Research

Our research employs power systems and industrial ecology methods to quantify the environmental impacts of energy and material systems.  We are interested in expanding energy systems analysis and life cycle assessment methods to increase functionality in complex systems, offer insights into environmental design, and to make the methods more industry and policy relevant.  Our work aims to be problem focused, often relying on interdisciplinary teams to more fully address challenging environmental problems.  Example of ongoing projects include:


Using buildings as (efficient) batteries

Power systems require balancing of supply and demand, which is increasingly challenging with higher penetrations of solar and wind power.  Altering real-time electricity consumption in buildings can help these balancing efforts, but little is known about the implications for long-term and short-term building efficiency.  In collaboration with researchers at Michigan and Stanford, we are conducting thousands of experiments on university buildings to better understand the impacts of using thermostatic loads to provide power system services.  This work is funded by the Department of Energy’s Building Technology Office.


Reducing human health impacts from power system emissions using grid-scale energy storage

Energy storage devices, such as batteries or pumped storage hydropower, can shift both the time and location of power sector emissions based on their charging and discharging strategies.  The overall human health impacts of criteria pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are closely related to the both temporal and spatial distribution of emissions.  With funding from the National Science Foundation, we are developing new tools to use grid-connected energy storage to reduce adverse human health impacts.  This project couples power system modeling with air pollution chemistry and transport modeling, while considering the economic damages associated with these pollutants.


Improving power system operations and planning under high penetrations of renewables and storage

The integration of variable renewables such as solar and wind, as well as the recent adoption of grid-connected batteries, requires new methods to evaluate operations and planning on the grid.  With funding from the State of North Carolina and with collaborators across NC State, we recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and costs of energy storage for the state.  Following on this work, we are now evaluating the capacity benefits of solar and energy storage, as our grid transitions from a summer peaking to winter peaking system.


Life cycle assessment of emerging technologies

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to quantify the environmental impacts of a product or process.  Recent projects using LCA include the first comprehensive study on the environmental impacts of shared, dockless e-scooters, an evaluation of solar-integrated greenhouses, and assessment of key parameters influencing the impacts of reverse electrodialysis for power production.


Food-energy-water nexus: optimizing the use of solar water pumps in India

Solar water pumps can facilitate the irrigation of remote areas, improving the productivity of farms and the economic potential of rural areas.  The Indian Government has set ambitious targets for distributed energy resources and solar water pumps will play an essential role.  To better understand the benefits and the optimal use of solar pumps, we are conducting a field study in Chhattisgarh, a state located in central India. This study is an inter-institutional collaboration with the National Institute of Technology-Raipur, under U.S.-India State and Urban Initiative spearheaded by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, with funding under the Partnership2020 program.