Research Focus

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

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.


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.

Integrated Water Management

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.



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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BU-Columbia U-GEIDCO Partnership Research on the Global Sustainable Energy Transition

Heat-trapping gases are disrupting weather patterns and raising sea levels around the world, causing long-term damage to our economy. The impacts on human health and the ecosystems on which we all depend are already enormous — and will become much greater in the decades ahead unless we change course. The electric power system is at the core of any solution to global warming. Today power production is the largest single source of CO2 emissions globally. As the electric grid becomes steadily cleaner, electrification of transportation and heating can play a central role in reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases as well. This multi-year project is jointly conducted by Boston University, Columbia University, and Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO). Together these institutions are exploring barriers to expanding clean electricity systems and how to overcome them. One of the current key studies is on Electric Vehicle (EV) adoption and charging infrastructure across cities around the world. They will also evaluate the clean energy potentials of key regions, the technical attributes of transmission systems capable of delivering this potential and economics and governance issues crucial to progress in this area.

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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


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