Energy Vulnerability Pedagogy Project

The Energy Vulnerability Project investigates the ways in which governmental and non-governmental organizations address household energy needs, particularly households who are unable to access energy for a number of reasons. The project focuses energy vulnerability in the mid-Atlantic region, and Philadelphia specifically.  One of the ways in which the project explores energy vulnerability is through an investigation into Energy Service Organizations (ESOs), which help low-income households reshape their energy usage, their household efficiency, and educate about  the effect of climate change and rising cost on household energy demand. ESO’s  combine human, technological, financial and other resources to improve ‘energy performance’ in  making low-income households. The project aims to inform  policy that  addresses the needs of those who are energy vulnerable, while accounting for any challenges that may further contribute to creating a condition of energy vulnerability. 

This essay contains different types of activities for students to learn about energy research: household energy surveys, demographic and socioeconomic data analysis, LIHEAP provision reviews.

The first survey contains questions measuring general characteristics of energy vulnerability. Given the activity is brief and the survey is a highly shortened version of the Energy Vulnerability Project’s survey, this survey is only about twenty questions, including demographic questions. This survey asks about housing stock characteristics, bill payment, and whether potential respondents would be able to face threats of shut-offs or have had to choose between paying for energy bills and other expenses. These questions are not comprehensive of all the measures needed to understand and analyze energy vulnerability but they are part of the dynamics of energy vulnerability. 

The second survey is the ‘COVID-19 specific survey on energy vulnerability’, which is meant to analyze how energy vulnerability is felt in the context of COVID-19 beyond the measures included in the ‘base’ energy vulnerability survey. Questions on this version of the survey ask about employment and housing status as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of economic upheaval. Additionally, this survey also analyzes the prevalence of energy vulnerability in terms of bill payment, specifically investigating whether the onset and continuation of the pandemic has shifted bill payment awareness  and assistance. Questions on bill payment, particularly the ways in which the household divides or pays for utilities and questions on whether utility bills have increased or not, evaluate how well respondents are coping with the economic downfall and, also, how well they know their utility bill, i.e. how much they spend on energy each month. Overall, this survey is not meant to be exhaustive, given it is a shortened version of the 60-question survey drafted by the research group, but it is meant to create an opportunity for students to practice structured survey data collection in ethnography. 

The section on ‘supporting resources’ contains documents that range from scholarly articles on energy vulnerability to scholarly articles on energy assistance programs, to government websites on assistance programs like LIHEAP, the Energy Administration Information (EIA)’s RECS survey, and resources on the moratoria put in place by states across the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the nation from both a health and socioeconomic perspective. The scholarly articles should be used to gain a better understanding of energy vulnerability and its dimensions. Once familiarity is gained with the issue, other resources can be used to supplement knowledge on the issue and work on the activities proposed in the activities section. 

The essay presents sections containing prompt questions to work on in parallel with the resources that are provided. Included in the ‘Activities’ section are the survey documents that can be downloaded and used for implementation or, plugged into a Google Forms document. Additionally, the ‘Course Activities’ section contains a participant observation activity that can be easily done at home. In this same section, there are several prompts to be used for data on moratoria, mainly related to the State response tracker and data on the health and socioeconomic statistics for states across the nation. Lastly, other prompts to consider as related to LIHEAP data provided through scholarly articles and national clearinghouse resources.

** If you are interested in joining the project, or the Energy in COVID-19 discussion group, please contact Dr. Ali Kenner for more information at: ali.kenner@gmail.com. We are currently researching and developing tools to analyze energy vulnerability in COVID-19.

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November 4, 2020