Electricity for the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation: Lighting The Way Out of An Energy Crisis

The Navajo Nation is a Native American reservation that is made up of roughly 180,000 people living in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The reservation is 27,413 square miles, so it’s population density is only about 6.6 people per square mile. Also, 42.9% of the residents live below the poverty level making less than $8350 per year. The price to implement a new power line is about $27,000, which simply can not be paid by the people of this community. As a result, roughly 37.5% of households do not have access to electricity. Instead, they use kerosene, diesel engines, and wood fires to provide light, cook, and heat their homes. They are largely aware of the health and environmental consequences of this, but see no other option as this is the only lifestyle they can afford.
Final PresentationPSC 320 Electricity for the Navajo.pdf

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Map of the Navajo Nation Reservation, between New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah


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A woman makes a navajo rug by solar powered light.
A woman makes a navajo rug by solar powered light.

A mud home, called a hogan, is now able to utilize solar powered light
A mud home, called a hogan, is now able to utilize solar powered light

These dwellings, called hogans, are traditional Navajo structures. Traditionally, they are made of a collection of wooden poles surrounded by rock or scrap wood packed with mud. The hogans that are still used today, are made out of log and covered in mud (7). Hogans are built with the doorway facing east, so the morning sun can enter to warm them. They are built to accommodate a variety of temperatures as the Navajo Nation has very cold winters and very hot summers (8).

Elephant and Eagle Energy


Elephant Energy is a non-profit based in the U.S. that seeks to improve the quality of life in developing countries in Africa. Their primary work is in Namibia, working with rural villages to give access to and implement sustainable energy technologies. When Elephant Energy began working with the Navajo Indian Reservations in 2010, they teamed with the University of Colorado and rebranded as Eagle Energy. One of the largest problems the Navajo face is the lack of access to electricity. Today, Eagle Energy works to increase the availability of solar powered lights to the Navajo.

For more information please check out the Elephant Energy Report

Project Plan

Phase I
Locate Communities and Determine Need
Phase II
Survey Households on General Electricity Use and Distribute Solar Lights
Phase III
Follow Up Trip and Survey on Solar Light Use

Eagle Energy volunteers work to implement solar panels on a home.
Eagle Energy volunteers work to implement solar panels on a home.

Kerosene Emissions Calculation

Economy Cost:

The Navajo spend about $40 on kerosene lamps per home per month for lighting. In other low-income communities like ones in Africa, kerosene can constitute for 10-25% of their monthly budget.1 Kerosene costs $10 for two gallons on Amazon. So the average Navajo household probably uses about 2 gallons a week, 8 gallons a month, and 96 gallons a year. The lack of light output reduces the ability to work at night and that limits opportunities of economic growth.

Environmental Cost:

7%-9% of the burned kerosene is released as black carbon.1 The rest is CO2. Black carbon is essentially very fine soot. It is relatively short lived, but absorbs lots of solar radiation when in the atmosphere and is among the strongest greenhouse gasses. There are 9.75 kg of CO2 released per gallon of kerosene burned.2 The yearly emission of black carbon from kerosene lamps totals conservatively to 270,000 tons globally. This equates to the production of nearly 240,000,000 tons of CO2. At the source regions, the warming impact from the emissions reaches 0.5 watts per square meter.1

Health Cost:

Use of kerosene lamps carries with it both sickness and risk related costs. Use contributes to premature mortality and climate change. Specifically, the emissions can impair lung function and increase the risk for respiratory disease, cancer, eye problems, and infectious disease, including tuberculosis.1 Additionally, kerosene lamps can be dangerous to operate due to the fire and burn risk.

Kerosene has a mass of about 3 kg per gallon. The oxygen input during this chemical reaction accounts for the increased mass.

So, (3kg / gallon) x (96 gallons per year average) = 288 kg of kerosene per household per year

Inputs from above:

  • The average Navajo household uses about 96 gallons (288 kg) of kerosene per year
  • 7% – 9% of kerosene is emitted as black carbon when burned
  • 9.75 kg of carbon dioxide emitted per gallon of kerosene
(288 kg kerosene) x (7% to 9% of kerosene released as black carbon) = 20 to 26 kg of black carbon per household per year
(96 gallons kerosene) x (9.75 kg CO2 emitted / gallon of kerosene) = 936 kg of CO2 emitted per household per year

Pros and Cons of Solar Lighting

Eagle Energies’ solar lights mean decreased monthly expenses for residents. Eagle Energies currently distribute six types of solar lighting technologies (D.Light Kiran, Sun King Lantern, ToughStuff solar panel and light, Nokero solar light bulb, and BOGO light), all of which cost between $25 and $35. They also incur no additional monthly costs, except a $5 cost every couple years to replace the rechargeable batteries (3). This is negligible when compared to the constant expense of refilling Kerosene fuel canisters. The light available from solar lights is brighter than that from Kerosene lights, allowing for a higher quality light to do work by after dark, allowing for more productive hours. This, coupled with the lower cost of solar lights, allows for people to work longer hours (3). Solar lighting also reduces indoor air pollution which benefits health by reducing the long-term health risks of exposing oneself to the particulate matter given off by Kerosene lamps (3). Solar technology also has the environmental benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing the need for Kerosene lamps (3).

The major problem with this energy solution is that it doesn’t solve the whole problem. The fact of the matter is, 18,000 of 48,000 houses in the Navajo Nation are without electricity (3). While improving the quality of life of these 18,000 houses by offering them an affordable solution for lighting is important, it doesn’t address the problems that a lack of refrigeration or access to technology that allows one to be apart of modern society creates. It is a partial solution.

The more complete solution will have to provide these 18,000 homes with electricity, whether that be from the Grid, or from off-grid technology. Because it costs so much to extend power lines to these homes, the NTUA (Navajo Tribal Utility Authority) offers full-scale residential PV systems as well as a leasing program for two-kilowatt PV systems (3). Both of these options are too expensive for most households and aren’t being widely utilized. Despite the current lack of PV systems, the Navajo Nation will most certainly be using solar energy more widely in the future. According to a 2016 study, the Navajo Nation has 100 times the solar power production potential of the current installed solar capacity of California (4). The NTUA is in the process of building its first utility-scale solar plant (5), a project that is likely supposed to offset the effects of closing the coal-fired plant in the Navajo Nation (6).


  1. “Black Carbon Emissions from Kerosene Lamps: Potential for a New CCAC Initiative.” (2013): catf.us/. Clean Air Task Force, Nov. 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2017. <http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/201311-Black%20carbon%20and%20kerosene%20lamps_BRIEF.pdf>.
  2. “Carbon Dioxide Emissions Coefficients.” Environment – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. <https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/co2_vol_mass.cfm>.
  3. “Navajo Solar Light Project: Summary and Operational Report.” Published 2010. Accessed 17 March, 2017. <Elephant Energy Navajo Solar Light Project 2010 Report>
  4. “Off-Grid Solar-Storage Program Just Scratches the Surface of Navajo Nation Sustainable Energy Potential.” Distributed Energy Resources. Microgrid Media. February 7th, 2017. <http://microgridmedia.com/off-grid-solar-storage-program-just-scratches-surface-navajo-nation-sustainable-energy-potential/>.
  5. “Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Moves Forward with First Utility-Scale Solar Plant.” Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. U.S. Department of Energy. January 14th, 2016. <https://energy.gov/indianenergy/articles/navajo-tribal-utility-authority-moves-forward-first-utility-scale-solar-plant>.
  6. “Navajo Workers at Coal-Fired Plant Brace for it’s Closing.” NPR. March 1, 2017. <http://www.npr.org/2017/03/01/517031278/navajo-workers-at-coal-fired-power-plant-brace-for-its-closing>.
  7. “Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region.” Crow Canyon Archeological Center. 2014. <https://www.crowcanyon.org/EducationProducts/peoples_mesa_verde/today_navajo.asp>.
  8. “Climate and Biota of the Navajo Nation.” Impacts of Resource Development on Native American Lands. Science Education Resource Center at Carlton College. March 18th, 2017. <http://serc.carleton.edu/research_education/nativelands/navajo/climateandbiota.html>.


Camille La Cour I’m a fifth year Architecture major and Sustainable Environments minor originally from Los Angeles. My interests going forward with my career are sustainable land development and efficient construction practices. Outside class I enjoy reggae and R&B concerts.

Eric Ortiz I’m a 3rd year transfer student from San Jose, CA studying Mathematics. Looking forward, my career interests involve lots of computer science and statistics. In my free time, I enjoy all things outdoors.

Owen Staveland I’m a second year Physics major. I’m 19 and I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. I have no idea where this Physics degree will take me, but the subject really interests me. In my spare time I like to play sports, guitar, and banjo.

Maya Neville-Segura I’m a third year Political Science major and Environmental Studies minor. I grew up in a small town east of Sacramento. I’m not entirely certain of what I want to do with my degree, but I plan on joining the Peace Corps after graduation. In my free time, I spend time outdoors.

Say something about these dwellings. What are they made of? Energy uses? What’s the temperature outside?
This is pretty crazy. For $200 per year that they spend on kerosene, they could buy a very nice PV-battery-LED solar lighting fixture. Please price of few of these out. What kind of systems is the Colorado group implementing?