International Women’s Day 2023


Newcastle University colleagues share their thoughts on #embraceequity International Women’s Day 2023

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect on the progress made towards gender equality and recognise the work that still needs to be done. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #embraceequity.

The difference between equality and equity is subtle yet important. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources or opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Equity is vital as it recognises that everybody starts from different places in life, and if we embrace equity, it promotes inclusion and diversity in everything we do.

For International Women’s Day, we asked our colleagues three questions.

  • What does equality mean to you?
  • What does equity mean to you?
  • Can you share an example of when something you have undertaken yourself has led to a positive change in terms of gender equity? This could be in your personal or professional life.

We used the responses from the first two questions to create a word cloud, pictured in Figure 1.

“I encouraged a female PhD student to apply for a doctoral prize fellowship which she would not otherwise have considered. She successfully won the fellowship, and it has kickstarted her post-doctoral research career.”

“I had an intern helping me who was a single parent doing her bachelor’s degree and I was happy for her work hours to be flexible around her and made the effort to find her extra funding to continue the work further.”

“I was a mentor to a teenage girl through the Girls Network and hope that I supported my mentee even in small ways to realise her potential as a young woman.”

“A recent funding application was undertaken anonymously and lead to a 50/50 gender split, even age split with more ECRs and more ethnic diversity. All of these attributes help to create a more diverse and positive research culture.”

“In an event me and a few friends were running, we decided to dedicate performance slots to female artists after having male dominated line-ups for a long time. We received a positive response from our female attendees, discovered some great artists and the opportunities have helped several of the artists progress their music careers.”

One of the biggest barriers to equity is the cost of childcare, which disproportionately effects women with children as they are typically the primary care givers. We acknowledge all responses received in our survey and are aware of challenges and barriers that are present. Our colleagues and the processes that are implemented are continuously being improved to ensure that all voices are heard. It is important to challenge behaviour that unfairly discriminates against anyone in the workplace. We hope that our anonymous survey will encourage others to share their stories in the future, as well as embracing the benefits and barriers of embracing equity that exist.

See here for more inspirational stories.

#IWD2023 #EmbraceEquity

CESI Visit Hydrogen Homes

CESI are the first to see the new hydrogen cooking appliances in the UK’s only Hydrogen Homes!

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CESI Team outside the Hydrogen Homes

To celebrate CESI coming to an end, last month InTEGReL opened up its doors to CESI colleagues and showed us around their fantastic facilities.

InTEGReL has played an important role within the 6 years of CESI. It is one of our largest and most active demonstrator for CESI models and tools, in conjunction with Northern Gas Networks and Northern Power Grid. InTEGReL is the UK’s first multi-vector integrated energy systems research and demonstration facility investigating utility scale infrastructure.

The facilities at InTEGReL will help to tackle the UK’s energy challenges head on, with teams of academics and engineers in CESI working to deliver breakthroughs in the decarbonisation of heat, energy storage and transport, to identify the most affordable and practical solution to moving customers onto low carbon, low-cost energy

On 13th May CESI colleagues were able to visit InTEGReL, hydrogen blending equipment and the Hydrogen Homes at the Low Thornley site in Gateshead. The two semi-detached Hydrogen Homes opened in July 2021 and are the UK’s first houses to include hydrogen domestic cooking appliances, boilers, fires and meters.

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CESI team outside the hydrogen blending equipment

We were the first group of people to see the new version of the cooking appliances, which are likely to be offered to customers who become the first to use 100% hydrogen in their homes. These appliances were produced through the Hy4heat project.

Orange hydrogen flame on cooking appliances in Hydrogen Home

The Hydrogen Homes visit was well received by attendees, including by CESI researchers and industry:

“Hydrogen homes demonstrated the transition pathway of future homes through the functioning of hydrogen-natural gas blended and pure hydrogen appliances. Visiting InTEGReL was a time travel experience to reimagine how our neighbourhoods would transform and adapt to a new way of energy utilization philosophy.”

Akhil joseph, cesi rESEARCHER

“It is great to see some of the facilities we have in the region especially relating to hydrogen. The visit was a great eye opener to the future. Hydrogen is likely to be the most important energy resource after renewables and, possibly, nuclear power.”


The tour of the InTEGReL site was incredibly informative, and although we were seeing brand new technology my key take away from the Hydrogen Homes was just how normal it all was, with the gas cooker and heating all operating as one would expect. The work done by Northern Gas Networks really demonstrates that hydrogen will be a key part of driving domestic decarbonisation in the UK

JEssica Sharples, GHD

The Hydrogen Homes tour was led by Northern Gas Network’ Alex Brightman. She said ‘it was great to welcome guests from CESI to the Hydrogen Home and showcase the hydrogen appliances, which don’t create carbon when used, meaning they can be compatible with climate goals. The homes normalise the use of hydrogen by demonstrating that can be used in the same way as natural gas with minimal changes and disruption to the way we heat and cook.’

Find out more about CESI and InTEGReL’s collaboration:

More information about the Hydrogen Homes

Contact Hydrogen Homes for more information or to arrange a tour:

EDI Blog Series – Part 4: Mansoureh Zangiabadi

About the Author:

Dr Mansoureh Zangiabadi is a Research Associate at Newcastle University, working within the Electrical Power Research Group.

Her main research topics interest:

  1. Smarter solutions of future power systems (Electrical Battery Storage, Demand Response, Renewable Energy Resources, Micro Grids)
  2. Whole energy network roadmap of future (energy hub management)
  3. Electrification of Transport, Electrical Vehicles and Electrical Railway

My life in Iran

I grew up in family a of two siblings in Iran; my two brothers are both engineers, so it was no doubt that I was interested in engineering subjects from a young age. Since school and college, maths and physics have been my two favourite subjects. I dreamt about being an astronomer and understanding physics behind.

I received my B.SC in Electrical Engineering from University of Kerman/ Iran. I remember, I aspired to work in the places that repair electric equipment such as TVs, Vacuum cleaners and so on. However, at that time, culturally it was not possible for girls to work in these very male dominated environments. It is worth mentioning that schools in Iran were and are still single sex from primary school to secondary schools and high schools (there are boys schools and girls school separately) even many colleges are single sex too. Universities are mixed sex but there are still some subjects that only men are allowed to study in universities in Iran.

My parents were always very supportive and encouraging in all decisions that I made in my life. Following up with understanding electrical equipment through repairing them, when I was 17 years old, I remember my dad and I tried to repair our vacuumed cleaner together, but we forgot to note how it was assembled in the first place and it never worked again!

Despite the gender imbalance, I pursued my studies in electrical engineering and I received my M.SC in Electrical Power Engineering from Isfahan University of Technology and my PhD from University of Tehran/Iran. Teaching has been always a passion in my life; from time to time, I was teaching maths and physics at high schools and then moving to teaching electrical engineering modules in colleges and Universities. I then began working as a Lecturer in Azad University Kerman for four years teaching several modules in electrical engineering as Electrical Circuit Theory, Power System Transmission and Cables modelling, Electrical System Analysis and Operation and Electrical Machines. I also had a very good collaboration with Utilities and Distribution System Operator (DSO) companies in Iran.

Exploring the World

I always loved to explore the world, my income was never enough but it did not stop me, and I worked very hard and saved my money for my dream. It was the first time during my PhD, that I had the opportunity to present my paper in CIRED conference in Spain and which is an experience that I will never forget. I presented the paper in front of my dad (my accompany in Conference) and I was so proud that my hard work paid off. I was even able to pay for my dad’s trip expenses which is something I was very proud of.

After that conference, I visited France during my PhD as exchange student in INP Grenoble / France for 9 months. I married my husband while he was studying his PhD in Norway, it was the reason that I visited and lived for some years in Norway. I also worked in Norway for few years but mainly I was always traveling Iran to finish my PhD which was not easy as I had my first daughter born in Norway at that time. Norway is built on equal opportunities values for all and very much supporting women in achieving their goals. We moved to UK in 2013 and settled in Newcastle. Newcastle university and northeast people; their friendly culture was the most welcoming received in UK. I love Newcastle more as it is the birthplace of my second daughter. 

Facing challenges in the workplace as a woman

I have always been an advocate voice for STEM and women in engineering community and participated in such activities.  My educational journey in Iran was tough, as at that time there were little opportunities for girls to pursue their studies in higher education, due to conflict war between Iran/Iraq. Recent statistics show that 50% of higher education entries in Iran are girls and engineering is a popular subject to pursued. The job market has not been prepared for this move and it is not easy for women to work in tough environments, for example steel factories and so on.

Despite gender limitations in Iran, Iranian women have been very successful in STEM and engineering subjects. However, a cultural move is required to support girls and women in Iran. In Norway, France and UK, the places that I lived and worked, the gender imbalance in STEM and engineering subjects is apparent and even the same in all over the world. I believe men support is needed to help reduce the imbalance through proactively encouraging women to join STEM subjects.

My challenge in the workplace was the unconscious bias of my male colleagues which have been always doubting women capability and underestimation of women competence. I have seen that my male colleagues are given more opportunities in different ways. For an example, my male colleges have the advantage of friendly citing their male colleagues’ papers and increasing their H index collectively. As there are only few females in academia for now in power engineering subjects, so it is not easy to achieve the same trend for me and my female colleagues in academia. It means criteria needs to be changed in a way to give opportunities to women to get experience in teaching, in research and in securing funds in academia. There are many other challenges for women working in high male dominated environments in all over the world, nevertheless men are learning to be more supportive and are more proactive in presenting opportunities for women.

Hope for the future!

The future is bright; men and women are collectively recognising their strengths and weaknesses and are supporting each other to flourish. Our human brains have an extraordinary ability to coordinate with each other and to share values, and I believe together we will help to reduced inequalities.  

EDI Blog Series – Part 3: Adib Allahham

About the Author:

Dr Adib Allahham is Senior Research Associate at School of Engineering, Newcastle University. His research focusses on renewable energy, smart grids, active buildings, electricity distribution, and multi-vector energy systems.

Adib pictured during his PhD studies

Adib is researcher working for the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI), involved in the research activities of the Active Building Centre (ABC), and leading three projects funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the field of smart grids, energy storage, and peer-to-peer energy trading.

My journey to one of the top universities in the UK

In September of 2021 I was promoted to Senior Research Associate at Newcastle University. This was a huge career landmark for me.

I was brought up in Damascus, the Syrian capital, which is classified as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It was here where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Damascus University and secured top rank in the five-year bachelor program.

After securing my degree, I worked as a teaching assistant in the same department and institution for two years where I led the laboratory demonstration, assisted in the teaching activities, and supervised graduation project. It was during this time I received a scholarship from the French government to pursue further studies. I obtained MSc degree from the Grenoble Institute of Technology and awarded PhD from University of Joseph Fourier in 2004 and 2008 respectively.

After completion of my PhD, I worked as a post-doctoral researcher in Grenoble Institute of Technology until 2010. To fulfil my interests in research, teaching and willing to serve the home institution, I took the decision to come back to Syria, and worked as lecturer at Damascus University until 2016. Unfortunately, the Syrian conflict started in March 2011 and changed whole situation. The war forced me to re-think about research career.

How did the Syrian war affect your Engineering career?

My research and teaching duties were heavily increased as students from two other universities located in military conflict areas moved to Damascus University. In addition, I had to work as part-time lecturer in a private university to support my family as the conflict severely affected our economic situation. Due to these unforeseen situations, the safety of my family and to achieve my research goals, I had decided to leave Syria in 2015. Although the right decision, it was hard for me. I had to leave some of my family, friends, and stable job.

What are some of the unexpected challenges you faced?

I obtained a job offer from Grenoble Institute of Technology to work on an industrial project. Unfortunately, I could not obtain the visa and unable to join the French University. This was very disappointing and left me feeling down and frustrated. The most shocking in this visa rejection was that the rejection reasons were not given with the decision letter which took 67 days after the application submission. 

However, I was given hope again! Whilst I was conducting research with my MSc student about Smart Grids demonstrators, I became aware of the Power Systems Group at Newcastle University. Immediately, I contacted the team leader and consequently I was offered the position of visiting researcher at Newcastle University. With this I started a new adventure with Newcastle University from June 2016.

“I took a risk by reaching out, and it paid off!”

I was fortunate to work with friendly and knowledgeable researchers who included me in their research activities and gave the opportunity to develop my own research directions. In 2017, the team started to enlarge its scope of research activities to include not only Power Systems but also the Whole Energy System. This major change started with the launch of EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) led by Newcastle University and involved 5 other universities in which I was worked as a research associate.

In fact, moving to the UK was a challenge for me and my wife and now I’m happy that I made the right decision. At the same time when I moved to Newcastle University, she was also successful in getting a Chevening Scholarship, funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She joined and obtained a MSc degree in international development at University of East Anglia. She is now working for Gateshead Council.  

What piece of advice would you give to someone who might be in a similar situation as yours?

“As long as you plan your life and you are surrounded by supportive people, you will achieve your goals sooner or later.”

EDI Blog Series – Part 2: Sara Walker

About the Author:

Professor Sara Walker is the Director of The Centre for Energy, in the School of Engineering. Her research focusses on renewable energy and energy efficiency in buildings, energy policy, energy resilience, and whole energy systems.

Sara is Director of the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration, Deputy Director of the EPSRC Supergen Energy Networks Hub, and Deputy Research Director of the Active Building Centre.

My journey to professorship – struggles and triumphs

In November of 2021 I was promoted to Professor of Energy at Newcastle University. This has felt like such a career landmark for me.

I was brought up by my parents in Cramlington, a town to the north of Newcastle. When I was young my father was made redundant and the family moved into council housing. I never considered myself as poor, but I do remember we grew potatoes in the garden to save on food shopping and me and my younger sister would wear hand-me-down clothes. My older sister left school at 16 and got a job working in hospitality, and as my parents’ financial situation improved they were able to purchase their council house, but we were by no means affluent! At 15 I got a Saturday job at Whitley Bay ice rink in the cafeteria, and I started to earn my own money which was very empowering.

When I went to university at Leicester I noticed that my financial situation wasn’t the same as others around me. I had a grant from the council to cover most of my living costs and my parents also contributed to top my grant up. I got a part time job working at the bar in the students union, and also worked part time in a local pub. During summer vacations I always worked, normally bar work.

I remember waiting to use the public telephone one weekend to chat to my parents whilst at university, and watching the person on the phone in front of me crying crocodile tears to her dad. She needed money to buy a ball gown since it wasn’t fair for her to be expected to wear her existing ball gown that she’d already worn.

That’s when it really struck me that some of my fellow students were really well off! I didn’t join expensive societies like skiing and horse riding, I didn’t go to lots of balls and social events. For my graduation ball I hired my dress.

When I finished my undergraduate course in physics I was offered a PhD by my personal tutor at the university. I didn’t really know what a PhD was, I had been first in my family to go to university, and I turned it down. Instead, I did a teacher training course and got a job as teacher. After teaching for a short while I decided to go back to university to do a masters course in environmental science, because I had got really interested in energy issues through voluntary work. This led onto a research job, and an opportunity to complete a PhD part time whilst working as a researcher. I think this is the only way I could have completed a PhD since I didn’t have the financial resources to support myself on a student bursary. The part time PhD took five years whilst I worked as researcher and during that time I had my son Toby.

My early experience of academia was still affected by my background somewhat. I had to think carefully about attending academic conferences, because I didn’t know how long it would take for my expenses to be paid back. One time an expensive overseas trip wasn’t paid in time before I had to pay the credit card bill, and I could only pay the minimum and incurred interest, something I couldn’t claim back from my employer. Conference dinners were a minefield, I didn’t have lots of spare cash to spend on cocktail dresses. Even work suits were often bought from the catalogue and paid for monthly when I first started out. Later in my career, financially and socially I found myself excluded from social events and the associated networking opportunities of corporate boxes at football, or golf at exclusive members courses.

Academic statistics do not portray the full picture

HESA statistics are available, to tell us something of the makeup of our UK professoriate. In 2019/20 there were 22,810 professors, of which 6,345 are “female”, 16,415 “male” and 50 “other” gender. Of the 21,055 professors with known ethnicity, 2,285 are BME. 735 professors are known to have a disability. Looking just at engineering, this discipline areas has the lowest proportion of female academics (see figure below). There are no statistics for socio-economic group, and no statistics for intersectionality (i.e. we don’t know how many BME are female, or how many BME have a disability, for example). There are also statistics for grant applications and success from EPSRC, by gender. Data for other protected characteristics are lacking.

Source: Departmental demographics of academic staff

Source: EPSRC Understanding our Portfolio

I am acutely aware of the lack of role models in academia from lower socio-economic backgrounds. But there are also a lack of role models who are LGBTQ+, minority ethnic, disabled, non-white, from different faiths, or any combination of these. In seeking out these role models, we expect people to be open about their protected characteristics, regardless of the discrimination this may attract.

Moving forward…

Raising up colleagues, giving equality of opportunity, and being more aware of the potential barriers to engagement, are approaches we are taking at Newcastle University’s Centre for Energy. For example, we are working hard to encourage involvement from all job families in the Centre for Energy – research as an activity spans so many jobs including project managers, technicians, finance, research students, research staff and academic staff, for example. We want the Centre itself to address issues of fairness and equity in energy research, and so we have a theme on Justice, Governance and Ethics. We are tackling global issues of energy transition, issues which need a range of perspectives across gender, race, (dis)ability, sexual orientation and religion in order to come up with solutions that work for the majority, and not the select few.

I have a strong northern accent, and am proud of my roots and to be back in the north east working at a Russell Group university. But I am still that kid from the council estate. And I am proud of that too.

Who perseveres wins!

About the Author:

Dr Susan Claire Scholes is a post-doctoral researcher within the School of Engineering.  Susan’s current research is in the field of whole systems energy research, working with the Supergen Energy Networks Hub at Newcastle University.

Previous research interests were in bioengineering where Susan was responsible for the investigation of explanted metal-on-metal hip prostheses and explanted knee prostheses.

Matlab and the GB Network System

Let me tell you a story….  It feels like it started a long, long time ago but in reality it has only been 20 months (this may still seem like a long time to some, depending on your age!).  Twenty months of hard work but important work.  This is when I started working on a model of the GB network system.  This model already existed [1, 2] but it needed some work to be done on it to allow it to perform the tasks that I required.

Now, I had minimal experience (or knowledge) on Matlab but I am always eager to learn so I saw this as an opportunity to develop my research skills even further (I’ve been working in academic research for 21 years now, so it’s never too late to learn!).

I familiarised myself with Matlab and the model so I understood the background to my project; and this understanding developed as the time progressed.  The adjustments needed on the model were only small; small in capacity but mammoth in the necessary effort to succeed!

The cost functions of each generation type in the GB network model were already in the model but they were just given as merit order equations; this was so the model was able to calculate the proportion of expected generation from each type of generation provider (wind, gas, coal, nuclear and hydro).  But I needed it to calculate the true costs.

I knew this wouldn’t be easy, or quick!  As a modeller, it is important to analyse results obtained and question their validity; you need to have confidence in the results that your model provides.  It is essential that you compare your results with appropriate published data and relevant work done by others.

Using known data from previous years I was able to identify when the results from my model were not as good as they needed to be; and it allowed me to gain confidence in my work as it developed.  This was an iterative process that required many hours of hard and repetitive work.

To get this done well it required a lot of effort and determination (and a few handkerchiefs to mop up the inevitable tears of frustration!).  For months I was stuck in what seemed to be a never-ending loop:

  • adjust the model, write the script, run the model – no joy
  • adjust the model, adjust the script, run the model – it works!, review the results
  • adjust the model/script, run the model – it works (but sometimes it didn’t!), review the results
  • adjust the model/script, run the model – it works!, review the results, confirm results, add results to paper, find some new information
  • adjust the model/script, run the model – it works!, review the results, confirm results, add results to paper, find some new information
  • again, again and again until…
  • adjust the model/script, run the model – it works!, review the results, confirm results, write the paper (with confidence that the model used is the most appropriate and performs the task well) and submit!

So, what have I learned during this time?  Perseverance is key, determination is needed and patience would have been a bonus but I’ve always lacked in that!  Unexpected things, like the University’s cyber security attack, and even a pandemic, can be obstacles but with the correct support they are not insurmountable.  I also needed to learn that all models have their limitations.

You can minimise these limitations to produce the best model for your purpose but your model cannot do all, it will not be suitable for everything.  Spend time on the model, like I say, for it to produce relevant results for your work but understand that there will always be limitations as to what the model can do.

As long as you are aware of these and you are able to explain the limitations imposed on your work (and why these are acceptable) then you should feel proud.  Proud of the valid, valuable work you have achieved and the advancements you have made in your field of research.  It was all worth it in the end!


  1. Bell, K.R.W. and A.N.D. Tleis. Test system requirements for modelling future power systems. in IEEE PES General Meeting. 2010.
  2. Asvapoositkul, S. and R. Preece. Analysis of the variables influencing inter-area oscillations in the future Great Britain power system. in 15th IET International Conference on AC and DC Power Transmission (ACDC 2019). 2019.

EDI Blog Series – Part 1: Challenging gender norms in engineering

In the first of a series about equality, diversity and inclusivity from our energy and engineering colleagues, Dr. Nabila Rufa’I shares her experience of growing up in northern Nigeria and how that has led to a career in energy research.

About the Author:

I joined Newcastle University earlier this year, after completing my PhD at the University of Leeds. I am a research associate for the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration and have also joined the Centre for Energy.

My research interests are:

  • Techno-Economic and Environmental Impact Analysis of Low Carbon Technologies
  • Power Quality Enhancement
  • Advanced Control of Renewable Energy Systems

Passion for Power

I was born and raised in Kano State in the north of Nigeria. 

Owing to a lack of supply and up-to-date infrastructure, we would often go three or four days without power. There was even a period when power was divided and scheduled across several towns and villages. 

This meant our allocation of power could be in the middle of the night. We had to choose between sleeping or completing power-dependent tasks when we could. 

Infrastructure in Nigeria is in poor condition, and becoming worse. It’s already more than 50 years old, and population growth is a huge problem. The old infrastructure just can’t keep up with demand.

One of the first things my daughter said to me when we moved to the UK at four years old was: “Mummy, how come the lights never go off?” 

This was the main reason I became fascinated with electricity and power. How can I make a difference and fix challenges like those in northern Nigeria?

Being a Nigerian woman in Engineering

It’s common for a woman in Nigeria to be a full-time housewife. 

Some may also have a small business or part-time job alongside their domestic work. For example, making pastries or tailoring. But it’s uncommon for women to follow an academic career, let alone one in such a male-dominated field.

Personally, I didn’t think of choosing an engineering academic career as out of the ordinary. 

I was very fortunate that education was always an important part of my life. Both of my parents had a passion for education, and completed PhD’s. My grandad was the first to attend University from our village. So their collective achievements had a huge influence on my life and aspirations.

 When I started my undergraduate electrical engineering studies in Nigeria, I was the only female in a class of 70. I would occasionally receive comments such as “why are you doing this?” and “how are you in this profession?” 

I knew it bothered me. But I never knew how to respond. So I stayed quiet. 

But now I like to speak to those who question my choices. I explain that everyone has their own interests, hobbies, and career goals, There’s nothing wrong with that. Thank goodness we are making progress as a society.

Gender should not be an issue in any profession. If you have the passion, drive, and interest, why not do it? Anybody who wants to do it, can. Working as an academic in the UK, I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who are more aware, who understand gender and other EDI issues. Most of my negative encounters have been in Nigeria.

Integrating into the UK

I came to the UK to study Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Systems at the University of Leeds in 2012. At first, I found the UK overwhelming and intimidating. I think most people feel this way when moving to university, or away from home for the first time. 

For me, it was more difficult adjusting to educational life rather than making friends or understanding British culture. For example, I had to learn software such as MatLab at a very fast pace, whilst other students already had experience with the software. Fortunately there were lots of international students, and we helped each other. The university also offered lots of support to help with learning, engaging and adjusting to UK life in general. 

I was also fortunate enough to have my husband and brother. They moved to Leeds from Nigeria too, and after three months found our feet.

My advice

I encourage people who are being unfairly challenged to be resilient. In life, you will always find people who oppose you, or have different perspectives. But that doesn’t mean you should not enjoy what you are doing.

It’s important for your personal growth to be aware of other’s challenges, opinions, and cultures. That is education. You are part of a wider community that you need to understand. And this is something I am teaching my children.

Find out more

Can nuclear power play a large part in getting to net-zero? – Professor Gordon MacKerron

In late 2020, there was a flurry of announcements about climate change and energy – first a ten-point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’[i] followed a few weeks later by a much–delayed energy White Paper[ii].  Nuclear power figures prominently in both narratives, with three possible ways forward. In this CESI Blog post, Professor MacKerron, CESI Associate Director and Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the Science Policy and Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex discusses these routes.

About the Author

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Professor Gordon MacKerron

Gordon is Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the Science Policy and Research Unit (SPRU). He specialises in the economics and policy issues of electricity, especially nuclear power, and more broadly in energy security questions. He currently chairs the Research Committee of UKERC and was deputy director of the Strategy Unit, Cabinet office team that wrote the ‘Energy Review’ in 2003.

He is currently overall PI in the Horizon 2020 project TRANSrisk, a collaboration of 11 partner institutes engaged in assessing the risks attaching to different policy pathways consistent with achievement of European 2050 climate change commitments.

Gordon works on a number of CESI Work Packages and is lead for Work Package 1: Commercial, Regulatory & Policy Aspects

Three possible ways forward.

First, there is a long-term hope that a UK-only commercial fusion design will be ready by 2040.  This is frankly wishful thinking and, even if it could be achieved, involves a new type of compact design that would have no impact on 2050 zero-carbon objectives.  This is because it would be a small prototype 100MW machine with a current price tag of £2bn[iii] – three times more expensive per unit of output than the already very expensive twin reactors being built at Hinkley C.  £400m has been ‘already committed’ to this endeavour by Government,[iv] a sum that could have been spent instead on projects that could genuinely contribute to net zero. 

The second possibility is a push (‘aim’) to have one more large nuclear plant brought to final investment decision by 2024, following the almost-decade-late Hinkley C.  As Government makes clear, achieving this will depend on a radically new funding structure.[v]  This could be a regulated asset base model, in which consumers would take on most construction risk, allowing investors a more or less guaranteed rate of return, and/or  Government putting up some taxpayer cash.  Since the White Paper, it has become clear that developments at two of the only three plausible big-reactor sites – Wylfa (abandoned by Hitachi) and Bradwell (paused for a year by EDF/China General Nuclear) – are now effectively no longer in contention.  Only a further Hinkley replica at Sizewell seems at all possible, and large institutional investors have recently made clear they will not put up any of their own money for this.  Significantly, and credibly, Government makes no mention of any further ventures along the large-nuclear path.

What’s wrong with option 1 or 2?

The problems in these two nuclear avenues inevitably throw a lot of weight on to the third strand, the development of so-called modular reactors, both ‘small’ (SMRs) and ‘advanced’ (AMRs).  The relatively near-term part of this involves Government spending up to £215m to help develop a domestic SMR design by the early 2030s.[vi]  The attraction of SMRs is that they could offer the possibility of relatively rapid factory manufacture of components, followed by fairly simple on-site construction. Their main drawback is that they will be based on cut-down versions of existing light water reactor designs, in the process losing the economies of large-scale current nuclear plants. In practice the only credible SMR involves a consortium already built up over several years by Rolls Royce, using its technical know-how as designer and manufacturer of small reactors for UK nuclear-powered submarines. To be at all competitive many SMRs would need to be built, thus achieving economies scale in production to offset the loss of economies of large reactor size. In this pursuit, Rolls Royce want to build up to 16 of these SMRs at a cost currently estimated by them[vii] (and therefore probably optimistic) of just short of £29bn.  This is a highly inflexible proposition, risking very large sums of public money.

Rolls Royce have also suggested that such reactors might generate at around £60/MWh initially, falling to £40/MWh for later plants.[viii]  By contrast, in terms of real projects, as opposed to very early and potentially optimistic expectations, offshore wind is already committing to deliver in the near-term at auction prices of around £40/MWh.[ix]  According to the White Paper, the global market for modular and advanced reactors might (as ‘estimated by some’ – actually the National Nuclear Laboratory) be worth £250bn to £400bn by 2035.  This is at best heroic, given that the current global market is zero. In any case, the idea that the UK might win a large share of such a market (if it did exist) is made hopelessly implausible by the fact that the UK is well behind several other countries’ SMR development. These include Russia, the USA, Japan and China, with the Rolls Royce planned design only one among over 70 SMR designs currently being pursued around the world.[x]

The second leg of the modular reactor story involves ‘Advanced’ reactors.  The ambition here is to have a demonstrator ready by the early 2030s ‘at the latest’.  For this, the Government may be willing to spend a further £170 m.  Here we are in highly speculative territory.  As the White Paper very briefly explains, AMRs would be reactors that use ’novel cooling systems or fuels and may offer new functionalities (such as industrial process heat).’[xi] Such designs would most likely involve high temperature gas cooling; many such designs have been developed in the past 50 years, none of them proving commercially viable.  It is not clear why work in these challenging technological areas can be expected to do much better in the future.  Even if such technologies eventually prove more commercially tractable, having a demonstrator built by the early 2030s is extremely hopeful. 


The optimism displayed in these plans includes the up-front claim that ‘the UK continues to be a leader in the development of nuclear technologies’[xii] – a proposition, when applied to commercial reactors, that has no basis in fact whatever.  However, Government does qualify its enthusiasm by making clear that its plans, including expenditure, remain conditional. For a large reactor, bringing a project to fruition depends on ‘clear value for money for both consumers and taxpayers’[xiii] and the £385 m apparently to be spent on SMRs and AMRs reactors is ‘subject to future HMT [Treasury] Spending Reviews’.[xiv]  But even if all nuclear plans worked out as the White Paper hopes – in terms of developing new low-carbon capacity on the predicted time-scale – it is far from clear that this would be achieved at anywhere near competitive cost.  Even if nuclear power does well, large reactors will play, at best, a very small part in the move to net zero carbon by 2050. While modular reactors could do more, there is huge uncertainty, probable extended timelines and no guarantee of any kind of success.

[i] HM Government (2020) The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution November

[ii]  HM Government (2020) The Energy White Paper. Powering our Net Zero Future December CP337

[iii]  ‘UK takes step towards world’s first nuclear fusion power station’ New Scientist, 2 December 2020.  Numbers are quoted from the UKAEA, the fusion R&D proponent

[iv]  The Energy White Paper, p. 51.

[v]  Ibid., p. 49

[vi] ibid. p. 50

[vii] World Nuclear News ‘Rolls Royce on track for 2030 delivery of UK SMR’ 11 February 2021

[viii]  ibid.


[x] IAEA Advances in SMR technology development 2020 September 2020, in which 72 designs are listed

[xi] The Energy White Paper, p. 51

[xii] ibid. P.50

[xiii] ibid. p.49.

[xiv] ibid. p.50

Energy efficiency in smart grid communications – Dr Zoya Pourmirza

Data reduction algorithm for correlated data in the smart grid – an open access paper for the IET Smart Grid Journal

About the Lead Author


Dr Zoya Pourmirza, is a research associate at Newcastle University within the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. She was awarded her PhD in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Architecture for Smart Grids from University of Manchester in 2015. Her research expertise includes Smart Grids ICT networks, cyber-security, communication energy efficiency, and data compression.

Zoya carries out a wide range of research for CESI in the area of cyber-security on energy and transport systems.


About the Co-authors

Dr Sara Walker, School of Engineering, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

John Brooke, Freelance Consultant, Manchester, UK

About the Paper


Smart grids are intelligent electrical networks that incorporate information and communication technology (ICT) to provide data services for the grid. In this work, we investigated an ICT architecture at the level of the electrical network where monitoring and control have not previously been deployed. Energy constraints are one of the major limitations of the ICT in the Smart Grid, especially where wireless networking is proposed. The main contribution of this paper is that we proposed a data reduction algorithm suitable for Smart Grid applications which significantly improves the energy efficiency of the communication network by minimizing the communication energy cost while maintaining the integrity and quality of data.

One approach to providing energy efficiency in the communication system is to use a data reduction algorithm to reduce the volume of data prior to transmission. Our survey of data compression algorithms showed that there is no single method that is superior for all forms of data streams. Therefore, we designed and developed a practical data reduction algorithm called DRACO (Data Reduction Algorithm for COrrelated data), on the basis of readings from monitoring devices that are typical of electricity network data patterns. In applications where the metering devices collect data with a high acquisition rate and transmit them to a control unit, a great degree of data correlation occurs. Taking this fact into consideration, we developed a data reduction algorithm that discards the redundant parts between each two consecutive measured values and transmits the changing parts only: these parts are a small portion of the binary representation. This algorithm can improve the energy efficiency of the communication network by transmitting a smaller volume of data while keeping data integrity.
DRACO is envisaged to be implemented on resource-constrained sensors, therefore simplicity in the design of the algorithm is a key issue. It also provides a low level of security for communication between devices since we are transmitting a modified or cipher data instead of raw data.


In this paper we examined the efficiency of DRACO on both simulated data and real data collected from the substation level of the Grid, which were produced at a very high sampling rate. We demonstrated DRACO can achieve compression ratios of 70%–99% depending on the data characteristics. Figure below shows compression efficiency over 70% for simulated data.

Figure 1 Effect of DRACO on simulated data


In this paper, we conducted several evaluations and comparisons. For example, we designed an experiment to assess the effect of various sampling rates on the efficiency of DRACO. We examined the data being logged with different frequencies. Figure 2 below shows that, as the frequency of the data acquisition rate increases, the original size of the data will increase. However, as we start to sample more frequently, the correlation between every two consecutive values is higher and DRACO performs best on data with stronger correlations. So, the difference between the original data size and the DRACO reduced data size also grows. Thus, with a higher sampling rate, we could transmit more data about the network, and with the use of the DRACOs we could send this data more efficiently in terms of data volume.

Figure 2 Data acquisition rate evaluation

The team also designed another experiment to examine the effect of DRACO on the bit rate. This experiment was carried out to determine the link between significant events in the actual data profile and the maximum/minimum bit rate. As shown in the figure below, the correlation between the two graphs indicates the dependency of the data transfer rate on the rate of change of the quantity being measured (e.g. total active power).

Finally, to assess the efficiency of the DRACO we compared its performance with other data reduction algorithms and showed it performs reasonably good in these comparisons.

Figure 3 Total active power (kW) (top figure) and the corresponding bit rate (bottom figure)


In this work, we focused on proving the communication energy awareness and concluded that DRACO is suitable for smart grid applications since it optimizes the network resource consumption and reduces the communication energy cost while maintaining the integrity and quality of data. In near future, the growth in the number of monitoring devices in the smart grid will lead to an explosion in data volume, which will cause storage and network congestion problems. DRACO could also be an initial point for addressing these problems.

The full paper is available to view online.


Techno-Economic-Environmental Analysis of A Smart Multi Energy Grid Utilising Geothermal Energy Storage For Meeting Heat Demand

Researchers based at Newcastle University from the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) and the Supergen Energy Networks Hub (SEN), Dr Seyed Hamid Reza Hosseini and Dr Adib Allahham, along with the Coal Authority, Dr Charlotte Adams, will soon publish their journal paper in IET Smart Grid.

About the author: Dr Adib Allahham

Dr Adib Allahham

Dr Adib Allahham is a Research Associate within the Power Systems Research Team, School of Engineering, Newcastle University and currently works on several projects including the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) and the Supergen Energy Networks Hub (SEN). Adib received his PhD from the University of Joseph Fourier in the field of control engineering. His research involves projects around the electricity distribution and off-grid power sector and multi-vector energy systems. These projects are addressing the need to cost-efficiently decarbonise the energy sector over the next thirty years by facilitating innovative network integration of new generation, and the integration of different energy vectors (electricity, gas, and heat). Computer simulation, laboratory investigation and demonstration projects are used together to produce new knowledge that delivers this requirement. He has published more than 25 technical papers in leading journals and conferences.

Contact details:
Profile details

About the paper

The UK Government has committed to a ‘Net Zero’ carbon economy by 2050 [1]. One major source of carbon emission is associated with heat demand from the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors.

Providing for heat demand accounts for around one third of UK carbon emissions [2]. In order to decarbonise the provision of heat, it is essential to increase the penetration of Low Carbon Energy Sources [1] in Smart Multi Energy Grids (SMEGs), i.e. integrated gas, electricity, and district heating and cooling networks [3,4]. This, consequently, has impact on the operation of SMEGs from the Techno-Economic-Environment (TEE) point of view [5,28].

Recent work on the geothermal potential of the UK’s flooded abandoned mining infrastructure has revealed a subsurface resource in place of 2.2 million GWh [11]. The impact of integrating this vast supply and storage potential on the operation and planning of SMEGs needs to be evaluated in terms of TEE aspects.

The paper identifies research gaps, including neglecting the electricity requirements of the components of the geothermal system that is required to boost the hot water quality and presents an evaluation framework for the Techno-Economic-Environmental (TEE) performance of Integrated Multi-Vector Energy Networks (IMVENs) including geothermal energy. Geothermal Energy Storage (GES), offers huge potential for both energy storage and supply and can play a critical role in decarbonising heat load of Smart Multi Energy Grids.

Schematic of SEH, GN & DHN
Fig.1 Schematic of the considered Smart Electricity Network (SEN), Gas Network (GN) and District Heating Network (DHN)

The two most common types of GES, i.e. High Temperature GES (HTGES) and Low Temperature GES (LTGES), were modelled and integrated within the framework which evaluates the impact of different low carbon energy sources including HTGES, LTGES, wind and PV on the amount of energy imported from upstream, operational costs and emissions of IMVENs to meet the heat load of a region.

Data from a real-world case study was used to compare the TEE performance of the considered IMVEN configurations for meeting the heat load. Data included wind and PV generation, as well as the heat and electricity load for a representative winter week of a small rural village in Scotland.

Fig. 2 The schematic of all the possible configurations of IMVEN considered in this paper

The results reveal that the most efficient, cost effective and least carbon intensive configurations for meeting the heat load of the case study are the configurations benefitting from HTGES, from a high penetration of heat pumps and from LTGES, respectively.


  1. [1] ‘Net Zero – The UK´s contribution to stopping global warming’,, accessed 20 December 2019
  2. [2] ‘Clean Growth – Transforming Heating: Overview of Current Evidence,, accessed 20 December 2019
  3. [3] Ceseña E.A.M., Mancarella P.: ‘Energy Systems Integration in Smart Districts: Robust Optimisation of Multi-Energy Flows in Integrated Electricity, Heat and Gas Networks’, IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, 2019, 10, (1), pp. 1122-1131
  4. [4] Lund, H., Andersen, A.N., Østergaard, P.A., et al.: ‘From electricity smart grids to smart energy systems – A market operation based approach and understanding’, Energy, 42, (1), pp. 96-102
  5. [5] Hosseini, S.H.R., Allahham, A., Taylor, P.: ‘Techno-economic-environmental analysis of integrated operation of gas and electricity networks’. Proc. IEEE Int. Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS), Florence, Italy, May 2018, pp. 1–5
  6. [28] Hosseini, S.H.R., Allahham, A., Walker, S.L., et al.: ‘Optimal planning and operation of multi-vector energy networks: A systematic review’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2020, 133, 110216
  7. [11] Adams, C., Monaghan, A., Gluyas, J.: ‘Mining for heat’, Geoscientist, 2019, 29, (4), pp. 10-15