Convergence for Innovative Energy Solutions

Convergence for  

Innovative Energy Solutions

An NSF-Funded Project for Growing Convergence Research

The Project

A member of an off-grid community in the Brazilian Amazon where we are working to co-design a sustainable energy solution inspects a broken water wheel. 

Photo by Karina Ninni Ramos 

The Convergence for Innovative Energy Solutions project is funded by the National Science Foundation under their Growing Convergence Research (GCR) program and brings together a global team of experts and students in social sciences, communication studies, and engineering. 

Our goal is to deliver transformative advances in science and technology to off-the-grid communities, where energy is too expensive or unreliable. A crucial factor for innovation adoption is the compatibility of the technology with the values, beliefs, and past experiences of community members where the technology will be deployed. Therefore, using community-informed and community-centered approaches, the GCR team will work closely with stakeholder partners to jointly design and implement  sustainable energy technologies. 

Presently, we are focused on in-stream turbines (without dams) that permit fish and vessels to move freely, allow fishers to maintain their livelihoods, and eliminate the need for resettlement. 

The team will train students in convergence research, and will produce audiovisual records for further analysis and use in teaching. We have developed a graduate course that explores convergence processes and strategies for interacting and co-designing new technology that meets the needs of specific communities. The course is part of a dual Ph.D. program that includes engineering, social science and natural science students.

Read about the award on the NSF Website.

The Team

We are group of international, interdisciplinary and interorganizational scholars from the Global South and the Global North, mainly from Brazil and the United States. Our leader is Dr. Emilio Moran, the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor at the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations and a member of the faculty in the Geography Department at Michigan State University. Our growing team integrates knowledge, methods and expertise from areas such as Engineering, Renewable Energy & Sustainability, Environmental Social Sciences, Community Sustainability, Sociology, Geography, Communication & Journalism, and Anthropology to co-design, co-install and support the implementation of sustainable energy technologies we develop with marginalized off-grid communities.

Read more about our team.

For our original proposal, we had a diverse group of Co-PIs and associates in terms of rank, gender and ethnicity. Our original team was 60%  Latinx and 40% identify as women. By the end of Phase One, our team has grown substantially with the inclusion of professors and research associates from the Global South, and a group of high-performing graduate and undergraduate students from various disciplinary and demographic backgrounds and with 50% of our members identifying as women and 54% from the Global South. The expansion of our team and partnerships highlights the excitement that our project has generated both in the US and Brazil. In this growth, our team has remained diverse and expanded its engineering component to be ready for Phase Two.

Online team meeting with our Advisory Board members. 

Regular online team meetings build trust and support convergence

For the two years we have been working together, our team has met entirely over Zoom (with the exception of recent fieldwork)—partially because of the global pandemic and partially because our team members and partners are located between the Global South and Global North. In a way, since the Michigan-based team members could not meet in person because of COVID, it created a foundation of communication equity for all involved since the only way we could all meet was online, regardless of our locations. Working together in an online environment has helped us identify and refine effective strategies for connecting and communicating, conducting research together, and working together as a team to pivot where and when necessary so our work continues no matter what the obstacles are in front of us. In a sense, refining the way we work remotely together has helped us to connect regardless of our physical locations and has actually benefited our abilities to communicate and work together effectively.

Our Advisory Board

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, D.Sc.

Paulo Artaxo, Ph.D.

Traci Romine

Vanessa Boanada Fuchs, Ph.D.

Maria Carmen Lemos, Ph.D.

The members of the Advisory Board to this Convergence Research team represent a distinguished group of scientists from diverse fields of knowledge and are experienced in the challenges of interdisciplinary research. Their expertise will help advance the work of this project through their advice and wisdom. Carlos Brito is an experienced science administrator who has served as President of the University of Campinas and most recently as Scientific Director of the State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation. He has an abiding interest in bioenergy and climate change. Paulo Artaxo is best known for his discovery of the role of aerosols in cloud formation over the Amazon Basin, his role in the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and his work in science policy. For several years, he led the Large Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia. Traci Romine is a program officer with the Mott Foundation and has years of experience in the Amazon region. She currently oversees efforts to provide access to photovoltaics for Indigenous People in the Tapajos Basin of Brazil. Vanessa Boanada Fuchs has degrees in law and in international relations from Brazil and Switzerland, has worked with traditional populations in the Xingu Basin, and currently heads a Swiss University campus in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Maria Carmen Lemos is well-known for her contributions to understanding the co-production of knowledge, the intersection between development and climate change, and the use of climate information in building adaptability. She has contributed to the IPCC and the US 4th National Climate Assessment.

Read more about our Advisory Board.

The Research

Brazilian team members and community leaders measure the river speed and assess the suitability of the area for turbine placement. Photo by Karina Ninni Ramos

Our research is focused is on delivering innovative solutions for off-the-grid communities, as well as exploring the convergence process and associated frameworks. 

Read more about our research.

The Locations

Assessing the river near one of the communities we will be working with. Photo by Karina Ninni Ramos

Our project focuses on designing and implementing sustainable energy solutions with off-the-grid communities. The COVID-19 pandemic  prevented us from traveling for the majority of our first two years, however we took the time to identify potential locations based on a novel combination of geospatial data, data on community access to sustainable energy, interpersonal relationships with NGOs, local activists, community leaders, and on-the-ground reporting. Subsequently, when members from our Brazilian team went to the field in early 2022, they were able to visit these communities to assess if they were, in fact, a good fit for the project and ask community members if they were open to partnering with us. We now have agreements from three communities and are excited about our expanded fieldwork and research efforts over the Summer of 2022.

Read more about the locations.

News & Media

Community members from an off-grid area in the Brazilian Amazon sign an agreement to work with our team  to co-design a sustainable energy solution for them. 

Photo by Karina Ninni Ramos 

Using Format