Current debates and trends in energy, both within Portugal and the EU, highlight some significant energy systems challenges. The first of these is the need to reverse the energy consumption and emissions trends Portugal and other nations have seen over the past 15 years. Meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets is a challenge that calls for new ideas, tools, technologies, and policies, along with highly educated people to develop and implement them.

Devising strategies to cost-effectively meet these challenges requires new energy systems methodologies that capture the dynamics and drivers of energy demand—including consumer behavior, energy resources (especially renewable resources) and the networks that connect the two. With these challenges in mind, the Sustainable Energy Systems focus area's prime objective is to engage industry and government in innovative research and educational programs to develop standard approaches, methods, and policies for improving the long-term performance of the nation's energy sector while addressing climate change and energy security concerns.

The education program includes a one-year advanced studies course (DEA in FEUP/ Executive Master in IST-ISEG) for working professionals and a multiple-year SES Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) course. The advanced studies and doctoral program both focus on core areas in energy systems within a multidisciplinary engineering systems framework, including engineering and economics, at the level of energy systems analysis and design. Students who successfully complete the DFA may proceed to the PhD program as long as they fulfill the requirements and are approved by the SES Educational Committee.

The research and education programs involve numerous departments and laboratories at MIT, in collaboration with several Portuguese universities, including the University of Lisbon (Técnico Lisboa, IST; Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão, ISEG; Faculdade de Ciências, FCUL), the University of Porto (Faculdade de Engenharia, FEUP), and the University of Coimbra (Faculdade de Economia, FEUC;  Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, FCTUC).

The activities of the energy systems focus area are coordinated across universities by the following professors:

Luis Moreira (IST)
Manuel Matos (FEUP)
António Gomes Martins (UC)
João Serra (FCUL)
Stephen Connors (MIT)

The Sustainable Energy Systems focus area has also developed an Industrial Affiliates program to support the educational and research programs and enhance relationships between higher education and industry.