Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) project aims to optimize the use of DOE resources to address the grand challenge of actionable predictions of Earth system variability and change. This requires sustained advancement to (1) integrate model development with leading‐edge computational advances toward ultra‐high‐resolution modeling; (2) represent the coupled human‐Earth system to address energy sector vulnerability to variability and change; and (3) address uncertainty in model simulations and projections. Scientific development of the E3SM modeling system is driven by the simulation requirements in three overarching science areas centering on understanding the Earth's water cycle, biogeochemistry, and cryosphere systems and their future changes. This paper serves as an introduction to the E3SM special collection, which includes 50 papers published in several AGU journals. It provides an overview of the E3SM project, including its goals and science drivers. It also provides a brief history of the development of E3SM version 1 and highlights some key findings from papers included in the special collection.