Call for Letters of Inquiry: Collaborative Research Projects on Energy System Electrification

Submission Deadline: Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Grants of up to $500,000 to be awarded for collaborative research projects on U.S. energy system electrification and resiliency, led by early- and mid-career scholars.

Overview

The Energy and Environment program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supports research, training, networking, and dissemination efforts to inform the societal transition toward low-carbon energy systems in the United States by investigating economic, environmental, technological, and distributional issues. The program is currently soliciting Letters of Inquiry for collaborative research projects led by early- and mid-career scholars to examine critical and under-explored questions related to issues of widespread energy system electrification, especially those related to energy infrastructure resiliency and energy system adaptation to climate change in the United States. A small number of full proposals will be invited from submissions received in response to this Call. Grant amounts are expected to be up to $500,000 over a 2-3 year period.


Context

More research is needed to understand how rapid and widespread electrification across multiple end-use sectors will affect the energy system. Energy system electrification poses new opportunities and challenges for the energy system at every level. Electrification of home heating, cooling, and other home appliances is reducing the use of oil and natural gas in the housing and building sectors. Electric vehicle adoption is reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Electrification in industrial sectors is advancing clean manufacturing. However, climate change and extreme weather events—such as heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, winter storms in Texas, wildfires in California, and stronger hurricanes in the East—are exposing vulnerabilities in the electricity grid. The growing digital interdependence and interconnectedness of many components of the U.S. energy system may create new risks and vulnerabilities, increasing susceptibility to disruption and challenges for the resiliency of the energy system.

Scholarship in this area is particularly amenable to interdisciplinary, collaborative partnerships between academic researchers from a variety of approaches and across multiple temporal and geographic scales. Attention by the research community is needed on often overlooked regions and populations. For instance, opportunities and challenges associated with energy system electrification may disproportionately affect rural communities, communities of color, economically vulnerable communities, or other vulnerable populations that have been historically marginalized and under-represented.

The intention of this Call is to be broadly relevant to a wide range of social science scholars, disciplines, and approaches, as well as involving researchers from engineering or natural science disciplines where applicated. The goal is advance energy system electrification scholarship that draws on a variety of conceptual frameworks and methodologies, thereby ensuring that novel research is generated, students are trained, networks are strengthened, and information is disseminated to inform decision-making.


Sample Research Questions

Example research questions for examination include but are not limited to:

  • How do energy system operations and planning need to be adjusted to better account for energy system electrification?
  • What are the key opportunities and barriers of energy system electrification across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors?
  • What are the impacts of more rapid and widespread energy system electrification on end-use sectors, such as transportation, home heating and cooling, or other forms of electricity use?
  • How do opportunities for energy system electrification compare across urban, suburban, or rural communities and what may be the benefits to communities from energy system electrification?
  • What role will the adoption of new technologies, such as home energy management tools or in-home automation devices, play as the energy system electrifies?
  • How might such tools impact how households consume energy and contribute to balancing energy demand across the electricity grid? What is the role of tax, regulatory, or education policies and programs on consumer adoption of such technologies?
  • What is the impact of policies or programs that aim to include communities of color or economically vulnerable communities in the adoption of beneficial energy technologies, including novel technologies, that advance energy system electrification?
  • What challenges and opportunities exist to electrify industrial heat? What are the implications for the decarbonization of industries, such as manufacturing, steel production, or cement production?
  • In what novel or under-researched ways might more widespread electricity outages or blackouts impact critical energy systems, energy infrastructure, or vulnerable communities?
  • What is the impact of increasing electrification on energy system resilience, and how do these impacts intersect with the effects of climate change on energy systems?


Expected Project Structure

  • Projects are expected to contain a student training component (graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, or undergraduates) to enhance attention to questions of energy system electrification, with racial and ethnic diversity in trainees of special interest.
  • Projects are expected to undertake original empirical data collection and analysis, or combine existing datasets in novel, innovative ways.
  • Projects are expected to link research to practice by engaging a wide range of stakeholders in either the conduct of research or in dissemination efforts used to inform decision-making. This includes potential collaboration with government, industry, non-governmental organizations, or other stakeholder organizations.
  • Potential ability to secure additional financial support, or in-kind contributions, from other funding sources—including foundations, universities, private sector, or government funders—is welcome.
  • Projects involving advocacy or lobbying activities are out of scope and not eligible for consideration. Additionally, projects with a public health or biomedical component are out of scope and not eligible for consideration.


Expected Team Structure and Eligibility

  • Researchers who have not previously received funding from the Energy and Environment program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are particularly encouraged to submit for consideration.
  • Lead principal investigator must be Assistant or Associate Professors, or in equivalent positions, based at United States universities or colleges.
  • Projects are expected to feature collaboration among scholars deploying a range of research methodologies and drawn from multiple social science, engineering, or natural science disciplines, either within or across universities. Relevant disciplines and fields could include but are not limited to: political science, public policy, economics, anthropology, sociology, geography, and energy systems analysis, among others.
  • Submissions from diverse teams led by Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o researchers and/or women are strongly encouraged. Submissions from researchers based at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are strongly encouraged, either as lead primary investigators or in team member roles.
  • Senior researchers and non-U.S.-based researchers may participate in proposed projects and can receive funding as research team members, advisors, or collaborators.
  • Researchers may participate in a maximum of two proposed projects.


Submission Deadline

Submissions are due on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, by 5:00pm Eastern. Submission materials must be integrated in a single PDF document and emailed to energy@sloan.org, with the following subject heading and document title: “ELECTRIFICATION LOI - Lead PI Last Name – Lead Institution Name”.

 

Submission Components

Complete submission packets should include the following 6 components in the following order:

(1) A 1-page Sloan Foundation Proposal Cover Sheet, summarizing key project details. Projects should have a proposed start date of December 1, 2022. This document is available at: http://sloan.org/proposal-cover-sheet 

(2) A Letter of Inquiry 3-4 pages in length (excluding budget table and other supplemental material), in 11-point font. Submissions should address the following questions, with each question serving as a section heading:

  • What is the core research question(s) and why is it important?
  • What are the current knowledge gaps that this research will address?
  • What are the team’s qualifications, and how does it account for diversity, equity, and inclusion in its composition?
  • What is the proposed research methodology?
  • What will be the outputs from the research project and how will they be disseminated among various stakeholders?
  • What other sources of support can the project leverage?

(3) A Budget Table for the proposed project. Total funding requests are allowed up to $500,000 over a 2-3 year period, with sub-awards to collaborating institutions where needed. A sample Budget Table is available at: https://sloan.org/grants/apply#tab-grant-forms. Allowable expenses include:

  • For faculty: up to one-month summer salary per investigator per year, plus benefits, capped at $35,000 per investigator per year, based on project time commitment.
  • For graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, or undergraduate students: salary/stipend, plus benefits, based on project time commitment.
  • Tuition reimbursement: Requests for graduate student tuition reimbursement are allowed up to a maximum of $12,000 per student per academic year, provided justification is provided.
  • For project-related administrative and research staff: salary, plus benefits.
  • Research implementation expenses: data acquisition, conducting experiments, computation, hardware, advisory committee honoraria, and other research expenses.
  • Dissemination and workshop expenses: travel, meals, lodging, conference fees, room rentals, speaker stipends, audio-visual equipment, and other dissemination expenses.
  • Indirect overhead expenses, capped at 20% of direct costs (overhead expenses are not allowed on tuition reimbursement).

(4) References/Bibliography List of up to 2 pages

(5) Brief CVs of key project leads and personnel (no more than 2 pages per person)

(6) If applicable, Letters of Support from research partners, community stakeholders, data providers, or other collaborators

 

Submission Review Process

Given the large number of submissions expected, we will be unable to respond to questions for additional information related to this Call for Letters of Inquiry. A diverse review committee comprised of scholars and practitioners with expertise in energy system electrification will assess submitted Letters of Inquiry. A small number of selected submissions will then be invited to prepare full proposals for consideration. Invited full proposals will be further reviewed by subject matter experts, and proposers will then be asked to prepare a response to reviews. Depending on the submissions received, it is expected that 3-6 grants may be awarded over the next two years, with an initial set of final award decisions expected at the end of 2022.


About the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a nonpartisan not-for-profit, grantmaking institution dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in four broad areas: direct support of research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics; initiatives to increase the quality and diversity of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research; and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

 sloan.org | @SloanFoundation

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