[UTES] Panel Discussion: Energy Justice and International Development

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Mr. Ashvin Dayal, Senior VP, Power and Climate, The Rockefeller Foundation

Dr. Rebekah Shirley, Director of Research, Data & Innovation, WRI Africa

Ms. Dana Harmon, Executive Director, Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute

Moderator: Dr. Varun Rai, Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, UT Austin


Globally, energy poverty manifests along different dimensions such as access, reliability, affordability or sustainability of modern energy services. Over 780 million people, increasingly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and scattered across South and South-East Asia, lack any access to electricity. The lack of reliable electricity access for institutions and enterprises often hampers local socio-economic progress. In high income regions, energy poverty manifests more in the form of affordability for low- and middle-income populations, as well as inequities in access to sustainable energy programs and technologies such as home weatherization or electric vehicles. Increasingly, communities dependent on fossil fuel economies are concerned about equitably transitioning into alternate socio-economic futures. In this broad context, the overarching goal of the energy justice movement is to correct the inequities and asymmetries in the energy system. In this panel discussion, a diverse set of speakers bring together perspectives from practice, policy and research to highlight the current work and future prospects for leveraging energy justice for international development.

Speaker Biographies

Mr. Ashvin Dayal leads The Rockefeller Foundation’s global Power & Climate Initiative, aimed at scaling up energy access, and an inclusive energy transition that drives economic and social development. He currently also serves as the Interim Chief Executive Officer of The Global Energy Alliance, where he provides strategic oversight to operationalize and develop key partnerships to build a unique new global effort. Over more than a decade with the Foundation, Ashvin has overseen investments in urban climate change resilience and renewable energy, and led the establishment of Smart Power India, a dedicated platform to support the acceleration of last-mile electrification. Ashvin holds a bachelor’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and a master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Rebekah Shirley is the Director of Research, Data & Innovation at WRI Africa, where she works to create widespread public access to high-quality data and insights for mobilizing sustainable development solutions. Prior to joining WRI, Rebekah was the Chief of Research at Power for All, a global non-profit organization advancing universal energy access. Over her tenure Rebekah built a novel energy research dissemination engine that fills critical knowledge gaps for practitioners and decision-makers on implementing integrated utility energy services, unlocking agricultural value-addition, and creating livelihoods in the African context, receiving multiple awards for this work. Rebekah earned her PhD and MSc from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ms. Dana Harmon has 13 years of leadership and management experience in the energy and consumer products industries. As Executive Director of Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute (TEPRI), Ms. Harmon has overall strategic and operational responsibility for execution of TEPRI’s mission to collect actionable data that industry partners can utilize to mitigate the energy costs of low-income consumers across Texas. Ms. Harmon brings experience from two prior start-ups, an engineering background, and a broad skillset in project management, operations, marketing, business development, and technology commercialization. Ms. Harmon earned a B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Dr. Varun Rai is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where he directs the Energy Systems Transformation Research Group, and in the Mechanical Engineering department. His interdisciplinary research at the interface of energy systems, behavioral sciences, complex systems and public policy focuses on enabling a broad diffusion of sustainable energy technologies globally. Dr. Rai has published numerous journal articles, including in Applied Energy, Energy Policy, Energy Research & Social Science, Environmental Research Letters, Global Environmental Change, Nature Climate Change and PLOS ONE. Varun earned his MSc and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

Date and Time
Nov. 30, 2021, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Event tags
UT Energy Symposium