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CNAP: Heating with Justice: How can we make electrified space heating equitable?



Graham Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program (CNAP)

Carbon neutrality is a global imperative and a top university priority initiated by U-M President Mark Schlissel. The Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program is designed to mobilize our research community's collective power to advance a low-carbon future. We are grateful to the anonymous donors whose generous gift has made this program possible.

Through the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program, all U-M faculty are eligible to apply for funding that supports carbon neutrality research with the potential to effect real change in the world. The program offers a unique opportunity to support faculty who are new to carbon neutrality or who want to explore significantly different directions in their research.

Projects that are likely to produce new insights revealed through interdisciplinary collaboration are critical to the program's mission. Projects that lend themselves to scalability or generate novel interventions co-created by scholars and practitioners are also strongly encouraged.

Researchers will receive the support they need to maximize the impact of their work and translate outcomes for a wide variety of audiences, from policymakers to resource managers. Initial programming will foster connections between researchers and with external stakeholders, and the ideas those connections spark will guide future funding and programmatic offerings.

Researchers across the university are already working to advance knowledge around a diversity of strategies that drive greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below, from renewable energy to carbon capture and sequestration, transportation, materials development, agriculture, data science, and more. At the same time, communities, institutions (including U-M), businesses, and governments are pursuing bold carbon reduction initiatives. The program's goal is to amplify U-M's efforts and seize these opportunities to move new knowledge to action.

Project Summary

As the move to electrified heating stretches the electrical grid, will the poor bear the burdens of discomfort and high cost?

Each winter—to save money, energy, or both—a large proportion of families in the U.S. maintain their homes below the 64°F considered healthy. As home heating moves toward full electrification and utilities require customers to adopt pricing plans designed to reduce peak demand, low-income customers could face a particularly stark tradeoff between cost and comfort.

This project will test the hypothesis that dynamic pricing, when applied to electrified heating, will affect vulnerable households differently than it does other households. Without focused efforts to reduce the burden on the poor, widespread decarbonization of home heating is likely to hurt low-income customers. The research team, leveraging their collective expertise across engineering, economics, and the study of consumer behavior, aims to create a knowledge base to help design interventions to avoid that outcome.

First, to test their hypothesis, the team plans to recruit 30-50 Detroit households to participate voluntarily in the study. For participants, the study will provide a financial incentive, as well as an assessment of their energy use and the tradeoffs between cost and comfort. Participants will also have the option to get help understanding and enrolling in energy efficiency and cost-reduction programs offered by their utility.

Once data collection and analysis are complete, the researchers hope to demonstrate that it is possible to draw meaningful conclusions about the choices people can and might make regarding the trade-off between comfort and cost associated with a technology that is not yet widely deployed. They will share their findings directly with policy makers to inform ongoing decarbonization efforts.

This team received a $300,000 CNAP faculty research grant in 2021.

University of Michigan - Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Energy Systems