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One of the aim of our newsletter is to connect the members of our vibrant community. Therefore, in each issue, we introduce a member of the community who answers to some general questions and tells about his/her research. Want to be interviewed for our next newsletter? Let us know!

Steph Johnson Zawadzki
PhD year: 3rd
Nationality: American
PhD topic: Promoting Sustainable End-user Engagement with Energy Systems Integration (ESI)

Hobbies: I’m an amateur crochet artist, so I spend way too much time thinking about yarn. I also like to cook, spend time with my cats, watch “let’s plays” on YouTube, and play games with friends.

Why energy? Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated by politics. The more engaged I got with environmental issues, like climate change, the more frustrated I got with the political discourse around the things I care most about (especially with so much emphasis on the financial aspects of the energy transition). As a psychologist, we know political and social contexts can impact people’s willingness to engage with the energy transition in many ways – from changing their own energy-use behaviors to supporting climate-friendly policies. At the same time, the way everyday people think about and use energy is quite different than the way energy is discussed in the media and politics. I wanted to know more about how, when, and why everyday people are willing to change their energy use to help the environment.

Core concept of Steph’s research: Integrated energy systems may require end-users to change their energy use to better match demand with supply. Some of the ways people will likely need to be more sustainable their energy use can be seen as somewhat restrictive (e.g., keeping your house a bit colder in the winter, taking shorter showers, eating less meat, etc.). Some public figures suggest that these restrictive behaviors will negatively impact people’s wellbeing and so, we shouldn’t transition to more climate-friendly energy systems. However, there is a growing body of research that shows acting pro-environmentally might actually enhance people’s wellbeing and make them feel happier. My research examines when and how using energy smarter can make people happier – because if people anticipate feeling happier after acting pro-environmentally, they may be more willing to participate in the broader energy transition.

I also work with technical specialists from the ENTEG and discreet technology and production automation research group to introduce and integrate novel social incentives (like end-user happiness) into control algorithms for integrated energy systems. There are many things that shape when, how, and why people use energy. So, we are working together to more accurately represent and model end-user behavior in ESI control frameworks.

 What do you like about the energy community of young researchers? I just think it’s a great idea overall. Energy is inherently an interdisciplinary topic with problems that require solutions that go beyond any one discipline. But interdisciplinary work is tricky – it can be hard for us to meet, much less find areas of clear overlap and be able to communicate about our ideas. This community helps give us an opportunity to build those connections, start finding a common language, and identify areas of common interest so we can hit the ground running.