Biden Admin Gives ASU $15 Million To Create ‘Equitable Water And Energy Access’

February 5, 2024

By Corinne Murdock |

The Biden administration awarded Arizona State University (ASU) $15 million to lead a project tackling climate change in an equitable manner.

On Monday, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that ASU’s $15 million, two-year award was one of 10 inaugural Regional Innovation Engines (REIs) across 18 states: the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine (SWSIE). SWSIE has the specific goal of ensuring “equitable water and energy access,” per the recent White House briefing on the initiative, which characterized the southwest’s dry and hot climate as “extreme.”

ASU explained in a press release that it will lead the SWSIE using researchers from the University of Utah, University of Nevada Las Vegas, the Desert Research Institute, Water Research Foundation, SciTech Institute, and Maricopa Community Colleges.

SWSIE deputy CEO and School of Sustainability foundation professor Diane Pataki said that she chose Arizona, Utah, and Nevada because they had the potential for leading in progressive sustainability measures as three of the fastest-growing states in the country.

“We see those challenges as an opportunity to become the national leader in water security, renewable energy and carbon capture so this region can continue to thrive,” said Pataki.

Peter Schlosser, SWSIE principal investigator and ASU Global Futures Lab vice president and vice provost, said that the current climate conditions would result in “a planetary emergency” if left unaddressed. 

“They require immediate action, and the NSF Regional Innovation Engines award offers a new, transformative avenue to apply our holistic sustainability innovation approach to the Southwestern United States to keep this region on a path of economic growth,” said Schlosser.

In order to carry out the REIs in an equitable manner, the NSF and awardees arranged for workforce programs “designed specifically to be inclusive of underserved populations to build generational wealth in historically excluded communities.” The Department of Labor is assisting in this effort. 

This includes specialized education for certain K-12 students; exclusive career portals for certain jobseekers, which contain special offerings of access to education partners, certificate programs, and fast-tracked trainings; an exclusive certificate program offering exclusive entrepreneurial opportunities related to climate change initiatives; exclusive executive-level internships; and a special pipeline for certain workers to receive technical and university educations. 

SWSIE’s $15 million is the low end of the cost. All REIs may be renewed for up to a decade, with $160 million in funding available for each REI. 

Additionally, NSF reports that the $15 million in federal funding is matched nearly two to one in commitments from state and local governments, along with other federal agencies, philanthropy, and private industry. 

The city of Phoenix is serving as an SWSIE core partner, as well as the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Maricopa Community Colleges.

Other SWSIE core partners include Arizona Public Service, Arizona Technology Council, Arizona Municipal Water Users Authority, Salt River Project, and Starbucks.

In a press release on Tuesday, Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-03) and Greg Stanton (D-AZ-04), along with Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) said that the NSF grant also served as an economic booster and means of improving the state’s water supply.

The $150 million REI funding came from the CHIPS and Science Act. 

In addition to ASU, the other REIs are: Central Florida Semiconductor Innovation Engine, Wyoming Climate Resilience Engine, Great Lakes Water Innovation Engine, Louisiana Energy Transition Engine, North Carolina Textile Innovation, North Dakota Advanced Agriculture Technology Engine, Paso del Norte Defense and Aerospace Engine, Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine, and Upstate New York Energy Storage Engine. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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