At IIASA, Rao leads the institute’s innovative Decent Living Energy
project, which has helped quantify — and map — the energy needs and climate change impacts of eradicating poverty and providing “decent” living standards for all humans.
Since 2015, the project has explored which goods and services constitute decent living standards, which energy resources are required to provide these goods and services in different countries, the climate impacts of providing these services, and how constituents and their energy needs will change as their countries develop.
Rao began his career as an engineer. After earning a joint master’s degree — in technology and policy, and in electrical engineering and computer science — from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he spent several years working in the private sector and as a consultant in the U.S. electricity sector.
But it was during a four-year stint as a visiting faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, during which India was undergoing a vast energy transition, that he came to truly understand the human impacts of energy policy decisions.
“I started my career on the technical side, as an engineer,” he said. “But as I began to understand development issues and strategies more and more, I started to realize that many of the of the challenges are political, institutional, and social.
“So I gradually moved away from the technical side and tried to better understand the context of energy and society.”
In 2011, he completed his Ph.D. at Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, where he studied the impacts of energy policy in developing countries.
During his career he has studied income inequality, infrastructure, and climate policy. His methods have included household energy modeling, survey work, econometrics, input-output analysis, and policy analysis.
His work has been published in dozens of academic journals. In a recent study, published in the journal WIREs Climate Change
, Rao and a colleague illustrated how reduced global inequality will improve climate outcomes. In 2011, he won the Amulya K. Reddy Prize for the Best Paper in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development
for his paper, “Kerosene Subsidies in India: When Energy Policy Fails as Social Policy