Doctoral Research

Ongoing Projects

1. The energy equity gap: unveiling hidden energy poverty


Shuchen Cong1, Destenie Nock1, 2, Yueming (Lucy) Qiu3, Bo Xing4

1Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, PA, USA
2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, PA, USA
3School of Public Policy, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, USA
4Department of Forecasting, Resource Planning and Development, Salt River Project, Tempe, AZ, USA

Income-based energy poverty metrics ignore people’s behavior patterns, particularly for people who reduce energy consumption to limit financial stress. Here, we introduce a new method for calculating energy-limiting behavior in low income households using a residential electricity consumption dataset. We first determine the outdoor temperature at which households start using cooling systems, the inflection temperature. Our relative energy poverty metric, the energy equity gap, is defined as the difference in the inflection temperatures between low and high-income groups. In our study region, we estimate the energy equity gap to be between 4.7°F and 7.5°F. In 2015-2016, within our sample of 4,577 households, we found 86 energy-poor and 214 energy-insecure households. In contrast, the income-based energy poverty metric, energy burden, identified 141 households as energy insecure when the threshold is set to 10%, with only three households overlapping between our energy equity gap and the income-based measure. Thus, the energy equity gap reveals a hidden but complementary aspect of energy poverty and insecurity. This paper is in the submission stage.

2. Comfort or cash? An investigation into energy behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic

We conducted a survey on 2000 households in Chicago and Detroit in January 2021, on energy consumption behavior before and during the pandemic, subjective energy insecurity indicators, and willingness to pay for a comfortable indoor temperature in the summer. This project is in the analyses stage.

3. Inequities in household climate change adaptability: an analysis of residential energy consumption habits

To quantify energy consumption behavior, we use the steepness of household temperature response functions to represent the ability to consume energy at a certain temperature. The steepness of the consumption-temperature curve tells us whether a household has the potential to consume energy, in other words, keeping house size constant, a household with more cooling appliances has more potential, whereas a household with no cooling system has low potential. The steepness of the curves could also represent the energy efficiency of homes, where the flatter the curve, the more energy efficient a home is. However, energy efficiency may only be comparable when two homes have a similar house size and the same number of appliances, because the energy saved from energy-efficient appliances may not outweigh the effects of having extra appliances. Steepness will be regressed against socioeconomic factors including income, ethnicity, age, number of household members, and residence characteristics, including the number of appliances, the type of cooling system, while controlling for house size, to identify any inequity in the ability to consume energy and energy efficiency. This project is in the analyses stage.


“The energy equity gap: unveiling hidden energy poverty”

  • Applied Energy Symposium – MIT A+B 2021, August 2021 (oral presentation)
  • CMU Energy Week, March 2021 (poster)

“Quantifying the carbon footprint of a metropolitan food system”

  • ISSST, August 2020 (oral presentation)

An Engineering Capstone Course From Multiple Perspectives

Deanna H Matthews1, Shuchen Cong1

1Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, PA, USA

The capstone course for the Engineering and Public Policy program at Carnegie Mellon University is a projects-based course where students work to structure and investigate a complex problem with both technical issues and policy implications. Students work in small interdisciplinary groups on sub-problems, with all work addressing the same larger problem. Recent topics have included agricultural sustainability, drone packaging delivery, and addressing lead exposure hazards. The course is supported by a Project Manager, a doctoral student in the EPP program, who themselves are in a course to practice project management skills. The course has been offered since 1970, and is celebrating 50 years and over 140 projects completed. We will discuss the course structure, and the experience of being a student in the course, and then a project manager. Students must adapt to a course with no regular assignments and numerical grades, prepare multiple drafts of presentations and reports, coordinate group efforts, and synchronize work product. Project managers are tasked with administrative responsibilities, coordinating group efforts, addressing personnel issues, and assuring that work is completed on time. Our goal is to show how capstone experience can be used as a learning tool for multiple students, and the paper will be presented by a past student and project manager for the course.