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Noah Kittner’s research focuses on planning for sustainable, resilient and equitable energy systems at multiple scales – from distributed mini-grids to municipal and regional electricity generation. His current projects range from modeling the role of energy storage in reaching California’s zero-carbon electricity target for 2045 to the public health impacts of continued reliance on coal and fossil-fuels.

He is an associate professor and holds appointments in environmental sciences and engineering in the School of Public Health, the department of city and regional planning and the interdisciplinary environment, ecology and energy Program (E3P) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Transcript from the video, Conversations at Hickerson House: Noah Kittner on Energy Systems:

My name is Noah Kittner and I’m an assistant professor in the environmental science and engineering department in the School of Public Health and also jointly appointed in city and regional planning.

Tell us about your ongoing research.

My research focuses on the sustainability of our energy system and how do we transition from energy sources that are very carbon intensive to ones that are low carbon like solar and wind. I’m interested in who benefits from the different policies in place to try to decarbonize our power system and how different communities are affected by their existing energy system.

What has been most surprising about what you’ve found so far?

Some of my work spans from looking at communities that have relied a lot on coal in places in the Balkans, like in Kosovo, and while it might not be that surprising that in many cases now some of the low carbon options are less expensive than building new coal. What I found really surprising is that the banks and financial institutions and insurance companies have actually played a more outsized role in determining what types of energy projects get built, rather than some of the government agencies themselves.

What do you hope to learn in the next stage of this research?

I hope to do more research here in North Carolina and look at how different communities are facing the challenges of dealing with coal ash spills, to thinking about how to incorporate solar and storage here in North Carolina, and whether that can be a strategy to have a lower carbon energy system here.

What are your next steps of this research?

I’m planning to work with some of the electric utilities and rural cooperatives in North Carolina to think about how they’re incorporating solar policies into their plans for decarbonization, and whether battery storage makes sense and if so, at what scale should it be at the residential or commercial scale.


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