Society Spotlight: ENRE

(Prepared by Hayri Önal (ENRE President-Elect) [ the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign], Antonio J. Conejo (ENRE President) [The Ohio State University], Sauleh Siddiqui (ENRE Secretary-Treasurer) [Johns Hopkins University]. In addition, other ENRE colleagues who have provided valuable input in preparing this article include Bob Haight, at US Forest Service; Marc McDill, at Penn State University; and David Martell, at the University of Toronto.)

Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment (ENRE): A Dynamic and Diverse Section of INFORMS

First, as the current officers of the ENRE Section, we would like to express our appreciation for choosing the topic ‘energy, natural resources, and environment’ for this issue of ORMS Tomorrow. This is a very timely and meaningful decision as the current changes in the policy environment put these topics in front of the traditional topics and research issues addressed by operations research, management science, and analytics professionals. We also would like to thank the editors, Lina Song in particular, for contacting us to speak directly to the readers of the Magazine and talk about the past and present activities that describe our Section. The time we were given was quite tight, but in that limited time we tried our best and gathered input from several of our members to provide the best possible response. This is by no means a perfectly complete description of our Section, but we hope that this brief article conveys most of the important information that the readers of ORMS Tomorrow may want to know.

ENRE Section

Picture caption: Taken from the awards ceremony at the last ENRE Business Meeting (INFORMS Nashville, 2016). The picture shows, from left to right: Mark Nejad (the Student Best Paper Award committee chair), Mehdi Behroozi, Winner of the Student Best Paper Award, Hayri Onal (then ENRE Secretary Treasurer), and Antonio Conejo (ENRE President). At the time, Mehdi Behroozi was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is a now a visiting scholar in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 

In today’s world, issues of energy, natural resources, and the environment form a trifecta at the intersection of which lie the most vexing problems facing society. From analyzing anthropogenic impacts on present streams to figuring out how our self-driving electric cars will help integrate with the grid for distributed storage in the future, such problems cut across spatial and temporal scales. The need for creativity, mathematical rigor, and an interdisciplinary toolkit is essential if we are to overcome these challenges that impact humanity. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment Section, which we abbreviate as ENRE, is one of the most active sections of INFORMS. Like INFORMS, we are a fast growing scientific community. This is clearly indicated by the expansion of our membership and the number of sponsored sessions organized by ENRE members in the past decade, as well as the quality of the research conducted by our members.  As of 2016, the Section has 382 members. The membership went up steadily, from about 220 ten years ago. About one-third of our members (106 to be exact, in 2016) are student members who are actively involved in section activities, particularly by presenting their research output in ENRE-sponsored sessions at INFORMS annual conferences. With their energy, enthusiasm, and cutting edge knowledge, our student members contribute substantially to ENRE’s presence within INFORMS. ENRE supports our student members by providing mentorship through their studies, resources to help them in the job market, and opportunities to engage with the leaders in the field. Further, ENRE also sponsors a student research paper award every year (keep reading for more details). We are always looking for students to get involved in a number of activities detailed below, and we encourage them to reach out to the leadership.

Who We Are

The history of ENRE goes back to the mid 1970’s. Both the energy group and forestry group were special interest groups (SIG) under ORSA; the two groups merged and became the ENRE Section after INFORMS was founded and replaced ORSA and TIMS[1] in 1995. Perhaps it is best if we hear the stories of the beginning and the merger from the people who pioneered those special interest groups.

“I was there at the beginning... During the early years, we sponsored three SIG meetings that drew around 50 people. The reason for the merger was that energy had dwindled to just a handful showing up at the meetings and virtually no sessions in the 80's and early 90's. There was less funding for energy policy research during this period than before the 73-74 embargo. I think Ben[2] engineered the merger with forestry. Terry Harrison[3] might have played a role as well. Energy became more prominent when restructuring started to be important and the group revitalized.” (Recollections of Fred Murphy, at Temple University).

National energy modeling, starting with PIES[4], was a major contribution of OR to energy policy, but that activity was not large enough by itself to sustain a large group in the organization. I remember my first ORSA/TIMS meeting in Detroit 1983, there were two people in the room. And a later one in that decade, in a little hotel room where the bed had been moved out and chairs moved in, the only attendees were the speakers and one non-English speaking parent of one of the speakers who sat vigorously nodding and smiling, being so proud of the child who was speaking! I promised myself then not to return to ORSA/TIMS anytime soon... but luckily for me, I did later on in the early 90s. At that time, the energy group began to pick up speed due in large part to electric utility restructuring. The power industry was, and is, full of optimization problems, traditionally defined by engineers who were mainly interested in the primal solution: what to build and how to operate. But, with restructuring's introduction of market forces, the dual variables were now becoming of keen interest as people like Dick O'Neill of FERC[5] were busy designing markets. The number of graduate students working in the area grew, as did the sophistication of the optimization, financial engineering, and other models. At some point, a critical mass was reached and INFORMS became "the" meeting to go to if you were working in energy policy or market modeling, and we witnessed parallel tracks, full meeting rooms, and rapidly emptied food and drink trays at ENRE business meetings.” (Recollections of Ben Hobbs).

Things have changed dramatically since those early days. The Energy group has organized on average 45 ENRE-sponsored sessions (about 180 presentations) at each of the past several INFORMS annual conferences. Sometimes we do not have enough chairs to seat everybody in the conference rooms, some attendees stand in the back of the rooms, sometimes in the hallways just outside the door.

Around the same time, another special interest group was in the making within ORSA. This group included forestry economists and operations researchers who have used optimization methods for scheduling activities. Terry Harrison and Andres Weintraub[6] were the pioneers.

“I was working as a professional forester from 1977-1982 and was employed with Koppers Co. (at the time the world’s largest producer of pressure treated wood products) and on loan to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Division of Land and Water Resources. As part of my job responsibilities, I was a member of a team developing algorithms and software to assist private forest landowners in the southeast US to determine the number, timing, and intensity of forest harvests to optimize a collection of financial and wildlife metrics... I recall very clearly a chance meeting at an ORSA/TIMS meeting about 35 years ago.  Andres and I met for the first time and decided to go to dinner together. As we chatted about our mutual interest in forestry and OR, we decided to petition the board of ORSA about forming a forestry SIG (Special Interest Group). We developed and submitted the proposal. The decision from the board was to attach ourselves to the existing Energy group. There was a concern as to whether we would have enough participation to sustain interest in a forestry SIG. So that’s exactly what happened. We formed a subgroup of the energy section.” (Recollections of Terry Harrison). 

Andres Weintraub’s recollections match these:

“In the 80’s, I presented a paper on using ‘OR in Forestry’ at an ORSA/TIMS meeting. There were very few presentations. Terry Harrison was in that session. We got together later and decided to organize a Forestry /OR group. The first step was to start organizing sessions in the area. At that time, I worked at the US Forest Service. I started full time in 1971; in 1974, I went back to Chile, kept quarter time. The funding went to UC Berkeley, which paid me. This arrangement lasted until 1988. This gave me a full connection to foresters with interest in OR. I attended the quantitative forestry conferences, which are now SSAFR[7]. So we connected both groups, those in INFORMS working or interested in forestry and the forestry community working or interested in OR. This relation is still present, with most of us going both to SSAFR and to ‘OR in Forestry’ sessions at the INFORMS annual meetings. Over time, the number of sessions increased and covered more areas, like forest fires. We organize OR in Forestry sessions in other conferences like IFORS and EURO[8].”

The forestry group organized sessions at the ORSA/TIMS meetings until the forestry, energy, and environmental groups merged into ENRE in 1995. Since then the group is operating as a cluster within ENRE, a dynamic and tightly knit group[9]. In the beginning, there were two INFORMS meetings, one in the spring, the other in the fall. The forestry cluster met during the spring meetings. ENRE sessions in energy, natural resources, and environment took place during the fall meetings. Over the years, the research areas of the forestry cluster expanded from timber harvest scheduling, road building, and forest planning to include forest and wildland fire management, wildlife management, nature reserve design, invasive species management, biomass logistics and planning, and more. Many members of the forestry group are also organized as the Forestry Special Interest Group (ENRE’s ‘Canadian cousin’), under the Canadian Operational Research Society.

Although being one of the three major areas defining ENRE[10], we did not have an active Environment cluster until 2010. The three areas largely overlap with each other; unsurprisingly, most of the research conducted by ENRE members has an environment component. However, many studies, conference presentations, and published papers related to environment and sustainability issues (air/water quality, climate change, biofuels/bioenergy, conservation of biodiversity/ecosystems, etc.) are difficult to categorize as energy or forestry[11]. The need for launching an environment area was raised at the 2008 annual meeting. In the following years, the group organized several ENRE-sponsored sections, first under the Environment cluster name, later under the current cluster name, Environment & Sustainability. The group grew fast in the past few years and has now become a mature cluster organizing more than ten sessions at each INFORMS annual conference.

Organizational Structure

The Section’s activities are grouped into three major and largely overlapping areas: Energy (control, operations and planning of energy systems, electricity markets, renewable energy, energy policy analysis, etc.), Natural Resources (forestry, petrochemicals, and mining), and Environment & Sustainability (bioenergy/biofuels, climate change, air/water pollution, sustainable resource use/operations management, ecosystems conservation, etc.). Our members are further organized into six clusters: Environment & Sustainability (currently chaired by Sandra D. Ekşioğlu,,  Forestry (currently chaired by Wei Yu, , Energy I – Electricity (currently chaired by Andy Sun, , Energy II – Other Energy (currently chaired by Amir Mousavian,, Mining (currently chaired by Alexandra Newman,, and Petrochemicals (currently chaired by Marlize Meyer,  At each of the most recent INFORMS conferences, more than 60 ENRE-sponsored sessions were organized under these six clusters. The number of those sessions has grown steadily and doubled in the past ten years.  

Our Research

The research topics addressed by our members vary over a wide range including climate change, economic equilibrium in energy markets, integration of renewable energy supply to the existing grid, power generation and distribution, oil and gas exploitation, biomass to biofuels supply chain, forest harvesting schedules, managing forest wildfires, invasive species, and ecosystems, and a long list of other topics. Like most other OR professionals we use a wide variety of operations research methods including mathematical optimization, simulation, networks and graphs, game theory, statistical methods, econometrics, and so on. Besides practical applications of OR to conventional problems related to energy, natural resources, and environment, we aim to extend the boundaries of scientific research in these areas.

In the energy sector, public policy making is central to energy systems modeling. Optimization-based energy-economic equilibrium models are widely used for policy analysis purposes[12]. Developing countries are beginning to recognize that their interventions have been costly; modeling regulated markets and how to transition to better government policies is a growing area of research. Developing and modeling the impact of transition rules is central to implementing long-run policy changes necessary for climate change. There are several critical categories of challenges that require new OR methods or clever adaptation of familiar methods.  Optimal planning, such as stochastic transmission expansion under uncertainty and in situations where agreement needs to be obtained among players with divergent interests, is one.  Developing better market designs is another one, as the current market design was made without the input of renewables and considering mostly inelastic loads. Another application of optimization, game theory and decision analysis is to operations, especially as more and more renewables, adaptable consumers, and other small players participate in the market.  Better models to predict market outcomes are needed, particularly as markets broaden geographically and deepen along the supply chain, for instance, coordination of natural gas and power networks.  Calculation of optimal incentives is needed, especially across interconnected but imperfectly coordinated markets for different commodities, in different locations, and for bulk and retail exchange.  For instance, is solar best placed on rooftops (the retail market) or in centralized systems (the bulk market), and how can we incent the right outcome? And critically for the long run is environmental sustainability: for instance, providing the energy supply needed for economic growth in India and China without choking their cities in smog, heating up the planet, and losing all our rain forests.  

A nice article published recently in Annals of Operations Research identifies a number of challenging research topics and open questions in the forestry area. Several of those problems are also closely related to maintaining/improving environmental quality and ecosystems sustainability while exploiting natural resources in the most economical way. A few of those topics are listed here: 1) investigating the environmental impacts of different operational harvesting practices and avoiding negative impacts; 2) modeling and finding an exact solution of the forestry vehicle routing problem; 3)  incorporating complex environmental considerations, like fragmentation, corridors, balancing mature patches, etc., in forest harvest scheduling; 4) introducing different kinds of uncertainty into strategic models; 5) developing effective formulations and solution methods for dynamic reserve design problems with land price feedbacks and uncertainty about site availability, site quality, and financial resource availability. See Rönnqvist et al. (2015) for the entire list of those 33 open problems.

Awards and Recognition

The Section recognizes the outstanding work of its members by selecting the best research papers/publications in five categories: ENRE Best Publication – Energy (current Chair: Shmuel Oren,, ENRE Best Publication – Natural Resources (current Chair: Taraneh Sowlati, ENRE Best Publication – Environment & Sustainability (current Chair: Yihsu Chen,, ENRE Young Researcher Prize (current Chair: Ramteen Sioshansi,, and ENRE Student Paper Competition (current Chair: Felipe Feijoo, The last award may be of particular interest to the readers of ORMS Tomorrow. Not only we recognize the outstanding work of our student members, but we also give a $300 monetary prize to the winner of this award to help cover part of their conference expenses.

The ENRE Student Paper Award…

is given annually to the best paper dealing with energy, environmental, or natural resource issues by a student author who is presenting at the INFORMS Annual Meeting, as judged by a panel of the Energy, Natural Resources, and the Environment Section. Award finalists will present their submitted papers in the ENRE award session at the INFORMS Annual Meeting. The prize is awarded at the ENRE business meeting at the INFORMS Annual meeting and is accompanied by a certificate and a $300 honorarium. All students conducting research in or related to energy, mining, sustainability, environmental, or natural resource issues (including theory development, applications, optimization, econometrics, and simulation) are encouraged to submit a paper. The work must be predominately that of the student, although faculty members or other mentors can be co-authors, if appropriate.”

For information about the past student paper award winners, eligibility for the current student paper competition, and contact person, please visit our website at

The quality of scientific research conducted by ENRE members is also recognized outside ENRE, in particular by the INFORMS community. Several of our members are INFORMS Fellows (Ben Hobbs, Terry Harrison, Ben Lev, Fred Murphy, Shmuel Oren, Richard O’Neill, Warren Powell, Yves Smeer, Matthew Sobel, and Andres Weintraub). There is a large list of past award winner papers and projects, we cannot mention all of them here. However, some of them definitely deserve mentioning. Several distinguished members of our community led or were involved in research projects that were finalists in the Franz Edelman Award competition: Shmuel Oren[13], in 1980 (Project Title: Valuating a New Market: A Forecasting System for Nonimpact Computer Printers; see Oren et al. 1980), Fred Murphy, in 1998 (Project Title: Developing Strategies for Maritrans' Business Units, see Mudrageda et al., 2004), Mikael Rönnqvist[14], in 2008 (Project Title: Operations Research Improves Quality and Efficiency in Home Care; see Eveborn et al., 2009), and Andres Weintraub, two-time finalist, first in 2011 (Project title: A Strategic Empty Container Logistics Optimization in a Major Shipping Company; see Epstein et al. 2012), and then in 2016 (Project Title: Operations Research Transforms Scheduling of Chilean Soccer Leagues and South American World Cup Qualifiers).  In 1998, we had an Edelman winner; a research team led by Andres Weintraub won the Award (Project Title: Use of OR Systems in the Chilean Forest Industries; see Epstein et al. 1999). The Franz Edelman Award is INFORMS’ most prestigious practice award that is given annually to an applied research project that demonstrated significant and factual improvements in the management of operations and economic costs/benefits accruing to stakeholder organizations. Competition for this award is considered as the Super Bowl of OR (for more information about the past winners and finalists of the Edelman Award visit Another prestigious OR Practice Award is the Daniel H. Wagner Prize given each year to recognize professionals who have shown excellence in operations research practice. Two research teams in which our distinguished member Fred Murphy was involved were Wagner finalists in 2000 (Project title: Rebuilding the Coal Model in the Energy Information Administration’s National Energy Modeling System, see Hobbs et al. 2001), and in 2012 (Project Title: The Philadelphia Districting Contest:  Designing Territories for City Council Based upon the 2010 Census, see Gopalan et al. 2013). Last year, we had a Wagner winner; a team including Mikael Rönnqvist won the 2016 Wagner Prize (Project Title: Calibrated Route Finder-Social, Environmental and Cost-effective Truck Routing; visit for their award ceremony presentation at the 2016 INFORMS Annual Conference. Mikael Rönnqvist was also involved in several research groups that received prestigious awards from EURO.

Many of our members developed or participated in the development of operations research tools that are used by private enterprises and public sector agencies in the US and abroad, some are on scientific boards or serve as consultants. Two of our distinguished members, Prof. Oren and Prof. Weintraub, have been elected (in 2016 and 2012, respectively) as a member and foreign member of the National Academy of Engineering. “Election to the NAE membership is one of the highest professional honors accorded an engineer” ( This is a well-deserved recognition based on their distinguished and continuing achievements in scientific research over the past few decades.

ENRE members have taken leadership roles in INFORMS service activities as well. Terry Harrison served as President of INFORMS during 20012-2013. Bob Haight, at US Forest Service, was the General Chair of the 2013 Minneapolis Annual Meeting of INFORMS. Terry Harrison and Fred Murphy served as Vice President of Publications for INFORMS. Several of our members (too long to list here) served on editorial boards of INFORMS journals, as well as various mainstream OR/MS related journals.

How to Get Involved

If you are not a current member of ENRE and you are doing work that is somewhat related to any of the three major areas described above, we encourage you to become a member. The annual membership fee for students is only $7, which is a little more than half of the annual membership fee for our regular members ($12). Whether or not you decide to become a member of ENRE, we strongly encourage you to be part of the ENRE program at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas (October 22-25, 2017, As in the previous years, we will organize many sponsored sessions under our six clusters. Presenting in a sponsored session has several advantages. First, you will have more time to talk about your work in a sponsored session (about 20 minutes, as opposed to less than 15 minutes in a contributed session). Second, all of our sponsored sessions are physically side-by-side at the conference venue. If you present in one of those sessions, you will not be wandering around to find a next good session to attend in an extremely large conference. Third, and most important, you will find a fairly large and specialized audience, including academic experts and industry practitioners, who will not only understand your work but also can offer useful feedback. That will allow you to make good contacts that may affect your career path substantially.  The abstract submission period has started already. If you think that your work fits one of the six clusters of ENRE, do not hesitate to contact our cluster chairs. They will place your talk or contact a session organizer who can help you. The cluster chair information can be found at .

Communication Media

Communication among ENRE members is facilitated by INFORMS-ConnectedCommunity. This is a useful communication media for posting and receiving messages related to ENRE activities. Occasionally job opportunities calls for papers for special issues of INFORMS journals and other journals, and conference announcements are also posted on ConnectedCommunity. All INFORMS members can access to it by sending an email to . To receive messages from ConnectedCommunity you need to be a member of ENRE, however. Many of our members also communicate via LinkedIn ( INFORMS meetings bring us together in person, not just professionally but socially as well. Typically, ENRE Business Meetings are held at the INFORMS Annual Meetings, on Sunday, around 6 pm. Simply look for the ENRE Business Meeting in the 2017 Conference Program. If you are in Houston on Sunday afternoon, please stop by, enjoy complimentary food and beverage, and introduce yourself to some ENRE members you see at that meeting. The chances are more than 100% that you will make a few good friends and professional contacts, including students, faculty, or industry professionals. See you there!


March 15, 2017

 [1] ORSA: Operations Research Society of America, TIMS: The Institute of Management Sciences

[2] Ben Hobbs, at Johns Hopkins University.

[3] Terry Harrison, at Penn State University.

[4] Project Independence Evaluation System (PIES), a widely acclaimed Energy Model, developed by W. W. Hogan.

[5] The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity, natural gas, and the transportation of oil by pipeline.

[6] At the University of Chile.

[7] Symposium on Systems Analysis in Forest Resources, organized by an international group of foresters who do quantitative research on forest management issues. The group holds biannual meetings in different continents each time. The 17th international meeting of SSAFR will be held this summer in Seattle, WA (visit for the conference program).

[8] IFORS: International Federation of Operational Research Societies, EURO: Association of European Operational Research Societies.

[9] One nice thing about the forestry group is that they have a tradition and go to a group dinner after forestry sessions at INFORMS meetings. This tradition still continues.

[10] The first logo of ENRE was three intersecting circles with different colors, each representing one of the three areas, energy, natural resources, and environment.

[11] For a long time, forestry was the only group in the natural resources area of ENRE. Mining and Petrochemicals joined later.

[12] Public policy making is central to energy systems modeling. Two optimization-based energy-economic equilibrium models, NEMS in the US and TIMES at the International Energy Agency, are widely used for policy analysis purposes.

[13] At the University of California, Berkeley

[14] At Université Laval, Quebec, Canada


Epstein, R., A. Neely, A. Weintraub, F. Valenzuela, S. Hurtado, G. Gonzalez, A. Beiza, M. Naveas, F. Infante, F. Alarcon, G. Angulo, C. Berner, J. Catalan, C. Gonzalez, D. Yung (2012). A Strategic Empty Container Logistics Optimization in a Major Shipping Company. Interfaces 42: 5–16.

Epstein, R., R. Morales, J. Sero´n, and A. Weintraub (1999). Use of OR Systems in the Chilean Forest Industries. Interfaces 29: 7–29.

Eveborn, P., M. Rönnqvist, H. Einarsdóttir, M. Eklund, K. Lidén, M. Almroth (2009). Operations Research Improves Quality and Efficiency in Home Care. Interfaces, 39: 18 – 34.

Gopalan, R., S. Kimbrough, F. Murphy, N. Quintus (2013). The Philadelphia Districting Contest:  Designing Territories for City Council Based upon the 2010 Census. Interfaces, 43:477-48.

Hobbs, M., Mellish, M., F.H. Murphy, R. Newcombe, R. Sanders, P. Whitman (2001). Rebuilding the Coal Model in the Energy Information Administration’s National Energy Modeling System. Interfaces, 31:24-42.

Mudrageda, M., F.H. Murphy, and S. Welch (2004). Developing Strategies for Maritrans’ Business Units. Interfaces, 34:149-161.

Oren, S.S., M. H. Rothkopf, R. D. Smallwood (1980). Valuating a New Market: A Forecasting System for Nonimpact Computer Printers. Interfaces , 10:pp. 76-87.

Rönnqvist, M. ,S. D’Amours, A. Weintraub, A. Jofre, E. Gunn, R.G. Haight, D. Martell, A.T. Murray,  C. Romero (2015). Operations Research Challenges in Forestry: 33 Open Problems. Annals of Operations Research, 232:11–40.

(Edited By: Lina Song)