PhD Scholarship, Faculty of Science

Brisbane, Australia
07 Sep 2018
End of advertisement period
27 Nov 2018
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

PhD opportunities exist at The University of Queensland (UQ), for full time students undertaking research projects focused on accelerating the world’s decarbonisation efforts, through identifying and resolving bottlenecks to the rate of change in technical, social and economic systems.


While global electricity demand is expected to double by 2060, the global electricity system must be largely decarbonised over the same period, if the world is to successfully limit global temperature rise to 2°C. Delivering on this dual challenge requires an abrupt and rapid change in both the energy mix, and the infrastructure required. As with all large-scale industrial change through history, the pace of this decarbonisation transition is likely to be constrained by a combination of social, environmental, technological and economic factors. It is also likely that the nature of the most critical bottlenecks will vary substantially, from region to region.

All global modelling scenarios of deep decarbonisation depend on the transformation of regional electricity systems to provide the biggest contribution to greenhouse (GHG) abatement, replacing more than half of fossil-fueled generation with intermittent renewable sources. Recent experience in some countries is that (a) technical and socio-economic barriers can emerge at wind and solar generation levels much lower than a 40% grid contribution; and (b) the resistance to increasing renewables penetration becomes even stronger when the viability of existing fossil-fueled generators is compromised, given the potential for substantial local job losses and impacts on the viability of industries that rely on reliable, cost-competitive power.

Furthermore, in many parts of the world, concerns exist that the large spatial footprint and locational constraints of large-scale renewables generation could clash substantially with other environmental objectives such as protected area conservation.

Putting all these concerns together is not easy, but the failure to address these many perspectives at the outset can undermine the best-laid plans. If we are to meet the world’s energy demands and make the switch to renewables we need to embrace the complexity of the challenge before us, and view energy planning as an exercise in simultaneously meeting emissions goals, price goals, social justice goals, economic goals, and environmental goals.

The role

We are offering an opportunity for (up to) two excellent PhD candidates, to work with the Complex Environmental Decisions Lab (within the School of Earth and Environmental Science) and the Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovations (within the School of Chemical Engineering) on innovative projects that explore the multi-dimensional trade-offs in renewable energy policy. Opportunities may also exist to collaborate with our international partners in the Rapid Switch initiative and the Environmental Decisions Alliance, both UQ-led collaborations.

Projects will explore specific research questions under the following two major approaches, in order to develop strategies to resolve bottlenecks and accelerate the transition:

  1. Develop a multi-objective optimisation method to understand spatial differences in the tradeoffs and co-benefits (socio-economic, environmental and technical) of renewable energy development.
  2. Develop a Systems Dynamics model tailored to analyse the impacts of transitions to renewable energy growth on energy production, the environment and society; and to explore policy options to drive sustainable and ethical energy production.

Projects will likely begin by exploring national models for key regions such as India. Opportunities may then exist to scale-up to a review of global impacts associated with the twin challenges of achieving energy equity and energy system decarbonisation.

The person

Expressions of Interest are invited from outstanding and enthusiastic Australian and international graduates with a First-Class Honours, or equivalent qualifications through a relevant Masters degree. Candidates will have a background in quantitative analysis, with experience in systems dynamics modelling or spatial planning an advantage. Experience in energy modelling is not necessary. Candidates must bring a passion for exploring complex trade-offs across a diverse array of environmental, social, health and economic drivers.

Applicants must fulfil the PhD admission criteria for the University of Queensland, including English language requirements, and demonstrate excellent capacity and potential for research. Demonstration of research ability through publication output in peer reviewed international journals is desirable.

For further information on the Basis of Admission to a UQ research higher degree, please visit  Successful applicants must accept and commence within 6 months of receiving an award.


Prospective students will be provided with assistance to apply for a competitive UQ scholarship, or a domestic equivalent scholarship, for stipend and tuition support The duration of the candidacy is 3 years with 2 possible extensions each for up to 6 months (PPL 4.80.01 UQ Research Scholarships).

Candidates will also be eligible for an additional grant of $3,000 per annum for project costs and travel and an extra $3,500 over the life of the project from SEES.

Successful candidates will also be eligible to receive a scholarship top-up of $5,000 per annum, available for up to 3.5 years, subject to their project proposal being aligned with the priorities of the UQ Rapid Switch project. Top-up scholarships are available to domestic and international candidates, on condition of the recipient receiving an unconditional admission to the University and a full scholarship.


To discuss these roles please contact, Associate Professor Eve McDonald-Madden, at, or Dr Joe Lane at

Visit for further information on The Complex Environmental Decisions Lab. For more information on The Dow Centre at UQ, and the UQ-led Rapid Switch project, please visit or contact Dr Joe Lane.

Applications for these positions close on Tuesday, November 27th 2018.

To submit an application, please email All applicants must supply the following documents: Cover letter Resume and academic transcript.

DO NOT submit an application using the Apply button below, please email your application to Eve McDonald-Madden.