Postgraduate study

Energy, Society and Sustainability MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

How do we achieve energy security, energy justice and environmental sustainability, across different places and people? This question we all face is the ‘energy trilemma’.

With the MSc Energy, Society and Sustainability, you can explore these challenges affecting our world today and in the future.

Energy - at the heart of sustainability

Energy comes in many forms. Its availability in the landscape such as coal, wind or the sun, must be transformed into electricity. It is then carried in pipes and grids to where it is needed, in order to power our everyday lives.

All this takes materials and has an economic, environmental and human cost. Thus, energy is essential to everyday human life and at the heart of sustainability.

Scotland is a world leader in renewable electricity generation. It has a history of hydroelectricity and North Sea oil and a future in tide and wave energy.

However, it also has high levels of energy poverty, a challenge faced by many.

To address global climate change, the world needs a fast but fair transition to a low-carbon society.

What will I learn?

The MSc in Energy, Society and Sustainability equips you with an understanding of how different societies can address the challenge of balancing energy with sustainability. It brings together a social, political, economic, and environmental understanding of low-carbon technologies.

You will explore the risks, costs, and benefits of making the energy transition to low-carbon energy in a globalised world.

The programme will equip you with a critical awareness of related local, regional and global debates and challenges, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and role of energy in development.

You will benefit from our access to insightful case studies, as well as the organisations and communities our lecturers work closely with, from local Scottish islands to international corporations.

These cases demonstrate global best practice and identify paths to sustainable energy management.

Reputation, relevance and employability

You will be taught by experts and researchers, many of whom are leaders in their field.

We are also committed to helping you benefit from our excellent relationships with government departments, energy-relevant NGOs, and key industry players, from community energy organisations to start-up renewable energy companies.

These networks provide opportunities for you to meet potential employers, and for dissertations conducted in partnership with external organisations, helping you gain valuable real-world experience.

Is the MSc for me?

We welcome students from a wide range of backgrounds, creating a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary shared learning.

Students with a natural science background might seek to understand more about the social factors associated with a lower carbon economy, while social science students might expand their skills and knowledge for a career in low-carbon energy.

Edinburgh Climate Change Institute

This MSc programme is associated with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI).

ECCI brings together experts in law, business, social science, technology, and policy to help develop a low-carbon society.

Through the ECCI, you will have the opportunity to be working and networking alongside professionals and potential employers within this high-demand field.

Find out more from our students

Visit our student blog, where students in the School of GeoSciences share their experiences of postgraduate study, living in Edinburgh and everything in-between.

This MSc programme comprises:

  • compulsory and option courses
  • dissertation

Throughout the programme, your teaching team will work with you to prepare for the dissertation project. This will be your opportunity to explore a topic of your choice in relation to the programme.

Teaching methods

You will experience a range of teaching styles while you are studying, depending on the subject matter and courses you are taking.

Courses can be delivered through a mix of teaching and learning styles including:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • seminars
  • workshops
  • practicals
  • short field trips
  • longer field courses

Please view each relevant course for teaching and assessment methods.

Changes to teaching and learning

We are committed to offering a high-quality education to all our students. Please be advised that there may be changes to course options and delivery, including due to Covid-19.

Changes to how we deliver teaching and learning experiences will be made to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and community, and to ensure we can maintain the highest standards for educational experience.

Although we endeavour to provide a wide range of optional courses to choose from, these can be subject to change or cancellation at short notice.

Places on optional courses can be limited, due to course capacity and timetabling constraints. It may not be possible to guarantee every offer holder their top choice of optional courses.

Part-time study

As we are committed to helping people into education while continuing to work or managing family and personal commitments, you may study this programme part-time.

Find out more about compulsory and optional courses

We link to the latest information available. Please note that this may be for a previous academic year and should be considered indicative.

On completing the MSc Energy, Society and Sustainability, you will:

  • possess in-depth knowledge and understanding of the inseparable social, technical and environmental dimensions of whole energy systems and energy transitions
  • have critical awareness of related local, regional and global debates and challenges, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and role of energy in development
  • be familiar with key theories and analytical approaches that underpin the energy social sciences, in order to evaluate the advantages and implications of these for current and future energy challenges
  • develop and demonstrate evidence-informed analysis and argumentation related to individual, institutional and systemic challenges of energy sustainability, including diverse and conflicting claims
  • be able to gather and analyse appropriate qualitative data using a variety of interdisciplinary methods, in order to answer the latest questions around energy, society and sustainability, from energy justice to global energy futures
  • gain experience in collaborating and communicating effectively with key stakeholders on energy and sustainability issues
  • gain experience in the application of energy social science theories and methods in practice

Demand has never been higher for sound evidence on behavioural change, public engagement with energy issues and public support for community and commercial investments in low-carbon energy generation.

The MSc will enable you to translate complex social and technical issues into effective arguments, policies and innovative business opportunities.

We have links with government departments, energy-relevant NGOs, and key industry players who want to make use of the skills gained from the MSc, from community energy organisations to start-up renewable energy companies.

We are committed to helping you meet prospective employers and network with those active in the field. We also organise careers events and encourage dissertations conducted in partnership with external organisations.

Our graduates

Our graduates have been very successful in securing employment in the energy sector around the world, from international energy consultancies, national and regional government institutions to third sector organisations, including NGOs and institutes of higher education.

Careers Service

Our Careers Service plays an essential part in your wider student experience at the University, offering a range of tailored careers and personal development guidance and support.

We support you to recognise the wealth of possibilities ahead, while at university and after graduation.

The MSc gives you a unique opportunity to develop your experience and skills in energy research through collaboration with energy communities and organisations.

Previous fieldwork locations have included Orkney, the islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. These islands generate 120% of their electricity from renewables, including community-owned wind energy, micro wind turbines, as well as from the waves and tides.

The islands are also the site of a smart grid, and have several hydrogen technology projects, from hydrogen storage to the development of a hydrogen aeroplane.

Prior students have had the opportunity to collaborate with the companies and communities in the islands.

The projects reflected on their energy and sustainability concerns, exploring how the islands' early adoption of low-carbon technologies (from hydrogen storage to flexible grid to marine energy) is helping to address their energy infrastructure fragility, and socio-economic challenges (for example, fuel poverty, low housing standards, ageing population), all informed by current ideas and concepts.

There are no additional charges for compulsory field trips.

Changes to field trips

Field course locations may change for a variety of reasons, including due to Covid-19.

Where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated or rescheduled.

We will also look at alternative arrangements that will ensure you achieve the quality learning outcomes of your degree.

Changes to how we deliver teaching and learning experiences will be made to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and community, and to ensure we can maintain the highest standards for educational experience.

Any changes will be announced as soon as possible.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent.

We may also consider a UK 2:2 honours degree, or its international equivalent, with relevant work experience, a strong personal statement and supportive reference; feel free to contact us to check before you apply.

Students from China

This degree is Band C.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

For 2021 entry we will accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 (at least 6.0 in each module)
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 100 (at least 20 in each module). We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 169 in each module)
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with a pass in all four components

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:


You will need to pay this deposit if you receive an offer of admission (either unconditional or conditional).

  • £1,500 (this contributes towards your tuition fees)

Find out more about tuition fee deposits:

Field trips and field courses

We do not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses.

Costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence on compulsory field trips will be covered by the programme fees. However, you must pay for incidental or personal expenses.

Living costs

You will be responsible for covering living costs for the duration of your studies.

Tuition fees

School of GeoSciences scholarships

Browse funding opportunities

You are also encouraged to undertake your own research into the range of potential scholarships and other funding for which you may be eligible.

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Institute of Geography
  • Drummond Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9XP

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines.

We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline.

We aim to make the majority of decisions within six weeks of the selection deadline.

If we have not made you an offer by a specific selection deadline this means one of two things:

  • your application has been unsuccessful, in which case we will contact you to let you know, or
  • your application is still being considered, will be carried forward for consideration in the next selection deadline and we’ll be in touch once a decision is made

Selection Deadlines

Round Application Deadline Decisions made or applications rolled to next deadline
1 31 January 2021 15 March 2021
2 31 March 2021 15 May 2021
3 30 June 2021 15 August 2021

(*Revised 9 March 2021 to add information on decision timescales.)

Applicants receiving an offer of admission, either unconditional or conditional, will be asked to pay a tuition fee deposit of £1,500. Please see the fees and costs section for more information.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Institute of Geography
  • Drummond Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9XP