By Yao Sun

The 2019 New Jersey Energy Master Plan: Pathway to 2050 mentioned that the state’s Clean Energy Act commitments include, “Developing a community solar program that allows more state residents to benefit from solar energy, especially low- and moderate-income (LMI) families.” As climate change intensifies the severity of natural disasters, it is imperative to ensure both community and environmental equity when designing and implementing energy and climate policies.

With the goal of supporting New Jersey’s Clean Energy Act commitments, this project will focus on this community solar program to study under-resourced community stakeholders’ attitudes and behaviors regarding the adoption of renewable energy, encourage community stakeholders’ to actively engage in shaping the community solar program, as well as provide social scientific solutions and suggestions for enhancing energy justice in New Jersey. To examine the effectiveness of the low-income community solar program and enhance the involvement of under-resourced community stakeholders in achieving energy justice in New Jersey, the research team will use an AI-based crowdsourcing tool to engage residents from Newark’s under-resourced communities in an online open discussion to better assess their understanding of energy justice programs such as the low-income community solar program.

The researchers will also collaborate with researchers from GTI Energy, a leading research and training organization focused on developing, scaling, and deploying energy transition solutions to integrate the implications of local household energy consumption data into the research findings.

Regarding data analysis, this project will use computational data visualization tools to map the distribution of solar panels in New Jersey and will utilize computational tools including machine learning-based natural language processing, semantic network analysis, sentiment analysis, and artificial neural network models to decode and interpret the ideas and perceptions that participants contribute. Based on the aggregated responses, this project will identify potential challenges and provide prospective measures that can help to foster energy justice in the state.