Connecting Homes on the Navajo Nation


An interdisciplinary team of four professors from the University of Utah are the technical lead, capacity builder and project managers for an initiative that will provide access to clean energy and broadband for 24 homes in the Comb Ridge-El Capitan area.

assistant professors Mingxi Liu, Jianli Chen and Mostafa Ardakani from the College of Engineering; and Associate Professor Shundana Yusaf of the College of Architecture + Planning partner with the Kayenta Chapter (first recipientt), New Sun Road, BoxPower and Native Renewables to develop the project awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy with $1,185,409 million, and with cost sharing of $1,621,892, for a joint budget of 2 $807,301.

In March, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs announced $9 million in funding for tribal communities strengthening energy security and resilience; and the project, titled “A Resilient Solar-Based Standalone Microgrid Solution (MICROGRID-KAYENTA)” and led by U researchers, was selected as one of the winners.

In April, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm and Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ01) visited the Kayenta Chapter of the Navajo Nation in Arizona to oversee the project site. During the visit, U researchers and the Kayenta Chapter co-hosted a meeting with the delegation and the Navajo Nation President, presenting a briefing on the project and touring two solar-powered homes .

Associate Professor Yusaf sees the project as a promising experiment in collaboration between humanities scholars and engineering researchers. Yusaf came to the project as an architectural designer and historian, committed to decolonizing architectural pedagogy; explore how to transform art and architecture into instruments of cultural resilience for the Diné, as opposed to assimilation into the Anglo-market architectural imagination.

“This is how we interpret the University of Utah’s commitment to community engagement,” Yusaf said. “The starting point for this project was to place our 4Rs: Respect, Responsibility, Response and Resilience as beacons in the work of reparation to occupy the native land with our homes and our institutions. My colleagues at the College of Engineering led me to demonstrate how this can be done through microgrids, broadband, and improving the living conditions of Diné residents. »


Currently, the community of Comb Ridge-El Capitan has 24 homes that have never had a stable power supply. The University of Utah team designed a centralized and decentralized hybrid microgrid architecture to be built using BoxPower’s MiniBoxes and solar containers that integrate solar power systems + battery + emergency generator. The project aims to install 14 MiniBoxes of 3.5 kW for individual households, two solar containers of 11 kW for clusters of 2 households and two solar containers of 18 kW for clusters of 3 households.

This micro-grid structure has a solar energy storage capacity of 110 kW and an energy storage capacity of 350 kWh. It can generate approximately 200 MWh of energy per year, benefiting up to 100 chapter members. The total duration of the project is two years. The first year is devoted to the design and installation of the microgrid, and the second year is devoted to testing and verification. The microgrid will be monitored and controlled using a Stellar OS platform and a control algorithm from the University of Utah. Broadband Internet access will be enabled via a satellite connection.

“The project will fundamentally change the way this community generates and uses electricity from coal-fired generation to 100% solar power. To rely on 100% self-contained external maintenance,” Assistant Professor Liu said. “From a technical perspective, it will create a one-of-a-kind pilot site that university researchers can leverage to collect power generation and usage data in remote areas, as well as test advanced approaches to control of microgrids.”

The initiative will provide 24/7 uninterrupted power, requiring minimal maintenance cost and minimal environmental footprint. Due to its centralized and decentralized hybrid design with modular components, the microgrid is scalable for other indigenous communities. Residents will also benefit from full Wi-Fi coverage, which will enable online education, remote health care and increased security.

“This is an invaluable opportunity for the community, the university and our students,” said Assistant Professor Chen. “Involved students will be able to enter into a community and apply what we have learned in the classroom for the benefit of people. A lesson in the importance of integrating humanity into any academic field.

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