Gene Rodrigues
Gene Rodrigues is the Assistant Secretary for Electricity
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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is leading the charge in ensuring that all Americans benefit from a resilient, reliable, secure, and affordable energy system that also advances equity and justice for all. As DOE celebrates Justice Week 2023, this year’s theme, Equity Empowered, focuses on advancing equity and environmental justice in the clean energy transition and ensuring climate change investments benefit the communities often left behind. The Office of Electricity’s (OE) Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative (ES4SE) is a great example of this focus, as it was designed to empower disadvantaged communities to consider energy storage technologies as a viable path toward achieving their energy goals.

OE is proud to partner with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory to manage and implement the ES4SE program. The initiative helps communities better assess their energy challenges, evaluate solutions, and find partners to support the communities in meeting their energy goals. Selected urban, rural, and tribal communities receive technical assistance, equity assessments, and workforce analysis.

One of the selected communities surrounds the Harambee House in Savannah, Georgia. Ayika Solutions Incorporated and Capital to Coast Collaborative partners are working to deploy a Battery Energy Storage System for Harambee House, one of the oldest environmental justice organizations in the southeast. The project seeks to move beyond energy efficiency toward self-sufficient, net-zero homes. The Harambee House itself is a brick-and-mortar building in an underserved section of Savannah that is representative of the type of housing in which the surrounding community members live. Recognizing the abundance of sunlight in the region, the project identifies optimal photovoltaic (PV) array and battery storage sizes and estimates costs to achieve energy self-sufficiency for low- to moderate-income households.

Led by Dr. Erica Holloman-Hill, this program is projected to serve 25 to 35 community members around Harambee House by providing heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting, Wi-Fi, and phone charging. The project's focus on resiliency at the community level revealed that battery backup systems were the most economically viable option for prioritizing resiliency during outages. However, for self-defined resiliency—including being off the grid—additional considerations were needed.

In conjunction with Creative Solar, who provided PV consultation, the team navigated historical district requirements and special permissions for the installation. The project emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between techno-economic optimization and resiliency optimization. While resiliency investments come at a cost, the non-monetary benefits must be factored into project assessments. The need for interdisciplinary approaches and valuing social measures is a key takeaway. Learn more about this project by watching the ES4SE panel from the Energy Storage Grand Challenge summit this past summer:

Equity and fairness are fundamental principles upheld by OE, ensuring that clean energy opportunities are accessible to all communities—particularly those that have been historically disadvantaged. The integration of grid-edge resources such as smart thermostats, solar panels, and battery storage empowers individuals and communities to actively participate in the clean energy transition while reaping its benefits. As a research and development office, OE is proud to drive initiatives like ES4SE and other opportunities that advance technologies and foster practices that secure the benefits of the energy transition for all Americans.