Chien-fei Chen holds a unique position in the spectrum of UT engineering research. She is an environmental sociologist, a research associate professor in electrical engineering, and serves as the director of education and diversity for CURENT, an NSF and DoE Engineering Research Center.
The sociological approach of her work helps add a human element to CURENT’s overall focus on improving the world’s power grid.
“My research centers on bridging the gap between social and technical sciences in energy efficiency issues regarding energy justice, energy policy, pro-environmental behavior, and renewable technology adoption,” said Chen.
She pursues both formal and informal field work, including personal observations, reading, and discussions with local residents and researchers from different countries.
I want to build on this experience and have an impact on academic and underserved communities such as low-income communities. Energy inequality or poverty is one of the most pressing issues in a modern community.”
Her work drew widespread attention this year when she was selected as one of 20 Fulbright Global Scholars from across the country. Her proposal, “When East Meets West: An Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Research on Energy Justice and Renewable Technology Adoption for Future Smart Communities,” focuses on energy needs and uses across social lines.
“This research will focus on low-income communities in China, the UK, and the US,” said Chen. “I will conduct an integrated analysis of social, behavioral, environmental, and technical impacts by using qualitative and quantitative methodology and integrated analysis and modeling rooted in social-psychology, engineering, and computer science.”
Her goal is to better understand the complexities of social practices and technology adoption across cultures, while improving strategies to solve energy-efficiency problems, combat global energy-inequality issues, and inform public policy.
“Renewable energy technology is growing fast, but it also raises pressing justice issues related to equity and fairness,” said Chen, noting the strong and increasing interest throughout academia, industry, and policy makers in these areas.
“The Fulbright will allow me to extend my current interdisciplinary collaboration by focusing on cultural and energy behavioral differences between the eastern and western societies, especially among the vulnerable communities,” she said.
“More importantly, understanding people’s daily energy practices and barriers in the western and eastern societies could influence local policymaking as well as cultural understanding.”