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ERE Seminar: Ken Caldeira, PhD - Explorations with simple energy system models

September 28, 2020 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm
Zoom Meeting (see Event Details for login info)

Ken Caldeira, PhD 

TITLEExplorations with simple energy system models: What change in assumptions would alter our conclusions?

ABSTRACTFor more than half a century, many smart and thoughtful people schooled in the subtleties of energy system science and engineering have developed comprehensive energy system models that accurately reflect many nuanced properties of energy systems. I am a scientist schooled in geochemistry and climate science collaborating with a group of other physical scientists doing a series of studies that could be done by graduate students taking a first course in modeling and optimization. Why should I imagine that anything I am doing has any value or utility whatsoever? Isn’t this just another example of experts in one discipline participating as amateurs in a discipline about which they are largely ignorant?

To this I say, “Guilty as charged!”

We have been fortunate enough to have philanthropic support which has given us the freedom to try to address questions of interest to people making public, private, or philanthropic investments in energy systems and energy system R&D. We try to address these questions in as simple and transparent a framework as possible, so that our assumptions can be easily enumerated and the logical implications of these assumptions cleanly determined. Rather than aiming for numerical accuracy or fidelity to real world systems, we ask ourselves “What change in assumptions would lead to a different qualitative conclusion?”

I will present results from a few recent studies and discuss both the development and reception of these studies.

BIOKen Caldeira is a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology (Emeritus) and Professor (by courtesy) in the Stanford University Department of Earth System Science. Professor Caldeira has a wide-spectrum approach to analyzing the world’s climate systems. Recently, he has been focusing on energy system modeling. He studies the global carbon cycle; marine biogeochemistry and chemical oceanography, including ocean acidification and the atmosphere/ocean carbon cycle; land-cover and climate change; the long-term evolution of climate and geochemical cycles; and energy technology. He also holds the position of Senior Advisor (Climate Science) at Gates Ventures LLC. Caldeira received his B.A. from Rutgers College and both his M.S. (1988) and Ph.D. (1991) in atmospheric sciences from New York University. 

Recent work related to this talk:

*If you are a Stanford Affiliate outside the Energy Resources Engineering (ERE) department and would like to attend, please contact Emily Gwynn ( for the Zoom Meeting link and password.

**If you are in the Energy Resources Engineering (ERE) department, you will receive an announcement from Emily Gwynn ( with the Zoom Meeting link and password.

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