Research

The Institute for Sustainable Energy focuses on these three research areas:

Decarbonization

The electric power industries of the world are shifting from centralized, fossil-based production to more distributed and entirely carbon-free networks. Along with colleagues in the Questrom School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, the Institute plays a global leadership role in this area.

Smart, Sustainable Cities

As the world’s population continues to urbanize, new methods of urban planning, infrastructure development and service delivery, mobility, and built environment energy use are essential. In collaboration with BU’s Initiative on Cities and the Center for Information & System Engineering’s Smart Cities project, we sponsor and promote work in this area.

Integrated Water System

The BU ISE team’s research focuses on approaches to overcome the environmental, legal, financial, and demographic barriers to sustainable water management, and to maintain affordability of water. We also identify opportunities for utilities to integrate One Water strategies into urban water management, including novel approaches to water ratemaking and emerging strategies for generating stable and robust revenue streams into the long-term future.

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Current Projects

Carbon Free Boston 

The City of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission and the City of Boston are preparing to revisit the City’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by the year 2050. The Commission has engaged the Institute to assist with scoping out the modeling and policy development needed for the updated study. We believe this work will lead to a state-of-the-art modeling approach that links policies, economics, and emissions more thoroughly than many urban climate plans. The project will be co-directed by Professor Cutler Cleveland of the BU Earth and Environment Department and ISE Director Fox-Penner with the assistance of Dr. Sanem Sergici from the Brattle Group and a team of BU faculty, post-docs, and others.

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Long-term Transportation Electricity Use : Estimates & Policy Observations

“Can the electric grid accommodate a future with autonomous electric vehicles? What are the GHG emission implications of this future? How should policy makers grapple with these new technologies?”

These are the questions posed by Boston University’s ISE director Peter Fox Penner and researchers Will Gorman and Jennifer Hatch in their new paper published in Energy Policy. The team found that the light-duty vehicle fleet will likely increase electricity demand by 570-1140 TWh. Based on historic power plant expansion, the researchers believe the U.S. grid should be able to adequately expand to meet this future demand even as autonomous vehicles begin to roam our streets. Furthermore, the researchers found that electrification combined with a carbon-free grid could dramatically reduce emissions, though their calculations suggest that even without significant grid decarbonization, the shift to EVs will still slightly reduce GHG emissions. The team advises that in the near term, the combination of vehicle electrification and grid decarbonization should remain the cornerstone of policy focused on GHG emission reduction in the transportation sector. In the long-term, however, policy should turn to alleviating concerns that result from autonomous vehicles’ potential to increase driving mileage, suburban sprawl, and road congestion.

Key Documents:

Read the paper

 

View the presentation

Team: Peter Fox-Penner, Jennie Hatch, Will Gorman


The Water Utility of the Future: Ensuring a Sustainable and Affordable Water Supply

Acknowledgement of:
Funding from Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation,
Partnership with San Antonio Water System, Austin Water

What are we doing?

Across the world, the risk and complexity surrounding water management practices are mounting, with pressures from urban densification, water scarcity and flooding, aging infrastructure, and management systems that do not reflect the true cost of water. In recent years water stakeholders have begun to consider fundamental changes to management practices that increase water use efficiency and enhance conservation of limited freshwater resources for people and the environment. Integrated urban water management approaches, such as One Water, emphasize the interconnectedness of water throughout the water cycle and focus on opportunities that arise from this holistic viewpoint. In order to meet the water needs of growing urban populations in rapidly developing cities, water utilities need to undertake long-term planning that accounts for the risk and uncertainty of droughts and flooding, while also ensuring that sufficient water reserves are maintained to refresh groundwater supplies and provide sensitive, critically important freshwater ecosystems with adequate flows.

Key Documents:

Integrated Urban Water Management

 

Water Resiliency

Team: Jacquie AshmoreKevin ZhengMargaret Cherne-HendrickVictor Marttin


Assessing opportunities for electrification in Haiti

What are we doing?

Some of the poorest economies of the world are beset by multiple challenges that are mutually reinforcing: low per capita incomes (poverty), low educational attainment, low access to electricity, preventing economic growth and educational attainment, poor nutrition, poor housing, poor human health, and environmental degradation.  All of these factors are highly present in Haiti, the country in the Western Hemisphere that is least developed on many of these socio-economic indicators of progress.

A BU ISE team is assessing how the promotion of electric cooking appliances may help accelerate the sustainable provision of electricity to rural villages that currently lack access to energy by making microgrids more financially viable, while also providing multiple environmental, human health, and household economic benefits by transitioning away from charcoal-based cooking.

Key Documents:

Assessment of Haiti's Electric Sector

Team: Paul McManus, Tess Kohanski, Richard Stuebi, Jennie Hatch



Completed Projects

RE-EVALUATING THE IMPLIED COST OF CO2 AVOIDED BY CLEAN ENERGY INVESTMENTS

Philip Q Hanser, Mariko Geronimo Aydin, C. Onur Aydin

Read the paper here

The authors present a graphical framework to evaluate the implied CO2 abatement costs that can be used by policymakers and resource planners to provide clarity on cost-effective policy design, and on the implications of planning decisions for meeting future de-carbonization goals. The framework would allow for comparison of alternative investments, while distinguishing the extent, type and timing of resources they would displace since those factors are system-specific and can substantially impact abatement costs.


ELECTRIC UTILITIES’ TRANSITION STRATEGIES

The Energy Foundation
Energy Foundation has contracted the Institute to prepare a series of briefings on four US electric utilities. The briefings, led by Peter Fox-Penner, take a deep-dive into each utility’s asset profile, organizational structure, investor profile, clean energy exposure and positioning, and operative market structures and footprint. After each briefing is prepared, the ISE and EF teams will meet with each utility. The briefings and subsequent meetings serve to advise and encourage US utilities to transition to cleaner, more sustainable business models.

View director’s comments


CLEAN ENERGY POLICY OPTIONS FOR MASSACHUSETTS

Barr Foundation Whitepaper
With contributions from ISE Director Peter Fox-Penner as well as former Massachusetts State officials David Cash and Ann Berwick, the Brattle Group recently released a whitepaper detailing clean energy policy options for the state of Massachusetts. The report, prepared for the Barr Foundation, provided state policymakers with a series of recommendations that will help meet greenhouse gas reduction goals and ensure electricity reliability while minimizing customer cost and risk. The recommendations include: developing a comprehensive energy planning process; allowing the flexibility that will enable new technologies to enter the market; and grounding the state’s clean energy policy in a diverse set of resources, including hydro, off- and on-shore wind, solar, energy efficiency, and storage. Many of the recommendations were enacted in the new Massachusetts energy bill (HR 4568), adopted July 31, 2016.

View project news post


US BULK POWER MARKETS: CHALLENGES & RECOMMENDATIONS

Department of Energy, Quadrennial Energy Review
Institute Director, Peter Fox-Penner, was chosen by the Department of Energy to write the second installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) of the United States. By engaging key stakeholders throughout the US power industry, a workshop and subsequent report examined the future of bulk power markets. The report ultimately concluded that despite a US bulk power market that is functioning reasonably well, especially considering its enormous complexity and diversity, these markets – in every section of the country – face very large challenges that call for national policy improvements, research, and technical assistance.

View the Quadrennial Energy Review: Second Installment