Stanford Data Science / Infoseminar
Winter 2015

Complex Coupled Networked Systems: Lessons from Coupled Electricity, Natural Gas and Information Networks

Arun Majumdar, Stanford University


Our modern economy overwhelmingly depends on the electricity network or the grid. The architecture of the grid owes its origins to Tesla, Edison and their industrial partners, and has remained largely unchanged since then.   Today, our system as a whole, including business models, markets and regulatory framework, is based on this Tesla-Edison technological paradigm. But this paradigm is now being challenged by a confluence of factors, namely, abundance of affordable natural gas, age of the physical assets of the grid, cyber-physical security, weather-related stresses, and rapidly reducing costs of renewable electricity and storage.  These are producing some unmistakable trends leading to resulting architectures that will produce coupling of three large networks – electricity, natural gas and information. How will these coupled networks behave in the future, i.e. are there emergent phenomena? Could we predict and prevent catastrophic failures? Could we optimize them to reduce cost for both consumers and businesses, and if so how? These are some fundamental questions that are being asked today, but we are far from answering them. For example, the coupling between natural gas and electricity networks is already producing dramatic fluctuations in prices with severe economic impact. This talk will discuss the changing landscape of the electricity infrastructure, the challenges that may arise from network coupling, and opportunities to address them through engineering research.


Arun Majumdar is the Jay Precourt Professor at Stanford University, where he serves on the faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and is a Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Prior to joining Stanford, he was the Vice President for Energy at Google, where he created several energy technology initiatives and advised the company on its broader energy strategy. He continues to be a consultant to Google on energy.

In October 2009, Dr. Arun Majumdar was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to become the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), where he served till June 2012. Between March 2011 and June 2012, Dr. Majumdar also served as the Acting Under Secretary of Energy, and a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy. He currently serves on the US Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board, the Council for the National Academy of Engineering and the Electric Power Research Institute, as well as the Science Board of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He is a member of the International Advisory Panel for Energy of the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry and the US delegation for the US-India Track II dialogue on climate change and energy. He was recently appointed by the State Department as a US Science Envoy with an emphasis on energy and innovation in Poland, the Baltics and neighboring region.

Prior to joining the Department of Energy, Dr. Majumdar was the Almy and Agnes Maynard Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. His research career includes the science and engineering of nanoscale materials and devices as well as large engineered systems.

Dr. Majumdar is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1985 and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989.