Energy Ethics in Science and Engineering Education

NIEES Students

Casey Canfield

Doctoral program in Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

Background: B.S. in Engineering: Systems from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Project Description:
Equity issues arise because low-income households are disproportionately burdened with the cost of high-energy use. This burden is primarily a result of living in older, less insulated housing stock as well as a lack of incentive to invest in energy efficiency by landlords when tenants pay for energy costs (known as the split incentive problem). Although an intervention could be implemented to meet climate change mitigation goals and reduce low-income energy burden, the desired effect may not be achieved. Low-income households tend to realize energy efficiency improvements as quality-of-life benefits. For example, as the cost of heating and cooling decrease, these households use the cost savings to improve their overall household temperature, which may use more energy overall. This “rebound effect” is often cited as a paradox of energy efficiency programs that are supposed to have a net reduced environmental impact. However, these types of temperature improvements can have significant health benefits for vulnerable populations including infants and the elderly.

Also, as a sidenote, although others in my research group are pursing a project along these lines, I am actually moving in a different direction. This is still a very interesting topic to me and I'll probably be involved in the project if it gets funded. However, I'm now planning to do a mental models project related to cybersecurity for the power grid. I'm not sure if anyone has proposed a project related to cybersecurity, but it's a subject that I'm newly interested in.


Michael Fell

Doctoral program in Energy Systems, University of College London

Background: MRes in Energy Demand Studies from University of College London; Maitrise in Environmental Science (Ocean) from University of Bordeaux; B.Sc. in Marine Science with French from University of Southampton;

Project description:
How does perceived personal control affect consumers’ acceptance of residential energy demand side management programmes?

Residential energy demand side management (DSM) programmes aim to influence when energy is used in people’s homes, the better to balance it with supply. Demand can be managed by alerting consumers to periods of high demand (through price signals or other means) in the hope that they will shift their demand to other times, or by directly controlling services such as heating/cooling and appliances such as fridges in people’s homes. However, research has indicated that people have concerns about the possible reductions in their personal control that they perceive such approaches could entail. My research will explore: what precisely they are worried about losing control over; why they perceive this as a problem; which aspects or antecedents of control (e.g. trust, choice, knowledge, usability, etc.) in particular are leading them to be concerned (and why); if and how this differs significantly between demographics (and why); and what could be done to lessen their concern, or give them less reason to be concerned in the first place. Improving our understanding in these areas should make it possible to design and present DSM programmes in such a way as to minimize people’s fears about any perceived reduction in control, and therefore maximize the likelihood of participation (at least in respect of control).


Andrey Gunawan

Doctoral program in Mechanical Engineering, Arizona State University

Background: M.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering from University of Southern California; B.Sc. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Institut Teknologi Bandung (Bundung, Indonesia).

Project Description:
I have been working on nanofluids-based solar/thermal energy conversion, however, my current research project focuses on thermogalvanic energy conversion for waste-heat co-generation. Waste heat energy conversion remains an inviting subject for research, given the renewed emphasis on energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction. Solid-state thermoelectric devices have been widely investigated, but their practical application remains challenging because of cost and the inability to fabricate them in geometries that are easily compatible with heat sources. An intriguing alternative to solid-state thermoelectric devices is thermogalvanic cells (or thermo-electrochemical cells, or simply thermocells), which include a (generally) liquid electrolyte that permits the transport of ions. Thermogalvanic cells have long been known in the electrochemistry community, but have not received much attention from the thermal transport community. This is surprising given that their performance is highly dependent on controlling both thermal and mass (ionic) transport. Therefore, this project, which is essentially the subject of my PhD dissertation, is an interdisciplinary collaboration between mechanical engineering (thermal transport) and chemistry, and is a largely experimental effort aimed at improving fundamental understanding of thermogalvanic systems.


Michelle Hamilton

Doctoral program in Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia

Background: M.S. from University of Virginia; B.S. from University of Virginia

Project Description:
As analysts and engineers, it is our ethical duty to understand both the benefits and limitations of our analytical tools, especially those that influence public decision-making. Quantitative risk analysis (RA) and life cycle analysis (LCA) are tools with the purpose of aiding decision-making and we must be cognizant of how they might be misused and seek to imbed them appropriately in the decision-making process. This is especially important in the area of environmental justice (EJ) where the burden of adverse environmental impacts usually affects those who least able to understand or be able to participate in the formation and interpretation of quantitative analysis. The development of energy infrastructure such as wind farms, waste-to-energy facilities, electric power plants, and others will involve questions of environmental justice. Thus, it is important as engineers to consider all stakeholders’ values and ask whether the decision tools might bias information towards one set of stakeholder values at the exclusion of others. Understanding the similarities and differences of these two quantitative methods may help to understand how they can be individually improved or used jointly to improve environmental justice. For example, the absolute magnitude of the negative impacts is considered irrelevant in LCA because the systems are assumed to exhibit linear behavior and the objective is to identify improvement options rather than to compare the results against absolute standards. In RA, the absolute magnitude of the product, process, activity, agent, or event under study is often a fundamental component in the analysis and the objectives are more concerned in the with assessing the “acceptability” of the risk rather than identifying improvement options. There is also a difference in the treatment of time and space for each tool. RA normally focuses on a specific harmful endpoint arising from a product, process, activity, agent, or event and examines how that endpoint might occur in specific scenarios that are defined in time and space. LCA results are integrated over time and space and little information is given regarding the spatial distribution and timing of impacts. I would like to explore the role of Risk Analysis (RA) and Environmental Lifecycle Analysis (LCA), their individual criticisms and implications for environmental justice, and how they could be used complementarily to overcome these criticisms and discuss the appropriate use of such tools in the energy decision-making. My future research is to incorporate scenario analysis into risk analysis and lifecycle analysis as a means to include various stakeholder viewpoints.


Nordica MacCarty

Doctoral program in Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University

Background: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University

Project Description:
Often when it comes to sustainable energy implementation, progress is slow and incremental due to differences in objectives between various stakeholders. For example, in my work with cookstoves for the 2.5 billion people worldwide currently cooking and heating water with traditional biomass fires, aid organizations may provide an improved cookstove, deemed the “best” solution for health and climate, when what would have been more needed and desired by the user could have been a solar water heater. Similar issues can occur in global energy development, where unemployed or elderly stay-at-home residents may see an increase in their electricity cost via a smart meter or there is backlash from residents when wind farms or biomass plants are installed. In order for transformative change to occur, there must be minimal conflicts between the desires of the individual user, a local community, implementers, funding organizations and society as a whole, yet there are inherently relationships of unequal power between these groups resulting in an unfair burden placed on those with the least power. Often community meetings are held seeking participation, though by commission or omission these may be merely a formality with no real discussion or inclusion. I recently attended a disastrous neighborhood meeting regarding potential installation of a city park in a vacant lot, thus I recognize the act of inclusion is not an easy one. How can the decision-making process be improved to result in an empowered user and thus transformative change when it comes to sustainable energy solutions? Each of group of stakeholders seeks a clean environment and a sustainable, accessible, and affordable energy supply, yet there is lack of communication and information, unequal power, and complex consequences of decisions which hinder this process. I hope for my future work to include development of a framework and model for ethical development of energy systems that empower the user and thus result in accepted, appropriate, effective solutions.


Jason O'Leary

Doctoral program in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology, Arizona State University

Background: Professional Science Master's in Science and Technology Policy from Arizona State University; B.A. in Communications, Print Technology from Rowan University

Project Description:
My current research is focused on solar energy policy in the context of multiple epistemic views of “successful” outcomes. This means analyzing both state and local policies as well as national policies to explore the differences and similarities in the heuristics and biases inherent within each. I also look at the effect of and the tools used for public deliberation. As policy informatics have already become more widespread and easily available, the nature of both social science analysis and public deliberation (aka analysis by the Demos) have started to change. I seek to understand this from both an academic and a practitioner’s point of view. Lastly, I am studying futures thinking and strategies in foresight as they pertain to the public conception of energy transitions.


Felicia Peck

Doctoral program in Politics, University of California, Santa Cruz

Background: M.A. in Political Science from Colorado State University; B.A. in Political Science with Minor in Women's Studies from Beloit College.

Project Description:
For my project, I hope to connect my experience at this workshop to the ongoing interdisciplinary conversations of the Science and Justice Working Group at UCSC. I am a member of this group, which hosts regular meetings that bring together panelists and audience participants from across the disciplines to converse about issues of justice in the practice of science. I plan to organize and host a discussion at a Science and Justice Working Group meeting that engages with themes that emerge from the NIEES workshop, with other workshop participants as panelists at such a discussion. Ideally, this panel will also be connected to my dissertation project, which examines the puzzle of how carbon – a word that until recently resided primarily with science rather than politics – has become politically salient, as well as the incongruous consequences of carbon’s politicization. Carbon has become a matter of political concern by being drafted into the fight against global warming and, as a result, entering into broader deliberations about the consumption, production and distribution of energy. The result is a deontological portrayal of “decarbonization” as an absolute good, offering a deceptively simple answer to difficult socio-technical problems. The convergence around carbon might suggest an aspiration toward agreement, perhaps a faith in the idea that there is a “correct” scientific way to quantify and calculate an optimal energy arrangement, with carbon serving as the basic unit that allows conversion among technologies, economic markets, human needs, and global ecological balance. Yet, it is obvious that our agreement about carbon’s importance has not eliminated conflict over decision-making on energy issues. In letting carbon stand for and convert among so many issues in energy politics, it seems we have not succeeded in accounting for everything that matters, but, rather, we may have allowed carbon-centrism to change what matters. In other words, although carbon can not speak or tell us what is to be done, increasingly it is practices that lend themselves to being quantified in terms of carbon that are valued.


Nicholas Sakellariou

Doctoral program in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University

Background: M.Sc. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech; M.Sc. in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology from National Technical University in Athens; B.S. in Engineering, Mineral Resources Engineering from Technical University of Crete.

Project Description:
The case study I suggest to examine at NIEES is Solar and Wind Project Development in California’s Western Antelope Valley and Procedural Justice. The basic structure of my argument is as follows: Renewable Energy Engineering (REE) raises many ethical questions. This may affect how Renewable Energy (RE) projects develop in the future, because there are currently few incentives to work with communities in designing and siting wind/solar energy infrastructures. My proposed solution is to develop a self-reported rating inventory to integrate procedural justice—fairness in project dispute resolution—into REE practices.Scholarly work acknowledges the procedural approach as a way to increase the fairness and outcome acceptance of RE projects. However, most analyses reify the role of technical professionals—particularly engineers. The proposed case study will illuminate how a full LCA of a solar or wind project is key to appreciating the many and varied impacts of a project’s entire lifetime, an appreciation that requires understanding socio-cultural context, habitat fragmentation and destruction, soil degradation, fauna and/or flora mortality, noise, light and heat pollution, and waste disposal from the technology generation phase including the extraction and transportation of primary materials and the decommissioning of the facility.


Kevin White

Professional Science Master's program in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization, Arizona State University

Background: B.Sc. in Interdisciplinary Studies: Nanoscience and Nanotechnology from University of Central Florida.

Project Description:
My aim is to focus on the implementation of socio-politico-technological ethics at the level of policy planning for local government up through to the national/federal level. As my graduate study efforts gravitate towards policy development and research, and with an upcoming trip to Washington D.C. planned during which I will be meeting many federal players, it seems as though developing an understanding of this facet will pay off in dividends.