Meet the State, Local, and Tribal Program Team: Jordan Burns

March 2, 2022

In this blog, meet Jordan Burns, a risk and resilience researcher who serves as the subprogram lead for the Energy Transitions Initiative.

Our "Meet the Team" blog series highlights the staff within NREL's State, Local, and Tribal (SLT) Program.

A head and shoulders shot of Jordan Burns.

Jordan Burns is a risk and resilience researcher and the subprogram lead for NREL's support to the Department of Energy's Energy Transitions Initiative.

With broad support from the U.S. Department of Energy, NREL's SLT Program supports development of efficient, affordable, and resilient energy systems that address local energy challenges. See more SLT Program activities and blogs on its website.

What is your name and professional title?

I'm Jordan Burns, a risk and resilience researcher at NREL.

How long have you worked at NREL, and what roles/positions have you held?

I started at NREL in April 2021, so I've only held one position, but I've had the opportunity to work with many talented folks across the lab in the past 9 months.

Talk about your journey to get to NREL. Explain, in brief, your career path and your professional background.

I studied earth science and geography at the University of Arkansas in my hometown for both undergraduate and graduate school. After moving to Denver in 2015, I spent 5 years working on spatial risk and resilience projects for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Natural hazard resilience perfectly combines my interests in human and physical geography. Moving to NREL provided me an opportunity to work on broader resilience issues at an institution driven by a powerful scientific mission.

What is your main role and area of responsibility as the SLT subprogram lead for the Energy Transitions Initiative? What are the goals and benefits of your subprogram?

The Energy Transitions Initiative supports remote, island, and islanded communities seeking to increase the resilience of their energy systems. We provide technical assistance and resources for communities in all phases of an energy transition—from clean energy planning to project design to execution. In my role, I try to increase access to resilient energy by improving stakeholder engagement, streamlining project scoping, and communicating the benefits of resilient energy to broad audiences.

How does the work you support for SLT impact people?

SLT helps ensure federally funded projects generate tangible benefits for people. For example, the Energy Transitions Initiative is helping a utility provider analyze the feasibility of an electrified ferry fleet on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. This project will help the people of Ocracoke decrease fossil fuel reliance while maintaining access to critical evacuation routes during hurricane season. In Wainwright, Alaska, we are providing retrofit recommendations for a tribal-owned community center to ensure consistent, affordable operation of an important gathering space.

What has been your favorite project or research you have contributed to as a member of the SLT team and why?

I just started a project helping nine state energy offices prioritize thousands of critical facilities for future energy resilience investments. We are combining dozens of resilience metrics—disaster risk, social vulnerability, energy burden, mitigation investment—to help states select facilities in which energy investments will make the biggest difference for communities. I'm excited about this project because I love helping decision makers visualize trade-offs and communicate technical information to broad audiences.

A photo of Jordan on a motorized bicycle
Jordan enjoys traveling and experienced riding a scooter while in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jordan Burns.

What more would you like to add about your research or work at NREL?

My favorite thing about my work at NREL is applying research at the local level. Our projects help communities make tangible decisions based on research that could otherwise sit on a shelf.

Just for fun: Outside of your work, what else are you interested in? What are your hobbies or fascinations?

I enjoy cooking elaborate meals in my tiny kitchen, dressing up for any occasion, and I'm always planning my next trip. I love interior design, and I painted every surface of my apartment during the pandemic.

Just for fun: If you were not an NREL researcher, what would be your ultimate dream job?

I'd want to be a Hollywood costume designer or an art conservator. I'd love to pry myself free from the digital world and work with tangible objects all day!