Monthly Archives: January 2021

Energising our lives – a WES 100 Violets Challenge project – the 1st part of the story

Engineering is key to find answers to the challenges we face today! From the climate emergency to the medical and humanitarian response to the global pandemic, collaborating engineers are playing a significant role in developing solutions.

Newcastle University researchers, Dr. Jannetta Steyn and Laura Brown have worked together on a WES 100 Violets Public Engagement Challenge project, to illustrate the solutions and ideas engineers are applying to the global need for clean and affordable energy and integrating technology to improve the quality of our every life.

About WES

The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) is a charity and a professional network of women engineers, scientists and technologists offering inspiration, support and professional development. Working in partnership, it supports and inspires women to achieve as engineers, scientists and as leaders; they encourage the education of engineering; and support companies with gender diversity and inclusion.

About WES 100 Violets Challenge

The Women’s Engineering Society’s (WES) 100 Violets Challenge competition was part of their centenary celebrations in 2020. The aim was to design and build an engaging museum exhibit that celebrates and showcases engineering/research and shares it with the public. The challenge is supported by the Ingenious Grant program from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The exhibit idea

The aim of the exhibit was to showcase electrical, software, computing, mechanical, building and energy engineering. The Public would be able to interact with the exhibit to provide an insight into how things work and what is involved in developing the technologies that make our way of life possible without impacting the planet.

Essentially the team would be building a model of a typical house but integrated with some of the established and emerging engineering and computer science innovations that are providing a route to sustainable living.

The building model was inspired by a family history project carried out by Dr. Steyn of a house that was built by her ancestors in South Africa in 1850 in the Cape Province.

  • The prototype was designed using Inkscape
  • A lasercutter was used to cut it from 3mm Birch plywood
  • The thatch roof used coconut fibre and the ridge was cut strips from a hanging flower basket lining

The final model was informed by the research being carried out at the EPSRC National Centre for Energy System Integration (CESI) which both project team members participate in. CESI is investigating the value in taking an energy systems integration approach to the future energy system and evaluating the security, economic and environmental costs of the future energy and transport scenarios being considered for the UK.

More Technical Details about the project can be found in a series of blogs developed by Jannetta at her personal blog site: –

About the Project Team: Dr Jannetta Steyn

Jannetta is a Research Software Engineer at the Digital Institute, Newcastle University. As an experienced researcher and software engineer she has a background in data analysis, provenance and middleware programming. Jannetta does a large amount of outreach work, primarily in STEM, running a range of coding clubs and electronics clubs.


About the Project Team: Laura Brown

Laura is the Centre Manager, EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration and Energy Research Programme Manager, Newcastle University. Her research tackles the challenges of integration of state-of-the-art thinking and technology into legacy and future energy systems. Laura sits on the Tees and Tyne Regional Cluster Committee of the Women’s Engineering Society and is the group leader of the SDG7 subgroup of the WES Climate Emergency Group.


Elements within the project

Training and Early Engagement

To help give us expertise the tricky art of public engagement and science communication, the WES 100 Violets Challenge Group organised two expert training sessions from a wonderful team of Science Communicator experts from Science Made Simple. The trainers gave us top tips on body language, communication tools and invalable guidance on the Health and Safety considerations of planning a public exhibit. We also got the chance to meet the other winners of the 100Violets Challenge and hear about their inventive ideas.

And to practice our new science communications skills, we organised an event with the students and staff of the School of Engineering at Newcastle University. As part of our exhibit were some elements of lego energy systems, we thought the students (and staff) would have fun helping us construct the model. And for extra measure, we borrowed some resources from our colleagues at Open Lab to allow some free lego building. The event was great fun and I’m pleased our research confirmed our hypothesis – engineers love playing with lego !!! What do you think of the results?

Community build with the Engineering students from Newcastle University

Gender Equality in Engineering

We aren’t sure who coined the phrase, “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” as a rallying call to have positive role models from all sections of society in all walks of life but we felt even in this relatively light-hearted project there was some evidence of gender bias in the system. When we procured the rather fabulous lego wind turbine we were somewhat crestfallen when the two technicians were both males! That error was quickly fixed by some immediate head swaps. We then used this as a theme in the model that all the roles in the exhibit tableau would be engineers – a non-gendered noun.

The end of the beginning

By this time the model was starting to take shape. (More technical details can be found in a series of blogs developed by Jannetta blog site: – ).

  1. We had a date in the calendar for the big WES 100 Violets Exhibition
  2. We had procured all the parts of the model and constructed all the lego components
  3. 3D printing and Laser Cutting of the House was going well
  4. The IoT Smart Home was beginning to take shape
  5. The EV had been built and was (remotely) operational
  6. We had developed some engaging learning materials to accompany our exhibit
  7. Science Made Simple team had helped us perfect our Exhibition Pitch for our intended audience
  8. We had our first engagement event with the students (guinea pigs) completed and it had went well
  9. Our fabulous colleague Faye Harland had provided an amazing schematic of our planned model (See below)
  10. We had another local exhibition planned …
  11. It was February 2020 … it was all in hand … what could possibly go wrong …

… we suspect you can guess but we will provide some more of the story next week in our next blog. To be continued …

The visualisation of our idea. Artist: Faye Harland, Newcastle University

How green is energy storage? Learnings from a CESI-funded case study

Academics funded by the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) in the Centre’s first Flexible Funding Call, recently published the results of a study on the impacts of energy storage operation on greenhouse gas emissions, in the journal Applied Energy. Their work is summarised here by the lead author, Dr Andrew Pimm, and the full paper [1] is freely available to all on the journal website. The research team was led by Prof Tim Cockerill of the University of Leeds, and also included Dr Jan Palczewski of Leeds and Dr Edward Barbour of Loughborough University.

About the author: Dr Andrew Pimm

Dr Andrew Pimm is a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds investigating the techno-economics of energy storage, energy flexibility, and industrial decarbonisation. Prior to joining Leeds in 2015, he worked on the development of grid-scale energy storage technologies at the University of Nottingham, where he was involved in offshore trials of underwater compressed air energy storage.

Contact details

Energy storage will be a key part of the future energy system, allowing the deployment of higher levels of non-dispatchable low carbon electricity generation and increased electrification of energy demand for heating/cooling, transport, and industry.

Passing energy through storage inevitably results in losses associated with inefficiencies, however previous investigations have found that operation of electricity storage can result in increased CO2 emissions even if the storage has a turnaround efficiency of 100% [2]: if the output from a relatively high carbon source (such as unabated gas or coal) is increased to charge the storage, and the output from a relatively low carbon source is reduced when the storage is discharged, then the result will be a net increase in CO2 emissions.

However, these effects had not been considered recently for Great Britain, and little attention had been given to the extent to which they vary by location. We sought to fill this gap in the knowledge through our study.

We made use of data from National Grid’s regional Carbon Intensity API and ELEXON’s P114 dataset to determine the source of electricity consumed in each of Great Britain’s 14 electricity distribution zones for each half-hour period in 2019 (annual sums shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1: The share of electricity consumption by region and source in Great Britain in 2019.

With these data, we used linear regression techniques [3] to calculate half-hourly “marginal emissions factors” for each distribution zone. These tell us the change in CO2 emissions that occurs as a result of a change to grid electricity demand, disaggregated by time and location. These regional marginal emissions factors were then used to assess the impact of electricity storage operation on grid CO2 emissions in three different storage operating scenarios:

  1. Load levelling, whereby storage is charged at times of low demand and discharged at times of high demand.
  2. Wind balancing, whereby storage is charged at times of high wind output and discharged at times of low wind output.
  3. Reducing wind curtailment, whereby storage is charged using excess wind generation that would otherwise be curtailed and discharged at times of high demand.

The resulting emissions reductions are shown for selected distribution zones and Great Britain as a whole in Figure 2. Wind balancing is the only storage operating mode that leads to increased CO2 emissions, and emissions are reduced the most when storage is operated to reduce wind curtailment in regions with high levels of fossil generation.

Across all regions and operating modes, the difference between the highest reduction in emissions and the highest increase is significant, at 741 gCO2 per kWh discharged, and is roughly equivalent to the reduction in emissions per unit achieved by fitting a coal power plant with carbon capture and storage.

Figure 2: Potential emissions reduction through storage operation for the three operating scenarios, in six selected distribution zones and Great Britain as a whole in 2019.

While electricity storage will be a key component in future low carbon energy systems, our work has shown the importance of storage location and operating mode to its operational emissions and the possible dangers of evaluating emissions using average emissions factors. We are currently using these new techniques to investigate the lifecycle emissions of storage and smart EV charging across the EU.


[1] Pimm AJ, Palczewski J, Barbour ER, Cockerill TT. Using electricity storage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Applied Energy. 2021;282:116199.
[2] Denholm P, Kulcinski GL. Life cycle energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions from large scale energy storage systems. Energy Conversion and Management. 2004;45:2153-72.
[3] Hawkes AD. Estimating marginal CO2 emissions rates for national electricity systems. Energy Policy. 2010;38:5977-87.

A CESI researcher’s secondment journey to the Government – Dr Zoya Pourmirza

The year 2020 will be remembered as an extraordinary year with the news of COVID outbreak. In January 2020, I started my one-year secondment as an advisor providing technical consultation to the UK Government Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV)”.

About the 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.


The UK Government’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) is a cross-government team between the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, supporting the transition to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). As soon as I started, following a warm welcome from the team, I was impressed by devotion and dedication of the team. Within a few months into the role, while I was enjoying working with the team and gaining new experiences, the UK went into the lockdown. In the following months, we moved all our activities to online platforms which are known to all of us.

This secondment was planned to assist shaping a more secure EV eco-system in future. In 2019, Government consulted on cyber security requirements for smart chargepoints. There is an intention to follow with legislation mandating requirements for smart chargepoints, including cyber security, in 2021. My work was intended to help informing Government approach in 2021 legislation.

My tasks during this Secondment was to support different workstreams with OZEV and wider work in BEIS on smart energy cybersecurity. This included:

Project 1 – EVHS grant scheme

Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) is a grant provided by the OZEV, designed to offer an additional incentive to EV drivers. EV manufacturers who wish to apply for authorisation for chargepoints under EVHS should confirm they comply with EVHS technical specifications. In terms of cyber security specifications, OZEV requires chargepoints to be accessed by using the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP v1.6 or above). During my time at DfT I assessed how many EVHS grant applications were likely meeting or not complying with requirements on cyber security, and if these applications are considering a similar level of cyber security measures provided in the OCPP. I also recommended some specific changes to be made to the scheme requirements, which are being considered by Government.

Project 2BSI PAS review

The British Standards Institution (BSI) has been sponsored by Government to develop two PAS standards. The PAS 1878 is for Energy Smart Appliances (ESA), including smart chargepoint cyber security requirements and PAS 1879 is for a Demand Side Response (DSR) framework. The DSR framework PAS is intending to develop the ‘environment’ within which ESAs can operate. Both PAS’s involved cyber security considerations. The cyber security approaches employed in these standards are encryption and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). The end-to-end secure framework is intended to:

  • provide secure assets, these assets are such as Energy Smart Appliance (ESA) and Consumer Energy Manager (CEM)
  • verify the actors such as Demand Side Response Provider (DSRSP)
  • provide a secure communication between ESA and CEM, and between CEM and DSRSP

During my time at BEIS, I reviewed the draft PAS standards at different stages of their development and recommended a series of changes to improve the standard and better embed cyber security within them. These comments were welcomed by the standard leads, and it is expected to be reflected in the final version.

Project 3 Cyber risk assessments – I worked along the BEIS team and the PA consulting on cyber risk assessment for smart energy systems to identify the risks and shape appropriate mitigations techniques. This work is underway within the BEIS team and will be completed in 2021. In this study we realised that as the proliferation of smart energy devices including EV smart chargepoints and associated smart energy platforms increases, the cyber security risks will grow too. These risks will become material in 2025. For example, the ability for a large number of smart energy devices to be switched on or off at the same time, which will cause a large power swing on the electricity network, is one of the main risks identified by the team.

Project 4 – Reports and recommendations

I shaped a report for the Government discussing the cyber security challenges in smart energy system and EV chargepoints, the risks and mitigation techniques, and the future roadmap. The recommendation provided in this report could potentially inform the legislation this year.

Thoughts on the experience

All these tasks were carried out to pave the way for a more secure future of the EV ecosystem. My sincere thanks to both teams at the Newcastle University and the Government who provided this unique opportunity for me to get involved in Government’s policy development and legislation process and develop new skills. This was an extremely valuable experience working at the heart of civil service to provide consultation and apply my expertise to help meet the key government objectives for EV smart charging.