Stuart Macmillan, long-time Stanford teacher of sustainable energy technologies, dies at 68

Stuart Macmillan contributed to technologies at Sun Microsystems and was a chief scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. At Stanford, he co-taught a year-round course on clean energy entrepreneurship.

Stuart Macmillan, MS ’80, PhD ’84, passed away from natural causes suddenly and quietly at his home in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, on April 9.

Stuart Macmillan (Image credit: Erin Clayton)

Since 2009, Macmillan was a lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, as well as an advisor to the university’s Precourt Institute for Energy. He contributed to a broad range of initiatives at Stanford, including the $200-million research program Global Climate & Energy Project; [email protected] & SLAC, a week-long orientation for incoming graduate students interested in energy; and the popular course Stanford Energy Ventures. He also contributed to research on vertical-axis wind turbines with John Dabiri, a professor in the departments of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

“Stuart was instrumental in the development and launch of our energy boot camp, [email protected]&SLAC. He was also a great mentor to dozens of students trying to create solutions to the sustainable energy challenge,” said Sally Benson, co-director of the Precourt Institute and a professor of energy resources engineering. “I always appreciated his advice and counsel. I will miss his steady and generous presence.”

Macmillan had co-taught the Stanford Energy Ventures course with Dave Danielson every autumn, winter and spring term since the fall of 2016. (Joel Moxley joined the teaching team in 2018.) In the interdisciplinary, project-based class, student teams develop scalable solutions to the world’s major sustainability challenges, especially in energy. The course has resulted in about 20 startups in less than four years.

“Stuart had a unique ability to genuinely motivate any student with his profound insights and advice on seemingly any subject matter,” said Daniel Sambor, a graduate student in Civil & Environmental Engineering who took the Stanford Energy Ventures course for a year and has been its teaching assistant for two years. “In my three years working with him, not once did I leave a conversation without feeling passionately inspired and determined to make the world a better place.”

After studying statistics and artificial intelligence as a graduate student at Stanford, Macmillan worked at FMC Corp., where he helped launch a new AI research group focused on autonomous vehicles, machine vision and intelligent assistants. In 1987, Macmillan joined Sun Microsystems, where he oversaw initiatives on engineering, research, acquisitions, investments and strategy. At Sun, Macmillan was on the founding team of JavaSoft, a foundational Internet technology. He was also the chief scientist for energy informatics at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) from 2008 through 2017. Macmillan helped start NREL’s program on energy systems integration. Most recently, in addition to his teaching at Stanford, he was a partner at Ridge-Lane Limited Partners, a venture development firm focused on public/private partnerships.

“Stuart was an inspiration to so many of us at Stanford,” said Richard Sassoon, executive director of the Precourt Institute’s Strategic Energy Alliance. “After a successful career in the private sector, he contributed hugely to the field of sustainable energy both as a scientist and mentor. We will all miss the wise counsel, encouragement and support he generously and willingly gave to us.”

Macmillan was born Oct. 19, 1951, to Bernice and Simon Macmillan in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, one of seven children. He majored in math as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta. He and his wife of 37 years, Kathleen Gilbert-Macmillan, met as graduate students at Stanford. They married at Stanford Memorial Church.

“The university played an incredibly important role in his life, from the time Stuart and I met and married there as graduate students, to watching our kids attend as undergrads, to his most recent teaching days,” said Gilbert-Macmillan.

Stuart Macmillan is survived by his wife Kathleen, his daughter Elise, son Evan, daughter-in-law Julie and granddaughter Lucy, as well as his brother Bruce, sisters Lynne Wiebe (Lloyd) and Laurie Pollitt (Kevin), 16 nieces and nephews and 15 grand-nieces and nephews. As soon as family and friends can safely congregate, a celebration of his life will take place in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Donations in his memory can be made to the International Dark Sky Association or the Food Bank of the Rockies.