Dominic Bednar, a Ph.D. candidate in the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), was selected for a Fulbright Award to travel to Santiago, Chile, where he will study energy efficiency, energy poverty, and firewood use among residential areas.
Working with Felipe Encinas, assistant professor of architecture at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, as well as researchers with the Energy Poverty Network (Red de Pobreza Energética), Bednar’s research will build on his previous work with Rackham’s Institute for Social Change and Engaged Pedagogy Initiative programs by including the assessment of household energy needs and disparities using a community-based lens.
“I will explore the socio-spatial distributions of household energy efficiency and firewood use in the capital city, Santiago and in the southern regions of Chile,” Bednar says. “Building on my public scholarship work at U-M, I also plan to join semi-structured interviews to understand how energy needs and interest are described by residents in Santiago.”
Chile, Bednar says, has some of the highest energy costs in Latin America, as well as among the highest per capita wood fuel consumption in the world. These present both energy and public health issues for the country’s population.
“In Chile, energy poverty is a major health concern, exacerbated by dwelling inefficiencies and the use of firewood for cooking and warmth—each contributing to negative health consequences,” Bednar explains. “Energy efficiency programs for existing buildings have proven instrumental in reducing energy costs, firewood consumption, and associated pollution.”
At U-M, Bednar is a member of the Urban Energy Justice Lab within SEAS, which studies energy-related topics through a justice lens, specifically the production and persistence of spatial, racial, and socioeconomic disparities in the accessibility and affordability of energy services, technologies, and programs. Within the lab, Bednar is developing ways improve public policy decision-making that assists households vulnerable to falling into energy poverty—those at risk of being unable to pay their energy bills and, as a result, having their utilities shut off.
The Fulbright Student Program is the largest and most diverse U.S. exchange program, offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 2,000 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.
“I vividly remember being on a Zoom call with a friend when I got the email to check my application status,” Bednar recalls. “I was thrilled to read that I was selected as a finalist! My dream to expand my research inquiry internationally and to live in a Spanish-speaking country had illuminated hope despite deep despair and confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic.”