Michigan Technological University

To assess the technical and social barriers and opportunities for resilient electrification of space heating and cooling in rural, northern areas of the Upper Midwest

  • Amount $499,445
  • City Houghton, MI
  • Investigator Ana Dyreson
  • Year 2022
  • Program Research
  • Sub-program Energy and Environment

Rural areas are important, yet challenging, regions in which to advance electrification. In particular, the rural North is in a cold climate, has remote communities, has frequent need for back-up power (like generators) during periods of extreme weather, and has historically been dependent on fossil fuels. At the same time, these rural areas are also becoming likely spots for future renewable energy development, as they tend to have abundant natural resources and sparse population densities.This grant funds an interdisciplinary research team led by Ana Dyreson, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University, who will examine the technical and social barriers and opportunities for electrification in the rural northern region of the United States through three community-engaged case studies in Michigan (Baraga County), Wisconsin (Ashland and Iron counties), and Minnesota (Beltrami and Clearwater counties). Transitions associated with energy system electrification may also raises specific concerns for Tribal Nations in these rural regions, who have longstanding histories of facing energy and environmental extractivism. The project will focus on studying issues associated with electrifying space heating and cooling, a particularly essential and difficult energy load to electrify in this region. Each case study will involve a pair of surveys in each of these communities, one at the beginning of the study to better understand current heating and cooling options and the other at the end to assess perceived barriers and opportunities for electrification. Surveys will be co-designed with the members of the communities themselves, prioritizing the involvement of Tribal Nation representatives. There will also be engineering analyses to assess the potential readiness of homes in these regions to install electrified residential heating and cooling systems under current conditions and future electrification scenarios. Using the survey results and the technical readiness assessment, the team will develop a model of household energy use and combine it with regional datasets to extend their model to the broader regional level. All of this research will be undertaken with a lens toward understanding and identifying the local and regional energy justice implications of these electrification options.Additional research team members based at Michigan Technological University include Chelsea Schelly, Associate Professor of Sociology; Timothy Scarlett, Associate Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology; and Roman Sidortsov, Associate Professor of Energy Policy. To closely engage with the communities under study, Dyreson and her team will partner with the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a Minnesota-based non-governmental organization with decades of experience working with rural and Indigenous communities in the region on issues related to energy development. In addition to academic outputs, the team plans to develop an online, geospatial decision-support tool that will compare future home electrification scenarios and highlight accompanying technical, equity, and policy considerations.

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