LSU Researchers Examining Power Grid Inequity in Disadvantaged NOLA Communities

Amin KargarianOctober 31, 2023

BATON ROUGE, LA – Oftentimes, when a state or region’s power grid is discussed, the words innovation, resilience, reliability, etc., are mentioned. But there’s another equally important term that is the focus of a research project by LSU Electrical Engineering and LSU Sociology faculty—equity.

Focusing on the city of New Orleans, LSU Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Amin Kargarian and LSU Professor of Sociology Frederick Weil are working to model power-grid-resilience equity by considering the hardships or social consequences faced by different communities and integrating those issues into a protection plan for city power infrastructure, specifically from flood-induced hazards.

The work is funded by a National Science Foundation Disaster Resilience Research grant totaling $363,852.

“New Orleans has the second-highest energy burden among all cities in the nation; low-income households in New Orleans experience an energy burden larger than 9.8%—a quarter of them more than 18.9%—while the national average is 3.5%,” Kargarian said. “In terms of hardship, imagine an hour of power outage in low-income areas and an hour in high-income areas. The low-income areas may face more difficulties, as they have no backup generator. Also, losing [power to] the fridge and thus food is harder for the low-income areas. The value of $500 for a low-income family, which might be 25% of their monthly income, is much more than that of a high-income family that makes $500 per day.

“We plan to consider various factors, such as level of income, level of education, race, and ethnicity. We will collaborate with the LSU Survey Lab [to design a survey and analyze data to understand the impact of power outages on communities] and the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Office to help us better understand community hardship and the impact of climate change on the [residents of New Orleans.]”

It’s easy to see why flooding and its effects on New Orleans’ power infrastructure would be the focus of the research team, as 20% of the city is considered “high flood risk.” Kargarian said the team plans to use resources such as Tiger Dams­—reusable barriers manufactured by U.S. Flood Control—to determine how to proactively protect power substations a few days before a flood event. At the same time, it will take into consideration equity and social justice as they relate to resource allocation for “grid-resilience enforcement.” As the project develops, the team will work with the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Office to present its findings in the hopes that energy systems are examined from the current “equity-neutral” standpoint to one that is eventually “equity-aware.”

One additional aspect of the project is the outreach that will be conducted with area high schools and HBCUs, providing educational and training opportunities. These include outreach to underserved high school students and public awareness of the project, research internships for under-resourced high school students, an industry-sponsored diverse workforce training program, and mentorships and training for college students from underrepresented groups.

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