Navajo Nation’s Electrical Grid Modernization With Renewable Energy Sources

EPA Grant Number: FP917293
Title: Navajo Nation’s Electrical Grid Modernization With Renewable Energy Sources
Investigators: Necefer, Len E
Institution: Arizona State University - Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Tribes and American Indian/Alaska Native/Pacific Islander Communities


The objective of the research is to analyze the impact Smart Grid technology and renewable energy sources will have on air quality of the Navajo Nation. The research will aim to structure an approach coinciding with Tribal Energy Resource Agreements (TERAs) and unique cultural considerations for implementing smart grid technology while meeting future demand from electrified vehicles.


The relationship between tribal, state and federal governments on issues relating to infrastructure and renewable energy projects needs to be further investigated. The relationships between tribes and states can change regionally. The Navajo Nation alone covers three states, meaning that unique relationships exist between each. An exhaustive literature review will be conducted on energy policies on Native American reservations. In addition, state and federal government energy policies have a significant influence on the reservation policy and will be included in the review. Unique cultural considerations exist aside from policy; for most Navajos culture is formed around the connection with the land. Future projects and policies must consider this reality in their formation, in addition to unique tribal government relationships. Benchmarking the results of renewable energy infrastructure projects in low-income and American Indian communities is a necessary step in this project. In addition, benchmarking existing renewable energy projects with respect to how electrical transmission is addressed is needed. The benchmark projects will not be solely on reservation land, instead throughout the United States. Modeling and analysis of the Navajo Nation’s grid and power generation capacity with renewable sources and electrified vehicles will be conducted to understand its capabilities. This will require analyzing the location of current and proposed projects and what transmission capacity would have to be added to accommodate them.

Expected Results:

The results from this research will provide more insight into the formation and factors that should be considered when American Indian tribes form energy policies. Tribal Energy Agreements have to consider the dynamic tribal-federal relationships that will provide a framework for future projects. The cultural realities that exist on the Navajo Nation would provide a common context that other federally recognized tribes could assess future energy policies. The results will provide state, federal and Tribal EPA agencies with a better understanding of how environmental protections can be implemented with increased renewable energy infrastructure projects. Analysis on the current state of the Navajo Nation’s infrastructure will demonstrate its limitations and capabilities. The analysis collected may show that the current state of infrastructure is sufficient for future renewable energy projects. This outcome still would allow for a better understanding of how the development policy led to the current state. Another possibility exists that certain areas of the reservation are more able to support renewable energy projects than others. This result could point towards developing regional solutions and policies. Future energy legislation and academic studies could use these results as a basis for how Tribal Energy projects have developed. Information regarding policy shortfalls in past legislation will dissuade certain approaches. Yet more importantly, policy successes that have contributed to the betterment of Indian Reservations can be used as a template for future projects. This research also will serve as guidance for the Navajo Nation government as it pursues renewable energy in the next century.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

The research will specifically aid in the implementation of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act protections of the Navajo Nation through reduced emissions from Coal power generation. Smart Grid and renewable energy resources will allow for future power generation on the Navajo Nation in place of expanded coal power.

Supplemental Keywords:

Smart Grid, renewable energy, Tribal Energy Resource Agreements, Clean Air Act, Navajo Nation, climate change, air pollution effects

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final