Theses Doctoral

Powering Equity: Characterizing the Impacts of Energy Transitions on Environmental and Health Disparities in the US and Ghana

Daouda, Misbath

An energy transition can be defined as the adoption of a new primary energy system. As such, it is a structural change that implies a broad shift in technologies and behaviors in order to replace one source of energy with another. Energy transitions motivated by economic, climate, and/or health goals are taking place everywhere in the world. Air pollution, a consequence of fossil fuel-based and solid fuel-based energy use among other sources, is the largest environmental health risk accounting for 6.4 million premature deaths annually. Given the health implications of our energy systems and the social drivers of energy use, access, and burden, energy transitions have the potential to impact health outcomes and associated disparities in a context-dependent manner. The research presented in this dissertation has two objectives: 1) to evaluate the distribution of benefits from energy transitions in the United States (US) and in Ghana; 2) to identify and characterize health outcomes that are relevant to these transitions but are currently understudied.

Chapters 2 and 3 are anchored in the US energy policy context. Chapter 2 focuses on the transition away from coal as the primary source of energy in the US and its implications for particulate matter pollution and preterm births. Leveraging a novel dispersion model, I assessed the association between coal PM2.5 and preterm birth rates along with effect modification by race/ethnicity. We observed a positive non-linear relationship between coal PM2.5 and preterm birth rate, which plateaued at higher levels of pollution. The findings of this study suggest that the transition away from coal may have reduced preterm birth rates in the US, but that the association was stronger among non-Hispanic White women compared to non-Hispanic Black women. In Chapter 3, I use a mixed-methods framework to evaluate the first pilot of gas-to-electric stove transition in low-income housing in the US. Through a collaboration with a community-based environmental justice group in New York City, we monitored indoor air quality in participants homes pre- and post-intervention, conducted controlled cooking tests, and carried out focus groups to characterize their experience. Post-intervention, daily NO2 concentrations were 46.3% (95% CI: -67.8%, -10.3%) lower in the intervention arm compared to the control arm. Participants were unanimously pleased with the transition, which had simultaneously improved their cooking experience and partially addressed energy insecurity concerns that plagued their building.

Chapters 4 and 5 contribute to the characterization of the health implications associated with Ghana’s commitment to increase access to liquified petroleum gas (LPG) nationally. In Chapter 4, we aimed to describe the country-level incidence of severe cooking-related burns by fuel type in use and to identify effect modifiers. We conducted a nationally representative (n = 7,389) household energy use survey in all 16 regions of Ghana. The incidence rate (95% CI) of cooking-related burns per 1000 person-years among working age females was 8.3 (7.2; 12.0) per 1000 person-years, which was 8 times higher than that of working age males. Among adults, the odds of experiencing a cooking-related burn were doubled among solid fuel users compared to primary LPG users. In Chapter 5, we aimed to understand the effect of an LPG intervention on personal exposure to household air pollution in a peri-urban setting of Ghana and to characterize the distribution of benefits between male and female household members quantitatively and qualitatively. The difference-in-differences results suggested a reduction in exposure to carbon monoxide due to the intervention (-14.2%, 95% CI: -44.1%, 31.6%), which might have benefited male and female participants to the same extent. Importantly, focus group discussions suggested that the ability that LPG affords to cook “on demand” could negatively impact intra-household dynamics and expectations in a way that has not been previously documented.

Taken together, our findings from two distinct socioeconomic contexts, highlight the non-uniform distribution of benefits from energy transitions, especially when benefits that are not mediated by air pollution are considered. These results contribute to the understanding that social drivers of inequities should be integrated in the design of energy policies and interventions aimed at generating equitable outcomes. Future directions include a detailed characterization of the context-dependent relative contributions of indoor and outdoor air pollution sources as well as a more systematic integration of quantitative and qualitative methods in policy evaluation.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Environmental Health Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Jack, Darby W.
Casey, Joan A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 26, 2023