drawing of person on horse led by person and child with a dog overlooking canyon with a dam. A bald eagle and hawk are flying overhead.

Grassroots Energy Innovation

1 billion people do not have electricity in their communities, and another 1 billion suffer from unreliable electricity systems. For close to half the world’s population, energy is closely tied to poverty. We believe that, if designed properly, distributed energy strategies offer a unique opportunity to disrupt these challenges and transform energy innovation into a tool for human prosperity and thriving. We are developing integrated, multi-level socio-technical solutions to grassroots energy innovation that create social and economic value as a foundation for new approaches to eradicating extreme poverty.


  • Sustainable Communities: Sponsored by USAID and First Solar, CES researchers are helping community members in Rio Cuarto, Brazil, to imagine a more sustainable futures and to implement carbon-neutral energy solutions that foster local thriving.
  • Village Microgrids: Through the US-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, CES researchers are collaboratively working with faculty and students at the University of Engineering and Technology-Peshawar to analyze failures in existing hydropower-based village microgrids and to develop more socially valuable designs.
  • Energy, Poverty, and Sustainability: In collaboration with the National Institute for Energy and Island Sustainability at the University of Puerto Rico, CES is exploring strategies for creating sustainable energy innovation that also help strengthen local energy ownership and sourcing and so reduce poverty for one of the nation’s poorest communities. CES researchers are building similar collaborations with partners in the Navajo Nation, at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and at the University of Saskatchewan to pursue comparable projects with indigenous communities.
  • Biochar Systems: CES researchers are working with communities and the government in Nepal to advance the use of biochar as both an agricultural supplement to improve soils and a source of carbon-neutral energy.
  • Energy-Independent, Value-Creating Devices: CES researchers are developing innovative, self-powered products for off-grid settings, such as the award-winning SolarSPELL, that enable high social value creation independent of the extension of electricity grids. CES researchers are also working with colleagues at QESST and the University of Sonora on a solar-powered water desalination system and with QESST on developing sustainable lighting solutions for low-income fishermen.
  • Community Energy: In collaboration with QESST, CES researchers are mentoring a group of Phoenix high school students in pursuit of the development of community solar projects that will enhance local parks through the creation of innovative shade structures. CES is also working with the ASU Fulton Schools of Engineering Engineering Projects in Community Service program to create designs for a community solar project at a local church.