The Future of Energy – Dr David Greenwood

Dr David Greenwood discusses talks delivered at a recent Cafe Scientifique event by three CESI researchers on their vision for the future of energy .


About the author:

Dr David Greenwood is a researcher with the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) and is based at Newcastle University.

His research focuses on taking advantage of flexibility within energy systems and understanding sources of uncertainty and variability such as customer demand and intermittent generation.

Contact details: david.greenwood@ncl.ac.uk        Profile details


Inspired by the Great Exhibition of the North, Newcastle University hosted a series of Café Scientifique events at the Urban Sciences Building, part of the rapidly expanding Newcastle Helix site.

The National Centre for Energy Systems Integration organised one of these events, with the title “The Future of Energy”, where three CESI researchers presented the vision of the UK’s energy future, and how we can get there.

Cafe Scientifique:  The Future of Energy  at Newcastle University’s Urban Sciences Building

Dr David Jenkins – who had travelled from Heriot-Watt University for the event – gave his thoughts from the perspective of energy demand, how it could change it, and how we could meet it. Dr Jenkins talked about the data challenges in modelling energy demand. This includes the temporal and spatial scale of the available data, and the effects of aggregating large numbers of energy users, which generally works in a modeller’s favour by giving a smoother, more predictable pattern of demand. The impact of a number of low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, which are vital if heat and transport are to be decarbonised by moving them onto the electricity system, was examined, with the summation of these changes resulting in the potential for a substantially different demand pattern to that experienced today.

Figure 1: The potential difference between present and possible future energy demand

Next, Dr David Greenwood spoke about the need for flexibility within the energy system, and the challenges in procuring it through the markets and mechanisms that are currently used by the energy industry and in particular the electricity system operators. Dr Greenwood’s main argument was that we need flexibility – which already exists on the system in many forms – to address uncertainty on a variety of timescales ranging from when a customer plugs in their electric car, to how quickly and substantially low carbon technologies are adopted, to when new power stations are completed, all with the possibility of a failure anywhere in the system at any time. He concluded by presenting a flexibility case study based around energy storage, and showing how uncertainty and flexibility can be included within operational decision making processes.

The final presentation of the evening was given by Dr Andrew Jenkins, and had a focus on the whole energy system. Dr Jenkins talked about how the whole energy system can deliver cross-sector flexibility while still fulfilling the needs of its customers. He demonstrated this with a case study on electric vehicles using Vehicle to Grid charging technology, which could meet a set of system requirements whilst ensuring that their drivers would have enough energy to complete their journeys at the end of the day. He concluded with a detailed description of the university’s new InTEGReL site – a joint venture with Northern Powergrid and Northern Gas Networks which will showcase the potential for heat, transport, gas, and electricity to operate synergistically, providing cross-vector energy flexibility, and allowing validation of models and theory arising from academic research.

Figure 2: An overview of the InTEGReL site

The evening ended with a discussion with the audience – a range of attendees; consumers, prosumers, consultants, academics – which broadened the debate to include the political landscape, and more input from the perspective of the energy consumer. The audience had a breadth of technical knowledge, and their questions reflected this. Electric vehicles – which link the electricity and transport sectors – were the most popular topic for discussion, but the potential of power to gas, sources of inertia in zero-carbon energy systems, and the impact of energy efficient homes were also discussed. The event ended by a resounding agreement from the audience that they would like to attend another event on the topic of energy.

If you would like to suggest a topic for a future event, please get in touch at cesi@ncl.ac.uk.

CESI Profile: Professor Simone Abram – CESI’s newest professor discusses her career and advice to aspiring researchers

CESI Profiles

We are showcasing the diverse range of expertise of the academics of CESI in a series of discussion-with sessions. In this first in the series, we speak with newly promoted Professor Simone Abram, CESI Co-Investigator.


Professor Simone Abram is Durham Energy Institute’s Co-Director for Social Sciences and Health and a Professor at the Department of Anthropology at Durham University. Her research has brought together science studies and governance, through studies of tourism, urban development and land-use planning. Simone’s energy interests lie in relating different disciplinary perspectives on energy and society, including the governance of energy developments, recent transformations of energy markets, ethical questions in energy modelling, and the changing social and political significance of energies, particularly electricity.

Simone is a member of the European PERSON network for social sciences in energy research and co-convenes the European Energy Anthropology Network.

Email: simone.abram@durham.ac.uk


Can you tell us about your career path to Professor? 

I graduated with a BSc/MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Manchester University in 1988. I was sponsored by GEC Turbines and worked for the company during the summer months. The degree program was very broad covering History of Industry, Philosophy of Science and Law, in addition to more traditional engineering subjects. In my 4th year project I investigated cable insulation breakdown.  As a result, I was invited to work towards a PhD in this area.

Through my work at GEC Turbines, I had become very interested in the effects of the construction of power stations in “remote” areas of the world. Instead of a PhD in engineering, I applied for an MSt in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. I stayed at Oxford to carry out my PhD on history and heritage the Auvergne, France.  After my PhD, I took a a Post Doc position at Newcastle University working with the Centre for Rural Economy on a project investigating the representation of the Middle Class in planning decisions. I then gained a fellowship at Cardiff University continuing looking at the representation of social groups in the planning process from the point of view of Deliberative Democracy.  Throughout, I was in contact with fellow researchers in Norway and I was invited to be a visiting researcher at the University of Oslo.

My first permanent lectureship was at Sheffield University in the Planning Department in 2000, and I later became a Senior Lecturer. I joined the Department of Anthropology at Durham University in 2013 to set up their new MSc in Energy and Society, becoming a co-director of the Durham Energy Institute soon after, and I was promoted to professor in 2017.

What do you most enjoy about your teaching role? 

I enjoy teaching collaboratively and encouraging the students to learn together. I really appreciate the engagement with the students, and learn from them as well as facilitating their learning.

What does your day-to-day role as a Professor involve? 

It is a very busy schedule. Today I will be involved in a number of things:-

  • teaching and planning teaching material; today I am carrying out a review and planning next year’s MSc Energy and Society curriculum
  • reading and commenting on a PhD thesis chapter
  • responding to a publisher’s review of a book I have written
  • meeting with the Project Administration team of the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration
  • Meeting with my CESI Post Doc RA
  • Departmental administration tasks around student recruitment
  • Meeting with external partners – today it’s representatives from local government
  • Preparing a research funding application
  • Attending a guest lecture by a distinguished academic
  • And of course … keeping up with emails!

Would you share some top-tip advice to anyone considering becoming a Professor?

I don’t envy anyone setting out on this path today, as conditions in academia are getting harder and harder. I never set out to become a professor, but see it as a recognition of some of the things I’ve been able to achieve. There are a few lessons I have picked up along the way, though.

  • Remember that universities are institutions, and that if you want to get something out of them, you have to find your way through the rules – and the unwritten rules. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be steered by institutional hurdles – jump them if it suits you, but there are more important things in life.
  • For women in particular, you have to put yourself forward and not be too modest.
  • There’s no point in doing research that no-one needs – communicate it to industry and government if you can, as well as to students and academics – in a language they can understand, if possible, enjoy!
  • It’s up to you to look for opportunities for research funding and collaborations – they won’t fall into your lap unless you have done the groundwork.
  • Treat colleagues with respect, maintain your enthusiasm for research, but don’t put up with bad behaviour.  I have had to speak out about bad practice on a number of occasions, but it hasn’t held be back in the long term.  If everyone did the same, we’d all be better off.

Building physics within an integrated energy system

Mohammad Royapoor and Michael Barclay discuss two presentations made at this year’s UK Energy Storage Conference (UKES2018).  Both presentations highlight the importance of building physics in an integrated energy system

About the authors

Dr Mohammad Royapoor is Research Associate in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University.  A chartered engineer, he has been involved in academia and industry working on the design and optimisation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning services (HVAC) and building fabric since 2003.  His work concerns various aspects of building physics, modelling and energy reduction, building retrofit options and occupant
perception of comfort.

Contact: mohammad.royapoor@newcastle.ac.uk                                 Profile details

Dr Michael Barclay is Architectural Officer in the College of Engineering at Swansea University.  He has academic expertise in building physics and computer simulation and is a member of the research team on a project progressing the concept of Buildings as Power Stations (SPECIFIC), which is looking into addressing the challenge of low carbon electricity and heat by enabling buildings to generate, store and release their own energy, in one system, using only the energy from the sun.


Disciplines such as structural and soil mechanics, advanced materials and construction techniques, renewables and digitalisation have been able to heavily influence modern building design and attract large research resources over the past two decades. More recently, building physics – generally somewhat a dormant science in early 2000s – has been pushed into the forefront of innovation. This is because the interaction between internal mass within well-insulated (and adaptive) envelopes can enable internal zone thermal equilibrium, reduce building peak demands and overheating risks, offer demand side response (DSR) capability and enable owner and operators to use their building as an asset that can offer arbitrage and flexibility to energy suppliers.

The link between two UKES 2018 presentations highlighted the role of building physics as a core component of integrated energy systems research.  The first was the work led by Dr Michael Barclay. He provided an overview of his work into experimentation, modelling and validation of the heat flow in solids.

Temperature change from heat injected into ball-bearings

Fig 1: Temperature change resulting from heat injected into ball-bearings using Transient line source probe [1]

The significance of fundamental research such as this is that it offers building analysts the ability to parameterise mathematical models of complex buildings with validated real-world values. Considerable uncertainty exists in the characteristics of heat transfer in building elements and as a result modelling building energy consumption can carry significant errors [2]. Therefore a more detailed understanding and appropriate characterisation of heat flow in building materials allows much greater prediction accuracy and therefore more appropriate techno-economic appraisals for buildings and indeed the broader integrated energy systems.

The second was a report on Building as a Power Plant project led by Dr Sara Walker, Director of Expertise at Newcastle University’s School of Engineering and Associate Director of the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI). Using Urban Sciences Building (home to the University’s flagship School of Computing and to CESI) as a case-study, the research team is examining the extent to which the building is able to provide DSR to the local electricity network by operating its HVAC, lighting and several other non-critical loads in a more dynamic manner without compromising occupant comfort. Early stage findings points to the possibility of 32 – 35% of the total electrical load of the building being available at any time for DSR at short or no notice (Fig 2).  The integrated nature of UK energy is a reflection of the interconnectivity of our physical world. Investigating the flow of heat in a small tube of ball-bearings enables greater model precision at building level which in turn can inform future control philosophes of a secure, flexible and low carbon electricity network.

Sankey diagram of the energy flows of the USB

Fig 2: A Sankey diagram of energy flow with sub-categories of electrical demand (LHS) in the USB building (RHS) [3]


References

[1] Barclay, M; Feng, Y. T; Perisoglou, E: Experimental and Numerical Investigations of Discrete Heat Storage Materials, UKES 2018 Conference presentation, Newcastle University.
[2]  M. Mirsadeghi, D. Cóstola, B. Blocken, J.L.M. Hensen, Review of external convective heat transfer coefficient models in building energy simulation programs: Implementation and uncertainty, Applied Thermal Engineering, Volume 56, Issues 1–2, 2013, Pages 134-151, ISSN 1359-4311
[3] Royapoor, M; Davison, P; Patsios, H; Walker, S: Building as a Power Plant, UKES 2018 Conference presentation, Newcastle University.

 

A researcher’s view of the UK Energy Storage Conference 2018

CESI PhD researcher, Natalia-Maria Zografou-Barredo, recently attended the fourth UK Energy Storage Conference in Newcastle. In this week’s blog, she takes us through the presentations that took place and summarizes her thoughts on the conference.


About the author 

Natalia-Maria Zografou-Barredo is a PhD researcher at Newcastle University and works with the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI).  Her research focuses on multi-energy systems and microgrid operation.

Contact details: n.zografou-barredo2@newcastle.ac.uk


I recently attended the fourth UK Energy Storage Conference (UKES) held on the 20-22 March 2018. This year it took place in Newcastle in the Urban Sciences Building, and attendance was over 200. A consortium of speakers from academia, industry and policy within the UK and around the world joined the conference.

Presentations provided a holistic view of ongoing research on energy storage and portrayed energy storage as a significant asset in future energy systems. Main subjects covered included:

  • Policy and economics of energy storage systems
  • Operation and control
  • Demonstration and commercial deployment
  • Design, planning and integration of storage in energy systems
  • Energy storage for Future Mobility
  • Energy storage in the built environment
  • Thermal, mechanical, and thermochemical energy storage
  • Electrochemical energy storage
  • Gas storage

I attended different sessions. Nonetheless, presentations during the ‘Demonstration and commercial deployment’ session drew my attention due to some interesting questions and fruitful discussions between the speakers and the audience.

Presentations during this session covered both technical and social matters around energy storage. However, questions posed to the panel were almost exclusively around social acceptance of the future changes related to energy storage. And for good reason.

Electrical energy systems do not represent a ‘passive’ one-directional (i.e. from electrical energy production to consumption) system anymore. It is a fact that energy storage deployment (electric vehicles, demand-side management, energy storage in smart grids & microgrids, etc.) not only affects public life, but also depends on a mutual public cooperation.

Discussions during this session brought to realization that the implementation of future research on energy storage after ‘solving’ any technical challenges should potentially be on how to face (and maybe prevent) social ones. It was concluded that public cooperation poses an additional challenge in the integration of energy storage to future energy systems (apart from any existing techno-economic issues raised on other conference sessions).

Overall, the conference portrayed energy storage as a vital asset in future energy systems. The majority of speakers indicated the value of ongoing research of energy storage systems in order to face the challenges from a technical point of view. Nonetheless, public cooperation seems to be yet another important challenge in the deployment of energy storage systems & technologies that should be addressed in the near future.

UKES Conference Opening Plenary
Keynote speaker –  Prof Phil Taylor, Newcastle University


References

“UK Energy Storage Conference,” [Online]. Available: http://ukenergystorage.co/.

Keeping warm: deep geothermal potential of the UK – Professor Jon Gluyas and Dr Charlotte Adams

Jon Gluyas and Charlotte Adams discuss  recent CESI research which looks at how the UK’s heat supply can be decarbonized and national energy security improved.


About the authors

Dr Charlotte Adams is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Durham University and a Mid Career fellow in the Durham Energy Institute.  She is Manager of BritGeothermal, a UK-based consortium focusing on deep geothermal research both in the UK and internationally.

Contact: c.a.adams@durham.ac.uk      Profile Details

 

 

Professor Jon Gluyas is an Associate Director of CESI,
Executive Director of Durham Energy Institute and
holds the ØRSTED/IKON Chair in Geoenergy, Carbon Capture & Storage in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University.  Jon has published widely, including text books, memoirs and over 100 per review papers

Contact:  j.g.gluyas@durham.ac.uk      Profile Details


Two recent papers to emerge from CESI examine the potential to decarbonize the UK’s heat supply and simultaneously improve national energy security. It is likely that most will view improvement of UK energy security as the priority given threats to UK gas supplies resulting from the diplomatic fall out between the UK and Russia. The link between gas supply and heat is straightforward.

About half the UK’s energy consumption is used to generate heat for domestic, commercial and industrial spaces and burning natural gas generates most of that heat. Since 2005 the UK has been progressively more dependent upon gas imports to meet demand. Currently, we can supply around 35-40% of our needs with about the same coming from Norway via the Langeled Pipeline. Much of the remainder is supplied as LNG from Qatar leaving about 5% that comes via the interconnectors from Belgium and the Netherlands. No single molecule of methane travels from Moscow to London but that 5% from Europe is essentially controlled by Russia because of its dominance on the European gas supply market. To exacerbate the situation, the UK has but a few days gas storage supply, mostly though changing the pressure in the nationwide gas network. This compares very unfavourably with both Germany and France both of which have about 3 months stored supply.

Gas supply warnings, though infrequent, demonstrate how precarious the situation is. The most recent was issued on 1st March 2018 amid the icy conditions of a late-winter cold snap. Others have accompanied similarly freezing weather in 2010 and problems with the Langeled Pipeline in 2009. The ongoing tiff between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has not yet had an impact on supplies of LNG but it could. National Grid was able to withdraw its warning after about 24 hours but it remains highly likely that UK gas and hence heating supplies could be interrupted by either political or technical issues. We are vulnerable!

The two papers referred to at the start of this article lay out the resource potential of low enthalpy geothermal heat in the UK. The article by Gluyas et al on ‘Keeping warm: a review of deep geothermal potential of the UK’ examines how much heat could be extracted from sedimentary basins and granite bodies while Adams and Gluyas article on ‘We could use old coal mines to decarbonize heat – here’s how’ looked at the resource potential of ultra-low enthalpy heat in abandoned flooded coal mines. A very conservative estimation indicates that at current levels of heat use there is an absolute minimum of 100 years heat supply from these sources. Moreover, such heat sources have a near zero carbon footprint.

Are we ready for the hydrogen energy revolution? – Matthew Scott

In the drive to decarbonise heat in the UK, extensive engineering research and development is being carried out on the technology and infrastructure to allow us to utilise hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas. But it isn’t only a technological challenge.  How will society react to this change? What are their thoughts? CESI researchers Dr. Gareth Powells, Lecturer in Human Geography, and Matthew Scott, PhD student and teaching assistant are investigating this. Matthew writes here on the results of their initial surveys.


About the Author 

Matthew Scott is Teaching Assistant and PhD Researcher in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

Contact:-  matthew.scott@newcastle.ac.uk


 

Midway through Jules Verne’s 1874 novel The Mysterious Island, when the protagonists are musing about the ever-increasing burning of coal by Western civilisations, the railway engineer Cyrus Harding abruptly proposes water as the most obvious future energy source. “Water!” exclaims one of his companions, “water as fuel for steamers and engines! water to heat water!” “Yes, my friends,” Harding replies, “I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable.”

“I should like to see that,” replies Harding’s companion, presumably with more than a hint of incredulity. Although the scepticism of Harding’s companion was probably well placed in 1874, the possibilities of using water – and more specifically hydrogen – as an energy source is now the subject of research being carried out by members of CESI at Newcastle University –  Dr. Gareth Powells, Lecturer in Human Geography, and myself, Matthew Scott, a PhD student working as an RA on the project.

Researchers and energy systems stakeholders increasingly believe that hydrogen may have an important role to play in any future shift to a low-carbon economy. Unlike its cousin natural gas, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned, burning hydrogen releases only water into the atmosphere. And while there are still considerable technological uncertainties surrounding how a transition to hydrogen energy might be achieved, several initiatives in the UK are now exploring it more detail; Aberdeen’s hydrogen bus project and Leeds’ H21 Citygate Project being two of the most recent demonstration examples.

However, a great deal hinges on whether or not hydrogen can become an accepted and uncontroversial part of the general public’s everyday energy use. We currently do not know much about how families, communities, and businesses will respond the prospect of using hydrogen in their everyday lives. Furthermore, much depends on how the introduction of hydrogen might transform the way we all go about our core practices of cooking our food, heating our homes, and travelling on the road.

These are the issues that this research is seeking to investigate. Over the summer of 2017 we asked members of the public at different locations in the North East of England what they think about hydrogen, and how they thought using hydrogen might change their everyday lives. We were interested, firstly, in what (if any) existing knowledge people had about hydrogen and its potential use as an energy carrier. This was not only a case of asking about peoples’ knowledge of hydrogen’s properties as a gas, but also about what people associate with hydrogen more generally – if hydrogen is associated with danger, or fire, then this will undoubtedly have implications on the extent to which it can be accepted in the home, regardless of how safe it might be proven to be.

We also asked about whether or not people thought using hydrogen would change the way they cooked and heated their homes, and how it would impact upon their methods of personal transport. As well as emitting no greenhouse gasses when burned, hydrogen also emits no carbon monoxide, and burns with a flame that is almost invisible in daylight conditions. Many of our participants did not know this before speaking to us. We consequently asked participants to imaginatively place themselves in their homes: cooking, turning on the heating, running a bath, and posed – if you were doing all of this using hydrogen, how do you think you would do them differently? And just as importantly, would any change in how you do these things be acceptable to you, or would they be an insurmountable obstacle and therefore push you away from potentially using hydrogen in the future?

As well as this, we sought to explore what worries and fears people might have about using hydrogen, and how this compared to concerns they had about their existing sources of energy like electricity and natural gas. Finally, we also sought to determine, given most people’s knowledge of hydrogen was low, what forms of evidence and information would be valued knowledge about and confidence in hydrogen, and who the public would trust to provide them with it.

The day when hydrogen replaces natural gas in our pipes and boilers might be some time away yet, but Cyrus Harding may have been eerily prescient when, back in 1874, he referred to hydrogen as “the coal of the future.” Yet hydrogen can only be implemented effectively if we appreciate and understand the complex ways it would change our everyday lives and the extent to which any potential changes could weave themselves into our daily practices. As a result, we hope that this research will produce insights of relevance to researchers, industry, and governmental organisations investigating the ways in which hydrogen might be used in the UK energy system.

How concerned should I be about my smart meter security? – Dr Zoya Pourmirza

With Smart Grids comes data and communication infrastructure and the associated unease of how we keep this data and infrastructure safe.  This article aims to raise awareness, by sharing knowledge about cyber-security considerations behind the UK smart metering infrastructure and it’s rollout.


About the Author

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Dr Zoya Pourmirza, is a postdoctoral research associate at Newcastle University within the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. She was awarded her PhD in The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Architecture in the Smart Grid from University of Manchester. 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 systems.

Contact:- Zoya.Pourmirza@newcastle.ac.uk


Smart Grids comprise a number of different networks that offer communication infrastructure at the various levels within the power grid. For example:

  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
  • Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
  • Customer Energy Management Systems

Amongst these communication networks, the AMI system has received significant concerns. These disquiets are mostly around security and privacy of consumers. Most of these concerns could be the result of negative media coverage or lack of knowledge of the AMI system operating as a whole system, while its components are interacting together.

A peace of mind for the Smart Grid customers

It is worth noting that the smart metering infrastructure is not a single component or function, but it is a whole system. This implies that looking into the cyber-security issues of a single component such as a smart meter, individually, would probably give invalid results.

Accordingly, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and GCHQ designed the AMI system in such a way that no single compromise would offer a significant impact. The DECC/GCHQ security team developed practical cyber-security control by using the “trust modelling” and “threat modelling” approaches. The former model refers to understanding how different players in the AMI system interact, and where trust needs to be managed. The latter model considers a set of hypothetical intentional/unintentional attack model that could cause an impact. Therefore, cyber-security should not be viewed as a hindrance to the GB smart meter roll out.

Components of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

Organisations involved in the design of the whole smart metering system are:

  • Gas and electricity meters, and related equipment
  • Distributed Network Operators (DNOs)
  • Data Communication Company (DCC)
  • Communication Service Provider (CSP)
  • Third parties (e.g. price comparison websites)
How to curtail the impact of vulnerabilities in a Meter

Although it is not possible to build a 100% secure system, but the best practice is to minimise the impact of the vulnerabilities by providing a balance between security, affordability, and business needs, while meeting the policy and national security objectives.

The following chart visualises security concerns, potential attacks, and countermeasures in the AMI system through a number of phases where an attacker tries to gain access to the smart meter to create a negative impact on the power grid.

 

This article, however, does not suggest that it is impossible to compromise the AMI system, but it discusses it would be a relatively arduous process to cause severe impact on the power grid, and customers are not as vulnerable as what they think they are. Therefore, while researchers should take the security and data privacy into consideration, we can focus our energy and resources on cyber-securing other segments of the Smart Grid, which can cause greater negative impacts on the power grid infrastructure and customers.

 Reference:

Gov.uk. (2014). Smart Metering Implementation Programme: Great Britain Companion Specification version 0.8 – GOV.UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/smart-metering-implementation-programme-great-britain-companion-specification-version-08.

Exploring Smart Meter Data using Microsoft Power BI – Dr Mike Simpson

With the huge explosion in data volumes that the smart energy era brings, here at the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration our Computing Science researchers are utilising world-leading innovative techniques in data analytics. In this weeks blog, Dr Mike Simpson explains how the interactive visualizations and analysis capabilities of Microsoft’s Power-BI software can make light work of smart meter data.


Dr Mike Simpson is a Research Associate working part-time with CESI. His background is in programming, game development and visualisation, and he is currently working as a Research Software Developer in the Digital Institute at Newcastle University.
Contact details: mike.simpson@ncl.ac.uk  – Profile Details


Exploring Smart Meter Data using Microsoft Power BI

As data scientists, we are often asked to help our colleagues to process the data that they have collected. Often, they will have a set of research questions that they want to attempt to answer, and, in that case, there are plenty of tools that we can use to analyse the data and visualise the results. But what if you don’t know exactly what questions you want to ask? What if you have a dataset that you suspect might hold some additional value, but you’re not sure how to extract that value? These are not uncommon problems, and I’ve been looking at one potential solution.

Microsoft Power BI is a suite of analytics tools that can be used to produce a number of different visualisations by aggregating and filtering data in different ways. It includes a desktop application that can connect to a wide variety of data sources and an online platform that allows the results to be shared with collaborators or embedded on other websites. However, as well as simply displaying the data using static graphs and charts, it can also create dynamic, interactive reports, like the one shown in the screenshot below.

Here, we have taken some sector customer average electricity smart meter data from the Customer-led Network Revolution (CLNR) and produced a visualisation of the data from the participating Small Business Enterprise customers. The first graph shows the average daily energy usage profile for each Sector (the average across the whole week). But what if you want to ‘drill down’ deeper and explore the data in more detail? Well, in this example you can use the ‘Slicer’ – the checklist to the side of the graph – to select individual days within the study, which will adjust the graph to display the filtered data for that day only. Alternatively, you could use the slicer to select other time ranges within the data. In the example below, one graph shows only the data for Monday to Friday and the other graph shows only the data for Saturday and Sunday.

Now it is possible to see the distinct difference in usage patterns between the different sectors during weekdays and at weekends. You can see that, for example, Industrial usage is lower at weekends, as you would expect, while agricultural usage is fairly similar.

We’ve done something similar with the graphs below, which are part of the same report and show the average daily usage for each day of the week, as well as the average for weekdays/weekends.

As before, we can drill down into the data by using the Slicer to select different months and sectors, which filters the visualisation accordingly. This allows us to study how usage changes for each sector over the course of the year.

These are fairly simple examples, but they show how Power BI can be used to create visualisations that not only display your data, but are also interactive and also allow you to explore the data by filtering it in different ways. A Power BI report can include a number of different visualisations, including Scatter Graphs, Pie Charts, and even Maps, in addition to the Line and Bar Graphs shown in the examples above.

Using Power BI in this way allows you to explore the data that you have collected to look for unexpected patterns, and may help to reveal new Research Questions that you can answer, or may help you discover new ways to extract value from the dataset.

The role of the building engineer within the development of energy systems – Dr David Jenkins

National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) Co-Investigator, Dr. David Jenkins, is a research specialist in sustainable buildings.  In this week’s blog, he discusses how buildings can be considered in future energy systems and how his CESI research is shaping this consideration.


About the Author

Dr David Jenkins is an Associate Professor in the Institute of Sustainable Building Design at Heriot-Watt University. He has over 70 publications in the area of low- energy buildings, energy policy, and climate change adaptation. He has worked on a number of EPSRC projects concerned with the energy use of the built environment, such as Tarbase,  Low Carbon Futures, ARIES and CESI and has contributed to a number of reports in these areas for UK and Scottish Governments. He is currently PI of the CEDRI project, looking to apply community energy analyses to case studies in India.

Contact details:- d.p.jenkins@hw.ac.uk  Profile Details


The built environment has always been of great importance in any discussion of carbon saving targets in the UK. 13% of UK carbon emissions emanate from heating/cooking in residential buildings alone[1]. 29% of emissions are linked to “energy supply” (including electricity supply to the built environment), with other sectors (e.g. “business” at 17% and “industrial processes” at 3%) also having energy consumption that is heavily linked to the built environment. Therefore, as we map out our future energy systems (gas/electricity grids and other energy pathways) we must have an understanding of the evolving energy demand characteristics of the diverse range of buildings that we occupy.

A practitioner with a particularly good understanding of this detail, the building engineer, often has their professional boundaries drawn around the building itself. Therefore, the sizing of a boiler, assessment of general building performance, and choices related to low-carbon design are not always placed in the context of other important factors within the energy supply chain.

Whilst this focus is to some extent defendable – the challenges of low-carbon building design are, in themselves, considerable – it does run the risk that crucial knowledge of building performance is not reflected in energy system modelling. This is particularly true when we investigate the steep vectors of change facing our energy systems in the coming decades. Coincident changes in climate, technologies, fuels, and operation, provide a landscape of uncertainty that must be consistently reflected in projections of every aspect of our energy system: supply, infrastructure/distribution, storage, and demand. For example, a future projection assuming the continued existence of an established mains gas grid for heating homes is not necessarily consistent with the installation of several million heat pumps for residential heating. The latter change should, therefore, be accompanied by an assumption on the supply-side that the gas grid will either be reduced in scale or used for something else. Policy in these different areas must also be similarly synergistic.

The building modeller is crucial to our understanding of energy demand but, with energy systems (e.g. National Grid) involving multiple actors from different disciplines, a key challenge is to provide guidance and future projections that are translated into different discipline-specific vernaculars. Integration across the disciplines must be reflected in modelling approaches, policy-making frameworks, and outputs. The CESI project, where novel modelling techniques are being used to explore the effect of future buildings on national energy systems, sees this as a key challenge in producing actionable guidance to a range of practitioners.

Another issue that often dissuades the traditional building modeller/engineer from interacting with wider energy system analysis is “scale”. Modelling a building is quite different to modelling buildings. Capturing the energy demand characteristics of a community of buildings (e.g. such as might be served by a substation) requires an understanding of the diversity of energy use. A “spikey” electrical demand profile of a single dwelling (showing kettle’s boiling and toasters toasting) is quite different to that of a 200-dwelling profile, where different behaviours and activities are summated together in a smoother profile. Likewise, asking a building engineer to consider the aggregated demand profile of, say, 200 gas boilers working at slightly different schedules is a step change from a detailed hourly profile of a single boiler. Yet this level of detail is particularly valuable when we consider what might happen to energy demand at specific times in the future. Will electric heat pumps create national electrical demand profiles that are more difficult to meet for energy suppliers? Or are such changes perfectly manageable providing storage and management solutions are utilised at the correct point in the network? And what happens if millions of people wish to home-charge their electric vehicles at similar times in the evening? What does a new residential electrical demand profile now look like for the UK? This, therefore, does not just require an understanding of scale, but also that of temporal resolution; daily averages of energy use will not indicate where and when such problems might be manifest, and what their solutions might be.

The future building engineer will be required to build on existing core skills to reflect the above context. Changes to energy supply (such as carbon intensity) will, ultimately, alter our assumptions of “good” and “bad” technologies for the built environment. Conversely, technological and behavioural change in the built environment will change our assumptions on how to supply that energy efficiently. This co-evolution of change across sectors is central to CESI and encapsulates the challenge to, but also the value of, multi-disciplinary energy system modeling.

[1] 2015 UK GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, FINAL FIGURES, 7th Feb 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/604350/2015_Final_Emissions_statistics.pdf

An IET debate on the role of smart meters – Dr David Greenwood

CESI researcher, Dr. David Greenwood, recently participated in an IET debate event discussing the rollout of smart meters in the UK. In this week’s blog, he talks us through the highlights of that debate.


About the Author

David Greenwood

Dr David Greenwood is a researcher with the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) and is based at Newcastle University. His research focuses on taking advantage of flexibility within energy systems and understanding sources of uncertainty and variability such as customer demand and intermittent generation. He believes that Smart Metering can play a crucial role in both of these areas, but that the approach currently being followed the UK will deliver neither the flexibility nor the understanding that we need to ensure a reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy supply.

Contact Details:- david.greenwood@ncl.ac.uk    Profile Details 


I recently traveled to Guildford represent the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) in a panel discussion around Smart Meters, arranged by IET Surrey. The event took place at the University of Surrey, and attendance was over 150.

Along with my fellow panelists –  Craig Lucas from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Andrew Jones from EDF Energy – I answered a variety of questions from the audience around the technical, commercial, and social aspects of Smart Metering. The audience was often combative, particularly when discussing issues around the GB Smart Meter roll-out, which has received substantial negative media coverage. There were concerns around the cost of the rollout, whether the supply companies were going to complete it within the mandated timeframe, and data privacy, along with significant doubts around what the benefit would be to an individual customer, and to society at large.

While the other panellists focussed on the technical aspects of the rollout, I used my answers to describe the place of smart metering in an integrated energy system, on the need for more customer flexibility in a future energy system, and on the trade-off between data privacy and a more reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy system. I tried to get the audience on side by drawing an analogy between Smart Metering and the Google Maps traffic system; this system uses personal speed and location data from smartphone users to identify areas of heavy traffic, and in doing so provides a benefit to all of its users. Smart Meters have the potential to deliver similar benefits to electricity and gas customers by identifying when and where energy is being used and allowing network and system operators to make better-informed decisions as a result.

The event was thought-provoking for me, the audience was certainly engaged with the topic, and it was enlightening to be speaking alongside the other panelists who brought different perspectives and expertise from my own. Whilst I know we didn’t persuade everyone in the audience, I still think Smart Metering can and will deliver substantial benefits to our energy system, but many other enablers – including innovative tariffs and charging structures, better user education, and more smart home devices – are necessary for the rollout to fulfill its potential. Traditional metering will soon – as I told one audience member who was determined not to be upgraded – belong in a museum.

The IET panel