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Michigan Central and Newlab announced today a partnership with DTE Energy, Walker-Miller Energy Services and others that will work together to advance energy equity, prepare Detroiters for green jobs, and build Detroit’s clean energy ecosystem. The effort will help test new technologies that could improve grid resilience and increase access to affordable energy while creating models that can be followed in other cities around the world.

Also uniting on the effort are Our Next Energy (ONE) and startups Liberas and Pearl. The initiative was announced during the Resilience and Equity in the Clean Energy Sector Summit (RECESS) at Newlab at Michigan Central. The summit, which runs through Wednesday, is organized by Walker-Miller Energy Services and gathers leaders from around the country who are shaping the future of clean energy and advancing sustainable and equitable change.

The energy equity initiative has five key goals, but could expand as new partners join the effort over time and more challenges are uncovered as progress is made:

  • Introduce projects that provide near- and long-term socio-economic benefits to Detroit residents and enable lower-income residents to participate equitably in the energy transition away from fossil-based sources to zero-carbon options.
  • Accelerate the development and adoption of technologies that can increase access to affordable clean energy and prepare the grid for electrification at scale.
  • Attract leading-edge startups to Detroit to develop next-generation energy and mobility solutions that drive positive economic growth in the region.
  • Accelerate workforce readiness and develop a strong local pipeline of talent for green-collar jobs.
  • Develop replicable blueprints for increasing access to new energy technologies in traditionally disadvantaged communities.

“This is not just about creating a greener, more eco-friendly way to power a city, it’s about creating a more economically equitable one,” said Carolina Pluszczynski, COO and head of innovation services for Michigan Central. “This is a generational opportunity. The transition to clean energy and electrified mobility necessitates the development of new technologies and new high-skilled jobs and deep collaboration. This partnership is how we get there, and we believe our efforts have the potential to pilot technology and solutions in a way that will have an impact far beyond the Detroit city limits.”

“At DTE, we’re working to accelerate investments that provide safe, clean and more reliable energy for our customers,” said Tony Tomczak, vice president of Electric Sales and Marketing at DTE Energy. “We understand how important it is for our customers to be a part of the energy transition, which is why we’re excited about this new partnership and the focus it has on developing new projects that will directly impact economic development, job growth and lead to affordable innovative energy technologies for our customers, the residents of Detroit and surrounding communities.”

Walker-Miller has long been a champion for energy equity and worked to bring awareness of some of the challenges faced by historically excluded communities, including residents and diverse-owned businesses and contractors.

“At Walker-Miller, one of our top priorities as a company is to catalyze the clean energy industry into a more inclusive space so that all communities can reap the benefits afforded by the massive transition to clean energy,” said Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services. “Through this partnership we continue to actualize this goal by providing increased access to opportunities for residents and diverse business owners to participate in the clean energy economy through job creation in new and emerging markets, business growth and expansion, and innovation. We are honored and excited to work with our esteemed partners here as we continue to build an equitable energy future.”

Newlab is building the tech startup ecosystem at Michigan Central and accelerating the development, scale and adoption of technologies across mobility, energy and materials.

“Through this initiative, Newlab will attract and invest in leading startups that are advancing an equitable energy transition and developing technology that can unlock electrification at scale,” said Liz Keen, chief business officer at Newlab. “We are excited to collaborate with this group of partners to drive tangible action that advances energy equity and technology adoption.”

The consortium will explore ways to address energy equity with opportunities ranging from community solar to potential deployments of Michigan-based Our Next Energy’s energy storage systems to improve grid resiliency. Software developer Liberas will further develop its relationship with DTE, helping safely and efficiently manage distributed energy resources at Michigan Central and the surrounding community.

Google, a founding partner of Michigan Central, also will help amplify the energy equity initiative, and is already working with Michigan Central and Newlab on a series of pilots focused on advancing energy equity and lowering barriers to EV adoption. Google will continue to partner on Michigan Central innovation projects, helping with data analysis, and bringing Google Cloud infrastructure, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.

The Equity in Electrification Fund

One of the consortium’s first projects will focus on piloting innovative capital access programs that increase access to energy-efficiency upgrades for low-income families who often lack the ability to cover the upfront cost of the equipment.

Michigan Central and Newlab, with support from Michigan Central’s founding partners and the State of Michigan, have seeded the Equity in Electrification Fund (EIE), which will provide free home assessment to more than 400 income-qualified residents in Corktown and Southwest Detroit. The assessments will identify households that could reduce their monthly utility bills by installing more efficient-energy systems that leverage new technology, such as air source heat pumps. EIE will be managed by Pearl, a consortium member and seed-stage startup focused on making it easier for families to transition to the latest heating and cooling technology.

“Our goal at Pearl is to reduce energy burden and greenhouse gas emissions, by making it easier and more affordable for homeowners to buy more efficient systems to heat and cool their homes,” said the startup’s co-founder Evan Anderson. “The Equity in Electrification Fund – and rebates that the State of Michigan will implement next year – will go a long way toward making electrification more affordable. We are thrilled to be partnering with Michigan Central and Newlab on this program. Detroit is the right place to be working on this critically important problem, and this consortium is the right group to be working on solving it.”

Why it’s so important in Detroit

Projects like the Equity in Electrification Fund are particularly critical in Detroit where residents have two-and-a-half times the energy burden of the national average, and 1 in 4 households have an energy burden that is five times the national average, according to data from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Moreover, more than 15 percent of the city’s residents pay more on average for energy compared to the rest of the country. This is in part because of Detroit’s older housing stock but also the city’s lower median income, which means many residents can’t afford to weatherize their homes or upgrade to more energy-efficient technology.

Furthermore, almost half the city’s residents rent their homes, which makes them ineligible for most federal and state programs that are meant to stimulate the adoption of energy-efficient tech and electrification, or their landlords won’t make the investments in the property.

As the consortium continues to work together and add new members, the ways it will help will grow.

“This type of convening of partners to solve challenges is what Michigan Central is all about,” said Michigan Central CEO Joshua Sirefman. “Problems like energy inequity are complex and widespread, and no one company or organization will be able to solve them alone. Collaboration across different stakeholders and multiple sectors unites startups, utilities, tech companies and others to see what’s possible, generate new ideas and business models, and work together toward real solutions. By working together, we can move beyond just talking about problems to actually doing something about them.”