Sara is passionate about energy systems

Associate professor Sara Hastings-Simon

Associate Professor Sara Hastings-Simon is at the forefront of shifting complex systems. Her work combines quantitative tools from different disciplines like science, engineering and economics with questions focused on macro energy systems and policy implications. It’s a shift in thinking that targets one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today by growing our scientific understanding of the world around us in new ways.

Sara’s passion is rooted in creating a better understanding of how energy transition happens at the intersection of business, science, and technology and how policy can create a better outcome. Our global challenge is how to reduce emissions and get to net zero by 2050, but the question isn’t just how do we get there, but also, what’s stopping us from taking that path? Sara’s focus on energy production and consumption is explored through an infrastructure lens to better model the change facing our energy system, while also considering how governments can best support innovation. The converging of different ideas is deliberate and is partially inspired by her grandfather.

Sara’s family has a history of challenging disciplinary boundaries. Her grandfather was a physical chemist, combining the sciences of physics and chemistry in a novel way at that time. He was often in trouble with the chemistry society for work that crossed over too often into physics, when the idea of combining new things was discouraged. Today physical chemistry is a well-established field, and the Department of Earth, Energy, and Environment at U of C is a global leader in a variety of science-based collaborations. With a stated goal of encouraging trans-disciplinary learning and partnerships, progress is made by applying knowledge from one field to the next that leads to new understandings the world didn’t have before.

Sara and a collaborator have coined the term “the mid transition” to describe the period where old and new energy systems each place constraints on the other, but neither can provide all the necessary energy services on its own.

Associate professor Sara Hastings-Simon

We talk about moving from a fossil fuel dominated energy system to one that is highly electrified with lower emissions and in doing so we often think about the start and end points, but it’s the period in the middle, the mid-transition, that needs more creative thinking and policy support now.”

Sara Hastings-Simon

Sara is making a difference by taking complex topics and making them understandable to the public. Her podcast, Energy vs. Climate is one example, where she, her co-hosts and guests unpack the challenges and solutions facing our planet today through the lens of changing energy.

“Energy systems don’t live in a box; they are integrated into our everyday lives.”

Just like her grandfather before her, Sara is mixologist, as she combines science, policy, engineering, and economics to answer questions around energy systems that deepen our understanding of how humans can navigate change to make life better for everyone.