UQ fights energy poverty

with Professor Peta Ashworth

Energy is a hot topic around the world. No matter who you are or where you live, the production of energy and access to it is being discussed.

Conversations about energy will differ depending on whether you live in a developed or developing country, but there is no question that energy is critically important to modern life.

It is used to produce food and clean drinking water, it helps to improve education standards and it contributes to overall economic growth. Energy is a vital element that contributes to a community’s potential to flourish and prosper.

However, over 17 per cent (1.2 billion) of the world’s population is without access to basic energy, and 38 per cent (2.7 billion) are without clean cooking facilities, resulting in frequent exposure to the harmful effects of cooking with wood, coal and animal dung.*

With the world’s population relying on fossil fuels for most of its energy generation, the issue of human-induced climate change cannot be uncoupled from discussions about energy.

So the big question is: how do we reduce the number of individuals living in energy-impoverished communities and improve their quality of life, while at the same time mitigating carbon emissions from energy generation? Particularly when climate and energy issues are so politicised.

The Energy Poverty Research Group (EPRG) was established at UQ to support energy-impoverished communities, focusing on India and its neighbouring countries. The livelihoods of the individuals in these communities depend on ongoing global efforts to support positive social, environmental and economic outcomes for them. The complexity of these problems calls for interdisciplinary expertise. PhD researchers within the EPRG include engineers, geographers, social scientists, psychologists and communication experts.

The group is examining topics such as: identifying drivers of transformational change amongst the energy impoverished, understanding energy and climate justice issues, community-led identification and implementation of locally-appropriate technologies, and how to engage the private sector to alleviate energy poverty.

For me, it is a privilege to be working alongside our highly-motivated master's and PhD students, who are already becoming the next agents for change in this highly-contested space. There is possibly no greater challenge than being able to transition to a low-carbon future while trying to lift so many out of abject energy poverty.


Energy poverty is a core component of what students enrolled in the Master of Sustainable Energy study.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students work to solve the challenge of transitioning to a secure, affordable, low-carbon energy supply.
Study the Master of Sustainable Energy at UQ. Visit eait.uq.edu.au/MSE to learn more.