Boston University and National Renewable Energy Laboratory Strengthen Partnership, Announce New Joint Appointments and Student Mentorships

July 6, 2023 — Boston University’s partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to encourage novel research collaborations in the clean energy transition, an effort spearheaded by the university’s Institute for Global Sustainability (IGS), is leading to important new relationships for advancing equity and justice.

To this end, IGS and NREL have recently formalized their first joint research appointments through a previously announced master agreement with Boston University, one of a select few university partners nationwide to offer these positions. The inaugural appointees, IGS’s Director Benjamin Sovacool and Executive Director Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, both bring considerable expertise in environmental justice issues to the global challenge of finding decarbonization pathways and providing energy security.

Dr. Sovacool, a professor in Boston University’s Department of Earth & Environment, is a widely published scholar on just transitions to a low-carbon economy. His focus on the political, institutional, and behavioral dynamics of technological change in energy systems underscores how critical equity and justice issues are to climate mitigation and sustainability planning. He explores topics ranging from population disruption and exploitation in mining energy transition metals to the causes of energy and transportation poverty.

Pearl-Martinez has an extensive background in advancing the interests of historically underrepresented groups in energy and climate policy. For over two decades, she led research projects and policy development on this topic internationally for United Nations agencies, USAID, and national governments in the Global South. More recently, she is focused on questions of energy justice and economic development around US industrial legacy cities and policy applications of research by IGS affiliated faculty in the US and internationally.

These appointments arrive at a critical time for the Biden administration’s ambitious climate goals and implementation of the Justice40 Initiative by federal entities such as the Department of Energy and NREL. Justice40 aims to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of investments to disadvantaged communities and inform equitable research and deployment in areas such as clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of clean water infrastructure.

In addition to these academic appointments, IGS is working closely with NREL leadership Doug Arent, Executive Director of Strategic Public-Private Partnerships, and Adam Warren, Director of the Accelerated Deployment and Decision Support Center, who are both Senior Fellows of the institute. In this role, they offer valuable research insights and essential connections between Boston University’s faculty and students and key stakeholders in government and industry.

Arent said, “Putting a more sustainable and just future at the forefront of our partnership with Boston University is critical to navigating the global challenges of climate change and energy sustainability, and finding the best ways forward to a clean energy economy.”

Student mentorship is another significant part of IGS and NREL’s work together. Currently, three of IGS’s graduate student summer fellows are doing independent research in climate and energy justice with the guidance of NREL staff. Claudia Diezmartínez (Earth & Environment) is exploring how cities finance climate justice, Vedika Srivastava (Computer Science) is building an energy justice tool for the City of Boston, and Xiaofei Qin (Earth & Environment) is studying the integration of environmental justice in policies and action to support urban heat island mitigation. These students are receiving feedback on their research, data, and methodologies in the context of NREL programming on climate and energy justice.

“This collaboration between IGS and NREL speaks to our shared commitment to just energy transitions and empowering the next generation of researchers and scientists to make meaningful contributions to climate and energy justice,” said Dr. Sovacool.

About the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability
The Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability (IGS) pioneers research to advance a sustainable and equitable future, convening faculty across the university’s diverse schools and colleges. Our focus on planetary and environmental health, climate governance, and energy systems is grounded in equity and justice, robust data science, and real-world impact. To learn more, visit

About the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory focusing on creative answers to today’s energy challenges. From breakthroughs in fundamental science to new clean technologies to integrated energy systems that power our lives, NREL researchers are transforming the way the nation and the world use energy. NREL is doing this with an eye toward energy justice and equity to make sure that all people benefit from the clean energy transition—in terms of jobs, environmental quality, policies, affordability, and investments.