Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Technology in the Greenhouse


The evidence that human activities are changing the climate is overwhelming. Energy use is woven throughout the fabric of modern societies, and energy systems are also a primary way that humans interact with the global Earth systems like climate. We know enough about the potential impacts of climate change to see that we need to transform the world’s energy systems to a much cleaner set of technologies with much lower greenhouse gas emissions. Economies that use energy in a clean, cost-effective way will be much more competitive in the future. The clean energy transition is now underway, with reductions in coal use and rapid growth in solar and wind deployment, but there is much more to do to limit the adverse impacts of climate change. This seminar explores technology options available to make the changes needed, in the developed and developing worlds. There is no shortage of energy available for our use. Instead, the challenge is to convert those energy resources into services like electricity and transportation, and that conversion requires technology, as well as policies and markets that enable innovation. The scale of the world’s energy systems is dauntingly large, and we will need a well-diversified set of options to meet the challenge. Wind, solar, nuclear, carbon capture and storage for fossil fuel use, modified agriculture, electric (and automated) vehicles, advanced air conditioning, and many other technology options exist. We will consider these technologies and ask what barriers will have to be addressed if they are to be deployed at a scale large enough to reduce the impact climate change. The format will be discussions of technologies and their potential with a project and student presentations toward the end of the quarter.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Franklin M. ("Lynn") Orr, Jr.

"I am a chemical engineer who has spent a whole career working in the Earth Sciences. In my own research, I work on how fluids flow in the rocks of the Earth’s crust, with applications to oil and gas recovery, geologic storage of CO2, and contaminant movement in the subsurface.  For the past 15 years, I’ve worked on energy research and development aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Here at Stanford, I helped found and lead the Global Climate and Energy Project, and then helped found the interdisciplinary Precourt Institute for Energy.  In 2014, I went to Washington, DC, to serve as Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the US Department of Energy. There, I was in charge of programs that work on the full range of energy challenges (energy efficiency and renewable energy, electricity delivery, fossil energy, and nuclear energy, as well as the Office of Science, which supports fundamental science research with many applications to energy technologies. That time in Washington and my previous Stanford experience have given me a broad perspective on the challenges and the many opportunities for clean energy for the future. I look forward to working with students to think together with them about how to create a clean energy future."