A Guide to Engaging Underserved Communities in Commercial Energy Efficiency Field Validations

Kelsea Dombrovski, Maureen McIntyre, Fabian Jimenez

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Underserved communities in the United States often experience the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation but enjoy few of the benefits of technological and environmental advances. The White House has addressed this inequity through the Justice40 initiative, which requires 40% of the benefits of select federal investments to be directed to underserved communities (The White House, 2022). Clean energy and energy efficiency are two highlighted investment categories, so the U.S. Department of Energy will guide implementation of the Justice40 initiative by, among other things, decreasing energy burdens, increasing parity in clean energy technology access and adoption, and increasing energy resiliency. A strategy for reaching these goals is to evaluate and validate new energy efficiency technologies in commercial buildings in underserved communities, where buildings may be older, smaller, and have deferred maintenance due to historical underinvestment. This paper develops guidance for researchers pursuing field validations with underserved communities. Historical redlining and past negative experiences with government and large institutions may make residents wary of participating in these field validations. Researchers, therefore, may need to spend more time building relationships and matching technologies to buildings. In this paper, we analyzed technical reports to identify common field validation building characteristics and conducted semi-structured expert conversations to identify key stages and major themes of engaging underserved communities. Results indicate there may be flexibility in site selection and there are steps researchers can take to support collaboration with communities. Results also suggest benefits to both the community and energy efficiency research.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages32
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-85259


  • energy efficiency
  • energy equity
  • field validation
  • technology
  • underserved communities


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