UT researchers find women need more energy education


Wynne Davis

UT researchers have found that women in underdeveloped countries are in need of energy education to increase society’s efficiency and better the surrounding environment.

Researchers Michael Webber, UT’s Energy Institute deputy director, and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the Energy Management and Innovation Center associate director, look at energy education, which includes basic knowledge of energy technologies and household energy usage.

Webber said women’s roles in energy matters came up after years of studying and teaching energy.

“It’s hard to cover this topic in depth without realizing the important role women have as decision-makers in the household and as victims of bad energy decisions — from pollution, old technologies … and beneficiaries of good energy decisions, because of reduced burdens for manual labor,” Webber said.

Their research is not technical-based but rather involves looking at energy issues in policy and social justice contexts, Webber said.

Organizations focused on educating people in lesser developed countries travel and teach the local people about a variety of topics, often including health care or religion, but energy is not known to be a priority topic. In order for energy to play a bigger role in any society, there needs to be an educated body willing to teach, Kirshenbaum said.

“Energy literacy is very low, which isn’t surprising because it’s not a standard subject we learn about at school,” Kirshenbaum said. “It’s very interdisciplinary, but we tend to compartmentalize energy into ‘policy’ or ‘engineering,’ without providing the comprehensive context for how they interact. Fortunately, this is beginning to change.”

Even though the level of energy literacy is currently low, it’s a growing field, Webber said.

“I think awareness is growing about the importance of energy literacy,” Webber said. “At the same time, STEM education has been identified as a top priority for many stakeholders. Done the right way, education programs could tackle STEM and energy in ways that are good for society.”

As outreach efforts to these areas continue, researchers may be able to help make energy a part of the platform, Webber said.

“I think that educators like myself need to propose that energy be included in their philanthropic efforts,” Webber said. “Most philanthropists are open to good ideas, so if we make the case effectively, they will support it.”

While women are a group of focus for energy education, Webber said everyone needs to be knowledgeable about the subject.

“If we do energy the right way, then women and the whole world will benefit,” Webber said.

The researchers have been working together since Kirshenbaum joined the Webber Energy Group in 2010.