Internal Revenue Service partnered to implement the Low-Income Communities Bonus Credit Program, which promotes clean energy investments in low-income communities, on tribal land, and within affordable housing.
Lowering energy costs helps increase clean energy deployment and adoption. One low-cost clean energy option is community solar, which enables multiple customers—including anyone who can’t install rooftop solar panels, such as apartment renters—to benefit from a single shared solar energy project.
On the transportation front, more than 75 Clean Cities coalitions are working in U.S. communities to advance affordable fuels, energy-efficient mobility systems, and other fuel-saving technologies and practices. Twenty-nine coalitions have received training on collaboration with underserved communities; identifying community priorities, concerns, and opportunities; and assisting in project design and implementation.
Behind the Scenes of Innovation
As technologies are developed, we must consider the communities that will use them. Two competitions are streamlining the clean energy transition for communities that have been previously overlooked.
In February 2023, DOE announced 10 winners of the Community Clean Energy Coalition Prize, which recognizes groups that are helping underrepresented communities get the benefits of climate and energy investments. One winner is a community-based organization in Puerto Rico, working to provide at least 40% of elderly and low-income residents with community solar.
In May 2022, DOE announced 18 winners of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which supports entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underserved in federal climate and energy technology. A winning team from Detroit is expanding job training and placement programs while also creating a model sustainable neighborhood block that will create jobs installing solar panels and improving energy efficiency. And a winning team from New Orleans is piloting solar-plus-storage microgrid installations to increase resilience.