As a graduate student living in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Diana Hernandez was studying the health of families residing in substandard housing and how legal interventions might help.

But as she interviewed parents — mostly mothers — she discovered something pretty much all of them shared: It’s what social scientists call “energy insecurity,” or the inability to get basic energy needs met, whether it’s air conditioning on sultry summer days, or heat in winter, or lights throughout the year.

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