Contextual Engineering
Research Group

Contextualized Design of Rural Energy Systems for Improved Sustainability

Researchers: Abhi Chattopadhyay, Julissa Nunez

This project is a case study of energy needs in the Navajo Nation aimed at better understanding how the local social, political, cultural, and economic factors influence the selection of the most appropriate engineering design solutions for rural and remote communities.

The case study is a partnership between CERG, the NGO Moonshot Missions, the Hidden Springs Mission, and the Bodaway Gap Chapter of the Navajo Nation to identify and implement the most sustainable solutions to address water and energy needs, based specifically on the community needs. Publicly available news reports indicate that around 30% of homes on the reservation lack electricity, and 40% lack running water, but these succinct numbers belie a much more complex needs profile, which many outside organization driven attempts in the past have failed to recognize. This investigation finds that the community needs are more pronounced for specific demographics within the community, and that this specific demographic also has a specific geographic distribution. To address the needs a suite of solutions is being proposed, ranging from ones that may be executed most expediently within the current institutional structure, to others that require more long-term planning and coordination.

A small solar panel system in a Navajo reservation.

CERG researchers and local guides discuss a water tank from a previous project and survey the Navajo land.

This partnership works closely with the local governing board to recognize the capabilities of what can realistically be maintained, and what are the natural inclinations of the community towards specific technologies. It is a recognition of the fact that any technology solution that does not take into account the capability of local labor to maintain it is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term.

The research combines ethnographic methods of societal investigations with traditional engineering disciplines. The research is heavily interdisciplinary, drawing from electrical engineering, hydrology, civil engineering, sociolinguistics, and ethnography.


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The Need for Teaching Place-Based Contextualization For Sustainable Power System Infrastructure DesignContextual Challenges in using DERs to Advance Remote Electrification
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