Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Busting Energy Myths


“U.S. Renewable Energy Production Set to Outpace Coal in April.”

This is the headline of a recent U.S. News & World Report article. It was read by millions of people. Do you have a problem with this statement? You should. If you’re not sure why, then this course is for you. Our goal is to address and dispel myths about energy so you are better equipped to participate in the most important decisions of your generation, namely assessing and determining a path forward that best defines our global energy transformation strategies. To do that you need to be armed with a clear understanding of key concepts such as: energy [kinetic, potential, chemical, thermal, etc.], power, heat, renewable sources, efficiency, transmission, and life cycle analysis. Throughout this seminar, groups of four students are challenged with “energy myths” and their task is to deconstruct these myths (positively and negatively) and convince their classmates in brief oral presentations that they have indeed done so. Our emphasis is on critical and analytical thinking, problem solving and presentation skills as group members engage with others in class. This seminar is all about critical evaluation of tradeoffs. What are you willing to compromise on? Nuclear waste. Transport systems. Carbon footprint. Greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking. Rare earth mineral extraction and depletion. Fossil versus non-fossil fuels. Gasoline, diesel, and battery powered vehicles. Politics. Contrails. Dams. Noise. Bird deaths. Land use. Micro grids. Climate. Air and water pollution. This class is about wrapping your arms around these very tough issues and developing a rational strategy to quantify the benefits and drawbacks of various choices. If this appeals to you, then sign up.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Anthony Kovscek

"For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the interplay of energy, technology, and the environment. Slight imbalances between supply and demand of electricity, crude oil, and natural gas are responsible for large swings in price. During my 30 years working in energy, I have ventured into some of the most challenging areas: tars sands, hydraulically fractured wells, shale gas, carbon sequestration, and large-scale solar. My research is motivated by the desire to mitigate negative impacts of large-scale energy production while meeting the energy challenge, especially decarbonization. I teach courses that range from the fundamentals of renewable power to the thermodynamics of mixtures of hydrocarbons. I believe that students need to be equipped with facts and intellectual tools to make wise choices regarding energy. I have taught at Stanford since 1996. My degrees are in Chemical Engineering from the University of Washington and UC Berkeley."

Channing Robertson

"I began teaching at Stanford 50 years ago. I am the age of your grandparents. Hopefully that is a good thing. Over all those years I have taught thousands of students in the areas of chemical and biological engineering. My undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering from Berkeley and my PhD is in chemical engineering from Stanford. I live on the campus with my wife, Donna, who has worked in the Development Office for over 30 years. Our two kids grew up on campus. One is an ER physician and the other a national wine sales training manager. We all backpack and ski. I have a pilot’s license for land and sea planes. I commute on a bike I bought for $10 in 1957. My passion is ensuring that students develop the capability to define, address and solve complex problems that are important to improving the human condition."