Course Syllabus


Urbanization has been associated with increasing energy use and related GHG emissions and climate vulnerabilities. Yet, urban energy systems have almost been a taken-for-granted infrastructure system, outside the realm of urban planning.  Due to climate change as well as threats of “peak energy use” however, these systems are coming under increasingly intense scrutiny.  Understanding and planning for urban energy may be one of the most important tasks for planners in the future.  This class explores urban energy systems, their components and related planning issues.   

Course description and learning objectives

This class introduces concepts related to planning for urban energy systems.  This coming semester we will read a series of books and articles that describe the elements and dynamics of urban energy systems, the climate impacts of these systems and related climate vulnerabilities.  We will examine the electric grid, the relationship between development and energy, primary energy supply, end uses and policies at multiple scales.  Throughout the semester we will also broach issue of climate change, whether they are related to greenhouse gas emissions and reducing such emissions (low-carbon planning) or identifying and addressing urban climate vulnerabilities (heat and higher demand for cooling, storm surge and infrastructure vulnerability, etc.).     

The learning objectives for the course include:

  • Identification of the general components of energy systems
  • Identification of the urban aspects of energy systems
  • Explanation of shifts in urban energy planning and policy over the last two decades
  • Synthesis and prediction of major future challenges for urban energy systems

Course methods

During the semester we will focus on several texts and a number of articles.  For each class, reading requirements are provided in the syllabus and posted in CourseWorks.  During the beginning of the semester the course is run a lecture, but quickly moves into seminar format.  The seminars are run by students and all will be expected to contribute and/or present thoughts, information and experiences.  Presentations and participation are a major contribution to the success of the class.

Student evaluations

Evaluations are based upon:

  • Class attendance and participation. Participation in class discussion is vital for learning. As mentioned, a significant portion of class time is devoted to discussion of readings and class lectures;
  • The completion of three further assignments.
    1. First students are required to run a seminar and perhaps more than one, depending on the size of the class. These student seminars can be given by groups of participants. 
    2. Second, students will prepare a paper based upon, or related to any topic directly covered during the seminar (planning for urban energy systems). The paper is due at the end of the semester.  The final paper should be approximately 2500-4000 words including bibliography, tables and charts.  It could include a case study of an individual city and energy sector or overview of a particularly important issue for cities at the national, regional or global scales. 
    3. Finally, students will present a group project on an urban energy challenge of a city of their choice (New York City excluded). The presentation will include an explanation of the current trends and conditions of the energy issue, the challenge the city is facing in terms of the impact of or impact to the energy system and strategies in which to address the challenge.  Issues may include planning for energy supply, energy transformation infrastructure, vulnerabilities or mitigation measures. 

                                                                                          Percent of

Class activity                                                             final grade            Due date

Class participation                                                         10%                Throughout

Assignment 1 – Leading a seminar                       20%               

Assignment 2 – Paper                                                  50%                 7 May

Assignment 3 – Group presentation                   20%                30 April

 Class policies

There are no incompletes given for the course, with the exception of proof of a medical emergency.  Late papers will be marked down. 

 Course readings

  •  Living on the Grid, The Fundamentals of the North American Electric Grids in Simple Language, William L. Thompson, (2016), Bloomington, IN; iUniverse, ISBN-10: 1491790431
  • Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, Climate and Energy in the 21st Century, Burton Richter (2014) Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10: 9781107673724
  • Designing Climate Solutions, a Policy Guide for Low Carbon Energy, Hal Harvey with Robbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman (2018), Island Press, ISBN-10: 1610919564
  • The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places we Live, Brian Stone, Jr.  (2012) Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10: 1107602580
  • Rethinking Urban Transitions: Politics in Low Carbon City, Simon Marvin, Harriet Bulkeley and Andrés Luque-Ayala (2018), Routledge, ISBN-10: 1138057401
  • Repowering Cities, Governing Climate Change Mitigation in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto, Sara Hughes, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

These books are in the Columbia University Bookstore.  Other material will be placed on Canvas as pdfs. 

Office hours and classroom policies

I am available for discussion most Thursdays.   I do not, however, have an office here on campus, so we will meet in common spaces at Columbia.  Note that while I respond to email as promptly as possible, if you send me an email late on Friday I may not respond until Monday.  During class time, please turn off your phones and do not bring/use earphones.

Academic integrity

Columbia University regards acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on examinations, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) as serious offenses against the values of intellectual honesty. The University is committed to enforcing its Policy on Academic Integrity and will pursue cases of academic dishonesty according to the Academic Integrity Procedures.  Plagiarism, dishonesty, or cheating in any portion of the work required for this course will be punished to the full extent allowed according to Columbia University College regulations.

Tentative semester schedule

 23 January:   Introduction

30 January:   “North American Energy System”, Marcotullio et al (2018) The North American State of the Carbon Cycle  (Instructor)

6 February:    Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, Richter (2014) (Students)

13 February: “Urban Energy Systems” Grubler et al, (2013) Global Energy Assessment (Instructor)

20 February: Living on the Grid, Thompson (2016) (Students)

27 February: “Energy transformation in cities”, Marcotullio et al (2018) (Instructor)

6 March:         Renewable Energy, Usher (2016) (Students)

12 March:      “Identifying policies for low carbon cities in the developing world: The potential for investing to reduce emissions to achieve a 1.5° C world”, (2019) Marcotullio and Stretton, submitted to UN-Habitat as Consultancy Services for Market & sectoral research to support drafting of “The GCF-wide Sectoral Guidelines & Plan for the Urban Sector (Cities & Climate Change),” Work Scope 1: Section 1.1 (Instructor)

19 March:      Spring Recess: No class

26 March:      Designing climate solutions, a policy guide for low carbon energy, Hal Harvey with Robbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman (2018) (Students)

2 April:            “Global predictions of heat waves and urban vulnerability” (Instructor)        

9 April:            Rethinking Urban Transitions: Politics in the Low Carbon City, Marvin et al (2018) (Students)

16 April:         “Urban energy scenario development: urban form and transportation energy and emissions” (Instructor)

23 April          Repowering Cities, Governing Climate Change Mitigation in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto, Hughes (2019) (Students)

30 April          Student presentations






Course Summary:

Date Details