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Jennie Stephens, Ph.D. - Global Resilience Institute. Boston, MA, US

Jennie Stephens, Ph.D. Jennie Stephens, Ph.D.

Director for Strategic Research Collaborations, Global Resilience Institute | Director, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs, Northeastern University


Dr. Stephens’ is an expert in the social and political aspects of the renewable energy transition and climate change.







Jennie Stephens: Energy Evolution or Revolution Redistributing Power: Energy Democracy, Renewables & Community Resilience




Jennie Stephens is the Director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. She is also the Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy and the Director for Strategic Research Collaborations at Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute. Her research, teaching, and community engagement focus on strengthening climate and energy resilience, social and political aspects of the renewable energy transition, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, energy democracy, gender in energy and climate, and climate and energy justice. Her unique transdisciplinary approach integrates innovations in social science with science and engineering to promote social justice, reducing inequalities and redistributing power (electric power, economic power and political power). Among her multiple projects, she explores institutional and cultural innovation in the energy sector, including gender diversity, cooperative ownership, and technological optimism. Professor Stephens received a 2017 Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences, she is a 2015-2016 Leopold Leadership fellow, and her book Smart Grid (R)Evolution: Electric Power Struggles (Cambridge University Press, 2015) explores social and cultural debates about energy system change (co-authored with Wilson & Peterson). Before Northeastern, Professor Stephens was on the faculty at the University of Vermont (2014-2016) and Clark University (2005-2014). She earned her PhD at Caltech in environmental science & engineering and her BA at Harvard in environmental science & public policy.

Areas of Expertise (6)

Environmental Policy Renewable Energy Climate Change Sustainability Enviromental Science Sustainable Development

Accomplishments (4)

Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship

National Academy of Sciences, 2017

Leopold Leadership Fellowship,

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, 2015-2016

Faculty Community Engagement Award

Colleges of Worcester Consortium. March, 2013

Excellence in Teaching Award, Department of International Development Community and Environment

Clark University, May 2011

Education (2)

California Institute of Technology: Ph.D., Environmental Science and Engineering 2002

Harvard University: B.A., Environmental Science and Public Policy 1997

Media Appearances (5)

Risks of manipulating the global thermostat



There are several problems with this approach, explained Northeastern’s Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy and associate director for strategic research collaborations at the Global Resilience Institute. Stephens recently co-wrote a paper on the topic with Peter Frumhoff, chief climate scientist and director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists...

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New seed-grant program supports interdisciplinary research to bolster nation's resilience



Changing that are Brooke Foucault Welles, assistant professor of communication studies in the College of Arts, Media and Design; Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and associate director for strategic research collaborations at the Global Resilience Institute; and Suzanna Walters, professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“What’s interesting about this project is that it relates to so many different challenges in society,” Stephens said. “Consider so many difficult issues—from climate change to drunk driving, from gun control to politics—and there is a network of women who have come together to respond.”...

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Should Governments Require Utilities to Make the Electric Grid More Stormproof?

The Wall Street Journal  


Jennie C. Stephens, the dean’s professor of sustainability science and policy at Northeastern University and associate director of Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute, argues for greater regulation to strengthen the grid. Making the case for other approaches is Paul Stockton, managing director of the economic and security advisory firm Sonecon LLC and former assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affair

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International leaders highlight Global Resilience Institute's vital role



Resilience applies to risks other than sudden incidents like hurricanes, however. Jennie Stephens, the institute’s associate director of strategic research collaborations, said that the institute can help prepare for chronic stresses such as unequal concentrations of wealth and power or gradual climate change.

“Universities have a unique place in society; they have the responsibility to think long term,” said Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs...

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New professor studies energy in the emerging interdisciplinary field of sustainability science



Jennie Stephens says it’s clear that the world is transitioning away from fossil fuels toward renewable-based systems for the majority of our energy needs. How long will this transition take? No one knows, but in the U.S., renewable energy power capacity is growing much faster than forecasts in years past have predicted...

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Articles (5)

Political power and renewable energy futures: A critical review Energy Research & Social Science

Burke, M. and JC Stephens


Inspired by the energy democracy movement, this conceptual review critically explores relationships between concentrated or distributed renewable energy and political power. Advocates assert that because the renewable energy transition is fundamentally a political struggle, efforts to shift from fossil fuels and decarbonize societies will not prove effective without confronting and destabilizing dominant systems of energy power. The objectives of this paper include: 1) theorizing and exploring the relationships between renewable energy and political power, 2) critically assessing tensions associated with an energy democracy agenda, and 3) drawing out the implications for democratizing renewable energy development in practice. Distributed energy-politics posits that distributed energy sources and technologies enable and organize distributed political power and vice versa. Efforts are underway to find ways to re-organize distributed energy flows into aggregated and concentrated stocks of energy and other forms of political power. More democratic renewable energy futures may benefit from strengthening democratic practices and outcomes, extending democratization of energy systems across all components, stages and end uses, and sharpening positions relative to dominant pressures of capitalism and market ideology, the ideology of unlimited growth, and the modernist/industrialist agenda. Renewable energy systems offer a possibility but not a certainty for more democratic energy futures.

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Energy Democracy: Goals and Policy Instruments for Sociotechnical Transitions Energy Research & Social Science

Burke, M. and J. C. Stephens


Energy democracy is an emergent social movement advancing renewable energy transitions by resisting the fossil-fuel-dominant energy agenda while reclaiming and democratically restructuring energy regimes. By integrating technological change with the potential for socioeconomic and political change, the movement links social justice and equity with energy innovation. Through a policy mix lens, this research examines the energy democracy agenda in the United States to understand how and to what extent the mix of policy instruments currently proposed among energy democracy advocates corresponds to the overarching goals of the movement. This assessment compares 22 policy instruments to 26 intended outcomes for energy democracy. The mix of policy instruments holds potential for advancing renewable energy transitions based on the combined goals of resist-reclaim-restructure, although current policies relate unevenly across the set of intended outcomes. Bolstering the energy democracy agenda will likely require developing new policies, strengthening existing policies, and integrating efforts to simultaneously resist dominant energy systems while also supporting their democratic and inclusive replacement. This research increases the visibility of the energy democracy movement and clarifies and assesses the core claims and policy instruments advanced by its advocates, contributing to policy design for renewable energy transitions and energy democracy.

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Framing of customer engagement opportunities and renewable energy integration by electric utility representativesy Representatives Utilities Policy

D Kopin, EJ Wilson, TR Peterson


Distributed and renewable energy technologies are changing the electricity sector and altering traditional relationships between electric utilities and their customers. This analysis involving focus groups with fourteen electric utilities in seven U.S. states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Vermont) demonstrates divergence in framing among utility representatives in terms of how they characterize customer engagement opportunities and renewable energy integration. This research is among the first qualitative studies comparing utility representatives’ discourse across the United States. Utilities in Texas and Vermont are particularly divergent especially in their framing of customer engagement opportunities during this time of energy transition.

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Social dimensions of smart grid: Regional analysis in Canada and the United States Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

Meadowcroft, J., JC Stephens, EJ Wilson, IH Rowlands


This special issue of Sustainable and Renewable Energy Reviews is focused on the social and policy dimensions of smart grids, an emerging set of technologies and practices which have the potential to transform dramatically electricity systems around the world. The six related articles explore social and political dynamics associated with smart grid deployment in the United States of America (USA) and Canada. Aspects examined in this special issue include the evolution of smart grid policy in Ontario, media coverage of smart grid experiences in Canada and smart grid approaches being taken in Québec. Other aspects covered include an analysis of smart grid systems planning post-Superstorm Sandy (that hit the Northeastern coast of the USA in 2012), the environmental framing of socio-political acceptance of the smart grid in British Columbia, and news coverage of the smart grid in the USA and Canada. These articles were supported by collaborative research from the National Science Foundation in the USA and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada which involved three expert workshops held in Canada in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The six articles were accepted after a vigorous review process overseen by the guest editors of this special issue. The contents are in keeping with the aims and scope of the journal which is to bring together under one roof the current advances in the ever broadening field of renewable and sustainable energy.

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lectric (dis) Connections: Comparative review of Smart Grid news coverage in the United States and Canada Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews

EJ Wilson, R Langheim, R Reiber, TR Peterson


The term smart grid (SG) has been widely used in both the United States (U.S.) and Canada to represent multiple visions and configurations of electricity system change. In both countries policies, programs, and initiatives have emerged to promote technological and social changes associated with SG, and different patterns of SG implementation and governance are apparent at local, regional, and national levels. This paper reports on a comparative analysis of SG media content in nationally-circulating newspapers in the U.S. and Canada to explore patterns of SG conversations in the two countries. Media reporting about SG provides a valuable lens that reflects public discourse and also contributes to setting the public agenda by shaping public opinion and framing key issues. Despite similarities in terms of policy, program design, and SG deployment strategies, several prominent differences between the two countries emerge in public conversations. Firstly, Canadian SG newspaper content focuses more on implementation and describing people's experiences with smart meters, while the U.S. content focuses more on commercial opportunities with more reference to private sector actors and various technological components beyond smart meters. Secondly, although media coverage in both countries frequently highlights technological and economic benefits of SG, positive SG framing is more frequent in the U.S. newspapers than in the Canadian ones. Negative SG portrayals, including cultural, political and health and safety risks, are more frequently mentioned in the Canadian newspapers. These differing SG framings could be due to national level cultural differences. In the U.S, considered to be more of an individualistic society, there is more emphasis on business opportunities, being entrepreneurial, and more private sector involvement in the electricity sector. By contrast, in Canada, public authorities, more prominent in the electricity market than in the U.S., play a key role in smart grid deployment. Furthermore, in Canada, considered to have more social support structures for individuals and communities, there was more emphasis on the experiences of people. This suggests that cultural differences at the national level be a further contextual lens helpful to policy makers and technology proponents as they embark upon energy system change initiatives.

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