Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory Accomplishing Meaningful Work Despite COVID Challenges

May 21, 2021

Kersey, Gill-WiehlWhile this past year has brought many challenges for students and our world at large, Dr. Dan Kammen’s Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) pushes forward to make a difference both at home and abroad. In addition to two RAEL lab members and PhD students, Jess Kersey and Annelise Gill-Wiehl, receiving National Science Foundation awards for their work in Africa; Kamman taught a new course on Climate Justice and worked with colleagues to develop a pathway to an 80 percent decarbonized California by 2030.

NSF Awards

Jess Kersey’s (far left) work has focused on East Africa, with case studies and data-science efforts on rural to urban migration; the gender impacts of unpaid household labor, and on the theoretical frames that development 'experts' often use to pigeon-hole women, minorities, and urban populations when developing solutions for energy access. Kersey has also won a prestigious German national DAAD fellowship at the Reiner-Lemoine Institute (RLI) in Berlin in 2021-22.

Annelise Gill-Wiehl’s (right) work explores community development, clean cooking, and the role of human infrastructure in the adaptation and sustained use of new technology in under-resources settings. Her fieldwork, in northern Tanzania, has grown out of a multi-year engagement that she began while an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. Gill-Wiehl is also part of a multi-student and multi-partner team focused on East Africa. The team includes and several off-grid energy access private sector members. 

Energy Peace Partners

In 2020, RAEL developed unique partnerships focused on off-grid energy and community-centered social justice culminating in the building and linking of mini-grid networks in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and separately, in Malaysia and Laos. The NGO spin-off, Energy Peace Partners was recognized with multiple international awards for creating the "Peace Renewable Energy Credit." This funding vehicle has now been used to build the largest off-grid energy projects in Africa, first in the Congo and more recently in South Sudan. Each project produces over 1 megawatts of energy.

Local Impacts

In collaboration with UC Merced, Kamman co-directs projects on innovation in long-duration energy storage, and on 100% clean energy community solutions in partnership with the California Energy Commission. With colleagues Tom Steyer, Leah Stokes, Manuel Pastor, David Pellow, Teenie Matlock, and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Dan developed a pathway to an 80% decarbonized California by 2030. This has attracted the attention of the California Senate and is now being deliberated as Senate bills 449 and 582 (Stern).

Working with Isa Ferrall, Dan taught a new course, Envres 160, "Climate Justice" this semester. Approximately 80 students participated in the class which including lectures, discussions, engagements with local environmental justice organizations, and recorded interviews with national and international leaders in this space. Dan also chairs a new campus-wide Roundtable on Climate and Environmental Justice and recently joined the board of directors of Native Renewables headquarters in Flagstaff, Arizona.