Energy Policy for Sustainability (2013 entry)

MSc, 1 year full time/2 years part time

Applications for 2013 entry are now closed.

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Subject overview

Climate change and sustainable energy are perhaps the most important issues of our time. The challenge is to make a worldwide transition to a low-carbon economy, while at the same time providing modern energy services to a growing population and adapting to the increasingly substantial, but often uncertain, impacts of a changing climate. To meet these challenges, society needs professionals and policy-makers who understand the complex, multidimensional scientific, socioeconomic, technological and institutional challenges associated with sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and climate adaptation.

Our climate change and energy policy degrees are designed to provide state-of-the-art training for this expanding professional market.

Sussex is renowned for its agenda-setting, interdisciplinary teaching and research in science, development, and policy studies. You will be taught by leading researchers who have played key roles advising governmental/ intergovernmental bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on climate change mitigation and adaptation and/or energy policy.

For the MSc in Climate Change and Development and the MSc Climate Change and Policy, you will be taught by faculty from the Department of Geography, SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research, and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS):

  • the Department of Geography is a leading centre of geographical scholarship in the UK, with particular strengths in climate science, impacts and adaptation
  • SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research was ranked 2nd science and policy think tank in the UK and 11th in the world (University of Pennsylvania: Global Go-To Think-Tanks Report 2012). The Sussex Energy Group is one of the largest independent social science energy policy research groups in the world

  • IDS is ranked 1st ‘Best University-Affiliated Think Tank’ in the UK and 3rd in the world (University of Pennsylvania: Global Go To Think Tanks Report 2012).

The MSc in Energy Policy for Sustainability is taught by faculty in SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research who are part of the Sussex Energy Group. The group undertakes academically rigorous, interdisciplinary research engaging with policy-makers and practitioners. The aim of our research is to identify ways of achieving the transition to sustainable, low-carbon energy systems.

More information can be found at Sussex Climate Network.

Programme outline

This MSc provides broad-based, interdisciplinary social science training for future energy policy professionals working in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The course focuses on the opportunities, challenges and constraints associated with making the transition to low-carbon energy systems in both the developed and developing world. This transition has scientific, technological, economic and political dimensions that are complex, multidimensional and interlinked. Key challenges include promoting the innovation and rapid diffusion of low-carbon technologies and balancing multiple economic, social and environmental objectives.

The MSc is led by the Sussex Energy Group (SEG), one of the largest independent social science energy policy research groups in the world. SEG is based in SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex and is a core partner in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the UK Energy Research Centre.

You will engage with the key concepts, theories, issues, challenges and debates within energy and climate policy, acquire skills in relevant analytical techniques and apply these to the analysis, design and evaluation of policy at a variety of levels. This MSc is unique in integrating ideas and perspectives from economics, innovation studies and policy studies while requiring no previous training in these areas.


Modules are assessed by a combination of coursework, multiple-choice exams, extended essays, presentations, policy briefs and a dissertation.

2014 modules

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Dissertation (Energy Policy for Sustainability)

60 credits
Summer teaching, year 1

This module enables you to undertake a piece of research under the supervision of a member of SPRU faculty. You will be involved in the design and execution of a substantial piece of research on a topic that is relevant to the course. The dissertation runs from April to August and will consist of 20,000 words. Previous dissertations have been written on a very range of subjects such as the role of unconventional gas in the energy transition, overcoming obstacles to improving energy efficiency, the design of capacity markets to ensure electricity security and the prospects for community energy.

Energy Policy and Sustainability

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module is intended to introduce you to the main concepts, theories, issues, challenges and debates within energy and climate policy, together with some of the analytical techniques used to explore this multifaceted subject. Primary emphasis will be given to economic concepts and techniques, but the module will take a critical approach to orthodox economic theory and will incorporate ideas from behavioural economics, ecological economics and innovation studies. The primary focus of the module is the opportunities, challenges and constraints associated with making the transition to a low carbon energy system. But this challenge cannot be understood without exploring the other dimensions of energy policy, such as energy security and market structure and regulation, together with the synergies and tensions between different policy objectives. 

Key themes of the module include the physical characteristics of fossil and renewable energy resources, the process of transition and change in energy systems and the rationales for and limits to public policy intervention. Substantive issues to be covered include: the relationship between; energy and economic growth; market and government failures in the energy sector; energy market liberalisation and the regulation of network industries; carbon pricing; the innovation and diffusion of energy technologies; resource depletion; the transition to renewable technologies and competing perspectives on energy security. Much of the discussion and examples will relate to OECD countries, but issues relevant to developing countries will be introduced where appropriate and explored in more detail in the seminars. Relevant analytical techniques such as energy-economic modelling will be introduced but not examined in any detail. 

This module will enable you to:

  • demonstrate a critical understanding of the key concepts, theories, issues, challenges and debates within climate change and energy policy, together with the dominant analytical approaches to this topic. 
  • apply a range of economic concepts to analyse and explain specific energy or climate policy problems, to identify and evaluate relevant policy options and to critique proposed solutions. 
  • be able to communicate ideas, analyses and results clearly and succinctly in a manner that is appropriate to a range of audiences (e.g. academic, policy and business 
  • demonstrate the understanding and intellectual skills identified above through presentations, participation in group activities and clear and concise written work. 

Energy and Development

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

The module will examine the substantive energy policy challenges faced by developing countries, including increasing energy access, reducing energy poverty and improving energy security. Integrating orthodox perspectives on energy policy with insights from innovation studies and socio-technical approaches, the course will explore the implications for development of notions such as lock-in, path dependency and leapfrogging. Building on this conceptual framework, the course will critically engage with academic and policy debates on topics such as low carbon development, technology transfer and carbon markets; all of which are intended to play roles in helping developing countries achieve development objectives while establishing sustainable energy systems. 

This module will enable you to:

  • critically engage with contemporary academic and policy debates on energy policy and development 
  • demonstrate a systematic understanding of the tensions and complementarities between energy policy and sustainable development in a developing-country context 
  • analyse the roles of technology and innovation in energy for development 
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of orthodox and alternative approaches to energy policy in developing countries. 

Governing energy transitions

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This modul will introduce you to a systems perspective on long-term, socio-technical change in the field of energy in order to explore the co-evolution of technologies with political, institutional, economic and social factors. The module will illustrate this conceptual perspective with historical case studies from the energy sector and explore the implications for governing transitions to a low carbon energy system in the developed world. You will analyse and reflect on current policy approaches to governing low carbon transitions. Substantive issues to be covered include: the historic transition from horse-drawn carriages to auto-mobility, low carbon innovation policy in the UK, the Energy Transition approach in the Netherlands, the politics of governing transitions and the role interests play, bottom-up approaches to changing energy systems such as the Transition Towns movement, the role of household practices as well as strategies of incumbent energy companies to respond to pressures for change towards a low carbon energy system. 

This module will enable you to:

  • demonstrate a systematic knowledge of the definition and applicability of key innovation studies concepts to studying socio-technical change in energy systems, such as carbon lock-in, path dependency, co-evolution of technology with political, institutional, economic and social factors 
  • apply the conceptual understanding and empirical knowledge gained from the course to the analysis of a variety of energy systems in developed countries (including electricity generation, heat production and mobility) 
  • critically discuss and evaluate different policy approaches to governing low carbon transitions. 

Information and Communication Technology Policy and Strategy

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

The module provides you with an overview of the strategic management and policy issues raised by the production and use of advanced information and communication technologies and services. Perspectives are drawn from economics, management and organisation theory, as well as political science and sociology. The focus is on the evolution of a complex technical system in the wider contexts of emerging user requirements in the public and private sectors. Much of the course is centred around the implications of the internet, particularly in terms of media conversion, regulation, productivity and employment, intellectual property rights and electronic commerce.

Innovation for Sustainability

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module will explore the role innovation can play in sustainable development in industrialised and developing countries, including (but not limited to) its importance in mitigating and adapting to climate change. A number of key ideas will be used to provide a framework for learning. These include past and current theory on sustainability, growth and competitiveness (with specific reference to the role of technology), understanding and influencing directions of innovation, and the governance of socio-technical transitions. Specific topics will be explored within each key idea. Examples include: social and technical innovations in energy and resource use efficiency; economic and other policy instruments to promote such innovations; barriers to the diffusion of sustainable innovations; the role of innovative green niches in systems transformations; and the challenges of international co-ordination. These will be illustrated with reference to real world cases in the manufacturing, housing, agriculture and energy sectors. 

This module will enable you to:

  • articulate and utilise a working knowledge of issues concerning innovations and sustainability and to evaluate critically the main theoretical perspectives on innovation and the environment; 
  • apply concepts from innovation theory in analysing a range of contemporary environmental policy problems; 
  • research the innovation dimensions of a contemporary environmental problem using a mix of academic and policy literature, and 
  • demonstrate the understanding and intellectual skills identified above by means of clear and concise written work. 

Introduction to Statistical Research Methods

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

The module aims to provide you with a basic understanding of descriptive statistics and statistical inference as they are used in the social sciences and to develop an adequate level of skill in the use of a leading statistical software package (SPSS) so that the you will be able to perform statistical analysis relevant for reaching social science research conclusions. This is done through extensive `hands-on practice. The coverage of descriptive statistics includes methods that can also be used for exploratory qualitative analysis.

The module is organised in lectures and tutorials. The lectures provide an introduction to the theoretical and practical elements of each topic and offer an opportunity for discussion of, extensions to, and clarification of each topic. The tutorials in the computer room will introduce you to the use of the statistical software package SPSS. 

This module will enable you to:

  • gain a critical awareness of the definition and proper use of descriptive statistical analysis. 
  • understand the definition and appropriate use of basic statistical inference. 
  • define and evaluate the use of descriptive and inferential statistical analysis to social sciences theories 
  • propose hypotheses and test them using the tools of descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. 

Managing Knowledge

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module outlines the key institutional and organisational forms underpinning the emerging knowledge economy, looking closely at the pivotal role that knowledge workers play in the creation, application and diffusion of knowledge within and between firms.

You will consider new approaches to managing learning processes in the firm, including recent developments such as knowledge management and novel organisational structures. You will explore the role of labour mobility through different types of knowledge worker communities and networks. You will also consider the role of open-source innovation and knowledge transfer within and across epistemic communities, the role of new human resource management approaches, and network mapping techniques. You will go on to consider how certain skills are coming to play a critical role in the knowledge economy, such as knowledge brokering and gate-keeping. Finally, you will explore how labour market institutions that impact on careers shape different approaches to knowledge generation, and be introduced to key concepts associated with knowledge transfer, including social capital, knowledge exploration and exploitation, and the role of key actors in knowledge transfer.

Statistical Methods for Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

0 credits
Summer teaching, year 1

This course provides training and guidance in applied statistics for postgraduate students of various backgrounds who already have some acquaintance with elementary statistics.

The course has two main components. The first provides you with basic training in the use and application of methods in your own research. This will cover multivariate analysis, including analysis of variance, factor analysis, discriminant analysis, principal components, and cluster analysis. The second is designed to strengthen your ability to interpret and assess statistical work undertaken by others in applications reported in the academic publications likely to be encountered while undertaking a SPRU course.

Perspectives, Methods and Skills for Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

15 credits
Spring teaching, year 1

This module provides a systematic guide to how to plan and successfully complete a research project within the constraints of time available for either writing a research paper or writing a dissertation. The module covers the key processes that a researcher must develop – the cultivation and understanding of different perspectives on the subject matters of study, a knowledge of the methods which may be used to inform and validate (or invalidate) these perspectives, and the acquisition of the skills needed to execute these methods and to present the results in a coherent and persuasive manner.

On completing the module you should have clear ideas about (and be able to execute) the full research process, including: identifying those features of topics which make them interesting for research; identifying relevant theory and frameworks for examining a topic; framing answerable research questions; designing research that is capable of providing robust and defensible answers to those questions; selecting relevant methods for implementing a research design; combining the elements of a research plan in a research proposal; and writing a forceful and persuasive research paper or dissertation 

This module will enable you to:

  • understand the basic principles of research design and strategy, including an understanding of how to formulate researchable problems and an appreciation of alternative approaches to research. 
  • apply a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods and tools including mixed methods approaches. 
  • manage, conduct and disseminate research in a way that is consistent with both professional practice and principles of research ethics. 

Science, Technology and Innovations: Markets, Firms and Policies

30 credits
Autumn teaching, year 1

The aim of this module is to introduce you to an ongoing tradition of research on innovation and the various analytical concepts and theories that are used in current academic, management and policy debates. It will explore the processes underlying knowledge accumulation and innovative activity within the global economy and review the historical and contemporary emergence of current innovation systems in both developed and developing country contexts. This includes analysis of the science system, technology, the management of innovation, the theory of the firm, the basis for public policy, environmental analysis, and innovation systems approaches.

The module has a key focus on developing understanding that contributes towards practical analysis of innovation policy and management problems, and therefore provides a range of analytical frameworks for understanding and exploring the nature of public policy and its influence on the operations of business firms and other organisations. These frameworks include orthodox economics, evolutionary economics, science and technology studies and history.

The module aims to develop you understanding of the economic perspective on issues of science and technology management and policy and helps you develop skills in using economic measures and indicators that inform business and public policy. 

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • distinguish several different schools of thought in economics by identifying their underlying assumptions and methods of reasoning 
  • explain the role of innovation from the perspectives of firm and individual choice and relate innovation to productivity, long-term economic growth, and competitiveness. 
  • identify sources of market dysfunction or failure including monopoly power, co-ordination failure, and principal-agent problems and understand the interventions or rule-setting that may prove useful in remedying these problems 
  • explain the consequences of globalisation for the international division of labour and the possible effects that this might have on localisation of economic activities 
  • demonstrate knowledge of technology and innovation system concepts and an understanding of their application in different technological, spatial, national and international contexts. 
  • demonstrate the analytical skills required to identify the interactions among key actors in technology and innovation systems, and to identify the main interactions running through these systems to link public policy and the innovative activities of business firms and other organisations. 
  • demonstrate the practical skills to clearly and concisely write an account of selected aspects of the innovation systems described above. 

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Entry requirements

UK entrance requirements

A first- or upper second-class undergraduate honours degree in either a social or a natural science. Applicants with relevant professional experience will also be considered.

Overseas entrance requirements

Please refer to column A on the Overseas qualifications.

If you have any questions about your qualifications after consulting our overseas qualifications table, contact the University.

Visas and immigration

Find out more about Visas and immigration.

English language requirements

IELTS 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each section. Internet TOEFL with 95 overall, with at least 22 in Listening, 23 in Reading, 23 in Speaking and 24 in Writing.

For more information, refer to English language requirements.

For more information about the admissions process at Sussex

For pre-application enquiries:

Student Recruitment Services
T +44 (0)1273 876787

For post-application enquiries:

Postgraduate Admissions,
University of Sussex,
Sussex House, Falmer,
Brighton BN1 9RH, UK
T +44 (0)1273 877773
F +44 (0)1273 678545

Fees and funding


Home UK/EU students: £6,9501
Channel Island and Isle of Man students: £6,9502
Overseas students: £14,1003

1 The fee shown is for the academic year 2013.
2 The fee shown is for the academic year 2013.
3 The fee shown is for the academic year 2013.

To find out about your fee status, living expenses and other costs, visit further financial information.


The funding sources listed below are for the subject area you are viewing and may not apply to all degrees listed within it. Please check the description of the individual funding source to make sure it is relevant to your chosen degree.

To find out more about funding and part-time work, visit further financial information.

We are in the process of updating funding sources for postgraduate study in the academic year 2013/14. For general information, refer to Funding.

For more information on scholarships go to the Scholarships web pages.

Faculty interests

Professor Richard Black Global migration in response to climate change.

Dr Rob Byrne Low-carbon development, renewable energy, socio-technical transitions.

Dr Rose Cairns Discourse analysis and Q methodology on climate-policy-related issues, geo-engineering, governance of technological approaches to climate change.

Terry Cannon Rural livelihoods, disaster vulnerability and climate change adaptation.

Dr Adrian Ely Innovation, sustainability, development, climate change and agriculture.

Dr Mick Frogley Quaternary palaeoecology, and climatic history of lake basins.

Dr Blane Harvey Technologies for learning and knowledge sharing in the global South.

Dr Sabine Hielscher Community innovation in sustainable energy.

Dr Florian Kern Governance of system innovation, energy innovation policy.

Dr Dominic Kniveton Climate systems, and hydrological cycle in Southern Africa.

Dr Markku Lehtonen Role of expert knowledge in energy and environmental policy; transport, biofuels, and sustainability; deliberative decision-making on nuclear energy.

Professor Gordon MacKerron Energy policy of carbon emission reductions and security of supply, nuclear power economics and policy, economic regulation in the energy industries.

Francis McGowan Policy making in the European Union, European government/industry relations.

Professor Erik Millstone Public and environmental health protection policies, risk assessment and management by national and international regulatory bodies, obesity policy.

Dr Julian Murton Permafrost; physical modelling, and Quaternary environments in Arctic Canada and UK.

Dr Lars Otto Naess Social and institutional dimensions of adaptation to climate change.

Dr Andrew Newsham Local knowledge and participation in conservation and development.

Dr David Ockwell Low-carbon technology transfer to developing countries, energy policy, communication and behaviour change.

Dr Ana Pueyo Climate change, low-carbon development, techonology transfer.

Dr Pedram Rowhani Climate change and food security, land cover change, GIS.

Dr Adrian Smith Civil society and technology, environmental policy process.

Dr Steve Sorrell Energy and climate policy, emissions trading, energy efficiency, economics, transport modelling and policy.

Dr Thomas Tanner The policy and practice of adaptation to climate change.

Professor Martin Todd The impact of climate change on hydrological and ecological systems, atmospheric aerosols.

Dr Yi Wang Climate science: terrestrial ecosystems, global bio-geochemical cycles; climate change; ocean-land-atmosphere interaction; tropical convection.

Professor Jim Watson Energy policy; energy and development; sustainability, technology innovation.

Dr Rebecca White Low-carbon food systems.

Careers and profiles

Given the importance of energy on political and corporate agendas, there is a growing demand for energy policy professionals. In SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research, graduates have been successful in obtaining employment in a variety of roles within the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. For example, recent MSc graduates have gained employment in international organisations (eg OECD, UNDP, UNEP), government departments (eg UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, Government of British Columbia, Canada), local authorities (eg Brighton & Hove Council sustainability team), the private sector (eg RWE npower renewables, Ecofys, EDF, Unilever, Southern Solar, Renaissance Re, Centro de Apoio a Inovação Social-CAIS) and NGOs (eg International Social Science Council, Green Jobs Alliance, People and Planet), while others have gone on to study for PhDs in this area.

Paula's student perspective

Paula Rolffs

‘I chose the MSc in Energy Policy for Sustainability at Sussex because I wanted to deepen my knowledge of renewable energies and of the energy system in general.

‘In addition to this, I'm also getting new insights into different fields of studies related to economics and innovation. The interdisciplinarity of the course and the international background of the students make it a great and fruitful experience.’ 

Paula Rolffs
MSc in Energy Policy for Sustainability

Cameron's student perspective

Cameron Jones

'I chose to study the MSc in Energy Policy for Sustainability at Sussex in order to learn how the appropriate design of economic, energy and environmental policies can promote long-term sustainability, while also meeting needs of the present.

'The faculty at SPRU are well-connected with other universities, government agencies and think tanks, and, as a result, I have a number of avenues through which I can pursue my dissertation. I believe that with this MSc I will be better equipped to influence, inspire, educate and negotiate more effectively in order to address the need to transition to sustainable energy systems.'

Cameron Jones
MSc in Energy Policy for Sustainability

Martin's faculty perspective

Professor Martin Todd

‘There can be few areas of science that directly inform policy to the extent that climate science does today. When I started my climate research career more than 20 years ago, climate science was a minority interest and climate change only a peripheral issue. Now it is at the forefront of the scientific, social, economic and political agendas and has a prominent media profile.

'Since climate change has moved out of the research labs and onto the front page, I felt I wanted to look outwards also. Coming to Sussex has enabled me to work with leading groups that work directly on developing policy on the shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy and on the impact of climate change on people in the developing world. It has highlighted the magnitude of the challenge society faces and the necessity for the multidisciplinary approach we are developing at Sussex.’

Professor Martin Todd
Chair in Climate Change

For more information, visit Careers and alumni.

School and contacts

School of Business, Management and Economics

The School of School of Business, Management and Economics is a unique, research-focused business school, which takes a strong policy-directed view on business practices while also developing the underlying core disciplines.

School of Business, Management and Economics,
Jubilee Building,
University of Sussex, Falmer,
Brighton BN1 9SL, UK
T +44 (0)1273 872717
SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research

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