Skip to content
Rendered image of icons from left to right: sun, hydraulic equipment, water, rain drop, nuclear, wind turbine, smokestack

Welcome to Understand Energy

CEE 107A/207A/EarthSys 103 | 3-5 Units | Way-SI
Fall Quarter: MWF 1:30 - 3:00 PM
Spring Quarter: MWF 9:45 - 11:15 AM

CEE 107S/207S | 3 Units | Way-SI

Summer Quarter: 2x/week 110 min. each

Did you know that energy use is the number one contributor to climate change? Or how new technologies, policies, and behaviors – from rooftop solar to batteries to hydraulic fracturing – are changing the way we use energy? Take Understand Energy and improve your ability to think critically and make decisions around the energy resources that keep our showers hot and drinks cold. Build your energy knowledge! Energy touches everyone - all professions, all races, all people. Understanding the U.S. and global energy systems will give you the knowledge to address climate change and other environmental issues, personally and professionally, to help with justice, equity and human development challenges, and to participate in the energy industry through understanding the technology and markets.

Take the course and get the free course t-shirt!  Understand Energy has been taught for over 30 years - come join the Understand Energy family and connect with our amazing network of alumni. 

Everyone Can Benefit From This Class

Anyone with an interest in energy or environmental issues should take Understand Energy! There are no prerequisites for this course. Students with and without a technical background - undergrad and grad - are encouraged to enroll. The teaching team and your peers will be available to provide assistance on some of the more challenging aspects of the course via the online forum (Slack) and almost daily office hours. Both courses qualify for Way-SI.

In taking this course, students will not only understand the fundamentals of each energy resource -- including significance and potential, conversion processes and technologies, drivers and barriers, policy and regulatory environment, and social, economic, and environmental impacts -- students will also be able to put this in the context of the broader energy system and think critically about how and why society has chosen particular energy resources (oil, coal,natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, ocean, energy efficiency...). Students who take this course will:

  • Develop a greater awareness about the energy flows and systems that allow us to turn on the lights, have cold drinks, and take hot showers.
  • Think in terms of energy systems and grasp the complex interactions between energy resources and end uses, including the technological, scientific, policy, and economic considerations, and the private, social, and natural capital impacts along the entire energy resource life cycle.
  • Apply this knowledge to…
    • think critically about the role of energy resources within our broader society.
    • analyze policies and regulations and their social and evironmental impacts.
    • estimate, calculate, and synthesize energy information.
    • communicate about energy use and environmental impacts in meaningful ways.
    • be a change agent and innovate solutions that improve our energy use patterns.
    • know how YOU can make a difference, how YOU can contribute to sustainability, personally and professionally
  • Interact with and observe energy professionals on our incredible field trips
  • Have fun and remember the course as a great and challenging learning experience!

Please note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be an on-campus field trip during lecture time and virtual field trips in lieu of off-campus field trips for the Fall 2021 quarter.

“The best class I’ve taken at Stanford.  Loaded with information.  A big survey course.  Take it if you want to improve your understanding of anything related to energy resources.” - Student, Fall 2019

Fall and Spring Quarters: CEE 107A/207A/EarthSys 103

Understand Energy (4 units) includes 90 min lectures three times per week, assigned readings and videos, in-class discussions, weekly problem sets, midterm and final exams, one local field trip during regular class time, and two off-campus field trips (chosen by the student out of ~8 offered). This is our more in-depth Understand Energy offering.

For 5 Units, students additionally attend Workshop - a weekly 80-minute interactive discussion section that takes a deep dive into cross-cutting topics complementary to the Understand Energy lectures.

The 3 unit option in the fall or spring quarter requires instructor approval - please contact Diana Gragg (

Summer Quarter: CEE 107S/207S

Understand Energy: Essentials (3 units) includes weekly lectures (twice/week for 110 min each), assigned readings and videos, weekly problem sets, midterm and final exams (take-home), one local field trip, and one off-campus field trip. The essentials version does not go into as much technical depth as the fall course, but we still cover what you need to know to put energy systems in context and speak intelligently about energy resource-related issues.

As in the fall & spring quarter, for 4 Units, students additionally attend Workshop - a weekly 80-minute interactive discussion section that takes a deep dive into cross-cutting topics complementary to the Understand Energy: Essentials lectures.

We look forward to seeing you in class! Get Excited about Energy!

Diana Gragg, Kirsten Stasio, and Jane Woodward