LSU Study Examines New Orleans Grid Inequities, Informs Infrastructure Improvements

Flooding in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina

(Credit: Flickr)

by | Nov 10, 2023

Louisiana State University researchers plan to explore power grid resilience in disadvantaged New Orleans communities in order to develop a protection plan for city power infrastructure.

The research project will examine factors such as income level, education level, race, and ethnicity as it works to understand the impact of climate change on communities within New Orleans. A major focus of the study will be flooding and its effects on the city’s infrastructure as 20% of the city is at high risk of flooding.

Collected Data Provides ‘Equity Aware’ Perspective

Data will be collected by the LSU Survey Lab to measure the effects of power outages in different parts of the city, then project results will be presented to the New Orleans mayor’s office to provide what the project leads call an “equity-aware” standpoint for climate resilient infrastructure development.

“New Orleans has the second-highest energy burden among all cities in the nation; low-income households in New Orleans experience an energy burden larger than 9.8% — a quarter of them more than 18.9% — while the national average is 3.5%,” said Dr. Amin Kargarian, electrical engineering associate professor at LSU and one of the project leads. “In terms of hardship, imagine an hour of power outage in low-income areas and an hour in high-income areas. The value of $500 for a low-income family, which might be 25% of their monthly income, is much more than that of a high-income family that makes $500 per day.”

The project will be funded with over $350,000 from the National Science Foundation Disaster Resilience Research Grant. The project will also include outreach with local high schools and historically black colleges and universities for educational and workforce training opportunities.

Climate Infrastructure, Resiliency Efforts Increase Across the Country

Many parts of the country have faced an increasing number of climate change-caused extreme weather events. Federal and local governments are working to improve infrastructure to mitigate associated losses, keeping communities safe and reducing economic damages.

For example, this past summer, the Biden administration announced a $575 million Climate Resilience Regional Challenge for coastal and Great Lakes communities, largely for developing climate-smart buildings and infrastructure.

Some cities making infrastructure upgrades for flooding have already found success. The New York Times recently reported on Hoboken, New Jersey city hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and a number of major floods. The city, however, remained comparatively unharmed during recent floods because of infrastructure adjustments, incurring far fewer damages than neighboring New York City. In the years since Hurricane Sandy, the city elevated vulnerable power lines, built flood protection, and created parks with underground tanks and pumps to handle tidal surges and excessive rainwater.

The LSU project will explore the use of resources such as Tiger Dams, reusable barriers made by U.S. Flood Control, to find ways to proactively protect infrastructure such as power substations, before flood events. The city of New Orleans has also promoted a number of green infrastructure projects homeowners may use to absorb excess rainwater and mitigate flood damage to their properties.

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