Dr. Yifang Zhu and UCLA team partners with LADWP for equitable solutions to reach 100% renewable energy

Dr. Yifang Zhu, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of environmental health sciences and senior associate dean for academic programs, will lead a team examing air quality in the City of Los Angeles in a project funded by a $2.6 million award to the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.

Date:  Monday, July 25, 2022
by Jonathan Van Dyke

More than 20 UCLA faculty and researchers have entered into a $2.6 million agreement to conduct research for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to help the city achieve its goal of producing all of its energy from carbon-free and renewable energy sources by 2035 and doing so in ways that benefit all Angelenos equitably.

Historically, some areas, particularly communities of color and under-resourced neighborhoods, have been ignored by progress or have had to bear the brunt of past sustainability measures’ shortcomings.

UCLA experts from a variety of disciplines and who have an eye for environmental justice solutions will help guide the LADWP as it creates the first equity-focused, carbon-free energy transition of any major city. The collaboration was made possible through an existing agreement between the department and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. The grand challenge is an interdisciplinary, campus-wide initiative aimed at applying UCLA research and expertise to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050 — making it the planet’s most livable, equitable, resilient, clean and healthy megacity, and an example for the world.

“This is important, because no major city that I know of has comprehensively looked into how to transition to renewable energy in a way that is equitable,” said Casandra Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. “The value to the project in bringing in UCLA is that we have a long history of doing this work in partnership with numerous regional stakeholders and communities. UCLA is not just doing equity and just transition research — UCLA is Los Angeles. We are here for the long haul, so it matters to us that this is done in a way that benefits all Angelenos.”

In the past, solutions to a more sustainable Los Angeles have not benefited all Angelenos. According to a 2020 study by the UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities, historically disadvantaged communities in Los Angeles County are at risk of getting left behind in the transition to lower-carbon energy sources and energy-efficient technologies.

The research showed that public incentive programs aimed at reducing emissions and promoting energy efficiencies disproportionately benefit wealthier individuals — people who use more energy than their less-affluent peers.

To address these types of concerns, the department of water and power launched LA100 Equity Strategies. The department will collaborate with several UCLA research entities working in the areas of affordability, urban and socio-economics, equity, and jobs and workforce development.

“This project will allow us to address air quality while keeping in mind that the benefits are not universal,” said Yifang Zhu, a professor of environmental health sciences and senior associate dean for academic programs at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. Zhu noted that the initial LA100 study modeled the region as a whole, but didn’t necessarily drill down to individual communities. “We want to fully address disparities across communities. What are the gaps and what can we do — if we can do this in a more equitable way?”