Tag Archives: Net-Zero

UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Award

Xin Zhang works as a Senior Lecturer in Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Brunel University London and was recently awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

Transition from Industry to Academia

I worked at National Grid ESO for eight years before I returned to academia as a senior lecturer. My industry work involved in the real-time operation of the UK Electricity Transmission Systems, where I worked on shift patterns with five other shift teams and over a hundred engineers. We worked together to ensure the electricity supply met demand on a second-by-second basis, a core function of a GB Electricity System Operator.

“I am proud to tell my neighbours and friends that I was one of the power system engineers to keep the lights on”

My motivation to move to academic research initiated from a night shift when I was on the energy desk, there was so much wind on the system and the whole system was reaching security limits. I started to think about future technologies and solutions to solve real-time engineering problems. One day, I felt the power systems needed fundamental changes to accommodate more renewables, which has evolved so fast from 5% to almost 50% in the past ten years. Such fundamental change could be the combination of “3D – decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation”, where I was so looking forward to participating in such energy system transitions.

I decided to take up a senior lecturer position in energy systems (future grid) at Cranfield University in April 2019. I remember the last day when I worked in the Electricity National Control Centre, I had finished my night shift at 7:00am and handed over my company budget. I told myself that I have now become a full-time academic researcher.

Research Funding

Changing career from industry to academia is never easy, particularly to establish myself in an academic research environment, where I need to set up my own research team and agenda. Research funding is a key factor to grow and sustain my research activities. In the first six months of my research career, I was lucky enough to receive my first research grant from the Flexible Fund Call from the Supergen Energy Networks Hub.

I went through a competitive funding selection process from project outlines to full proposal development. I was firmly supported by the Supergen Flexible Fund as my start-up grant to recruit my first research assistant, as well as to set up my first PhD student. With this initial support, I managed to publish two important journal papers to establish myself in the field, as well as to successfully secure future research funding including two T-TRIG grants from the Department for Transport, as well as an EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership award.

I worked closely with the Supergen Energy Networks Hub in most of my funding applications as well as research activities. Through the Supergen Energy Networks Hub, I connected with several relevant industrial partners to strengthen my research, I was mentored by several senior Hub members. As an Early Career Researcher (ECR), I particularly valued the networking support from the Supergen Energy Networks Hub through the various hybrid events, including the Industrial Advisory Committee meetings, research webinars and regular Hub meetings in Manchester, Birmingham and London.

“Transiting career from industry to academia is never easy, that’s why I am so glad to receive a prestigious £1.8m UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to make it happen.”

Future Leaders Fellowship

I recently applied for a Future Leaders Fellowship, during the  application process, I was supported by the Hub’s internal proposal review and mock interview, which ensured that I receive the best possible support from the Energy Networks community.

In my project: “Digitalisation of Electrical Power and Energy Systems Operation”,  I will lead the application and development of advanced digital technologies for the energy sector in order to improve the interoperability and whole system reliability of real-time power system operation with up to 100% low-carbon and renewable energy. This will support the digital transformation across electrical power and energy systems in order to achieve the UK’s net-zero emissions target.

The research project associated with my Fellowship will pioneer the development of cyber-physical energy systems modelling methods and co-simulation platform-as-a-service approaches to enhance real-time power system operation. The novel techniques will be deployed with regard to energy management systems in order to enhance the reliability and interoperability at the whole system level across electricity system operators (transmission, distribution and renewables).

Next Steps

I am confident in achieving future leadership in power and energy system digitalisation and leading an internationally-recognised research team supported by 11 industrial partners and research societies including Supergen Energy Networks Hub as a key project partner.

“Future Leaders Fellowships support talented people in universities, businesses, and other research and innovation environments. The aim of the scheme is to develop the next wave of world-class research and innovation leaders in academia and business.”

My Future Leaders Fellowship project will closely link with the Supergen Energy Networks Hub, with a consortium of Universities. Supported by Supergen, I will expand my academic networks with other key stakeholders in the UKRI Energy Programme including the Supergen Programme. This is important to further develop my international influence and new relationships, a key strategy to develop as a future leader in research and innovation.

Looking Back at the Supergen COP26 Fishbowl Event

The Supergen COP26 Fishbowl was a public engagement activity in which participants from different groups, organisations, and backgrounds discussed their visions for an energy future with net-zero carbon emissions. It took place at the Ramshorn Theatre in Glasgow during the COP26 Energy Day on the 4th of November.

Each Supergen hub – Solar, Offshore Renewable Energy, Bioenergy, Energy Networks, Energy Storage, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell – nominated up to two academics and early-career researchers to make up the surrounding audience and contribute to the discussion with specialist knowledge. I am glad that I was among them and had the opportunity to join the event in person.

In the next paragraphs, I will describe the concept of a fishbowl discussion, summarize the discussion points of the Supergen COP26 Fishbowl event, and provide an overview of my experience in Glasgow during the COP26 Energy Day

About the Author

Laiz Souto is  a Research Associate on the Supergen Energy Networks Hub, with a PhD in Electrical Engineering and  is also a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Future Energy Networks at the University of  Bristol with the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Laiz has a broad interest in the energy transition, including energy infrastructures, low carbon energy systems, optimization and statistical techniques applied to energy systems planning and operation, uncertainty quantification in large scale energy systems, energy systems integration, power system resilience to extreme weather events, power system reliability and security of supply, and power systems protection, automation, and control, among other topics.

What is a fishbowl discussion?

A fishbowl is a form of conversation which allows several people to participate in a conversation. In a fishbowl discussion, chairs are arranged in concentric rings. Participants seated in the inner circle (i.e., the fishbowl) actively take part in the conversation by sharing their thoughts, whereas participants seated in the outer circles listen carefully to the topics being discussed. Participants in the outer circles may enter the inner circle to share their thoughts when a seat is available. Participants in the inner circle are encouraged to vacate their seats after contributing to the discussion so that other participants can join the conversation.

The Supergen COP26 Fishbowl event followed this format with six inner chairs and roughly twenty outer chairs. The inner chairs were occupied by the facilitator and the academics nominated by each of the five Supergen hubs at the start of the live stream. Before the start of the event, participants agreed to leave an empty seat in the inner circle whenever possible so that different participants could join the ongoing discussion. As an outcome, participants from different backgrounds, organizations, and career stages could share their thoughts on distinct aspects involved in the energy transition towards a net-zero carbon emissions future.

What was discussed in the Supergen COP26 Fishbowl event?

The Supergen COP26 Fishbowl agenda was divided into four chapters over one hour and a half. The event facilitator moderated the discussion, ensuring that the duration of each chapter was roughly the same and that all participants who joined the inner circle could share their ideas.

At the start of the live stream, academics delivered a short presentation about the perspective of their hub to contextualize the debate. The role of the research conducted by each Supergen hub towards a net-zero carbon emissions future was briefly introduced.

Chapter 1: “How do we generate our energy in a net zero world”

The role of different energy sources in a net-zero carbon emissions future was discussed. Energy production from renewable sources, energy storage, nuclear power plants, hydrogen, integrated electricity-gas-heating networks, and the phasing-out of fossil fuels were debated. Other aspects were also linked to the energy production in a net zero world, such as the importance of a just energy transition leaving nobody behind to achieve the climate targets previously set in the Paris Agreement.

Chapter 2: “How do we deliver that net zero energy to the public”

The role of different technologies in the energy supply chain was discussed. Among them, smart grid capabilities, artificial intelligence, flexibility options, and distributed energy resources were associated to disruptive changes in the provision of energy to the customers in a net-zero carbon emissions future. In this context, the role of energy networks in the transportation of energy in its different forms from generation sites to consumption sites was emphasized. Challenges and opportunities posed by the increasing electrification of other sectors were also discussed.

Chapter 3: “How do we utilize that net zero energy”

Changes in energy consumption in a net-zero world were debated, highlighting the role of the customers towards net-zero carbon emissions. The impact of the choices made by the customers on the final uses of energy was debated, considering aspects that could incentivize the adoption of clean energy technologies and energy efficient appliances, such as subsidization. Changes introduced by the increasing electrification of economies worldwide were also discussed.

Chapter 4: “What steps should the UK be taking to make our energy system net zero by 2050”

Policy decisions were discussed with a sense of urgency. Stopping subsidization of fossil fuels and increasing investments in state-of-the-art clean energy technologies along with the required network infrastructure were emphasized as key commitments towards a net-zero carbon emissions future. In this context, taking into consideration regional aspects along with clean energy technologies currently available was recommended to accelerate the energy transition towards net-zero carbon emissions.

What was like to be in Glasgow during the COP26 Energy Day?

For many participants like me, COP26 – and the Supergen COP26 Fishbowl in particular – brought the first opportunity to attend a conference in person after the pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions had been lifted in the UK. This made the opportunity to be in Glasgow during COP26 – and during the COP26 Energy Day in particular – even more unique.

The city was overbooked and fully decorated with COP26 banners, some of which also including reminders of how individual choices contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in different ways. The atmosphere in Glasgow was tense, as the decisions to be made during the next few days of COP26 were expected to determine the world’s ability to curb global warming. Expectations among the COP26 attendees were high, given the importance and urgency of climate change mitigation and adaptation worldwide and the lack of ambitious commitments linked to action plans at the previous conferences. During the COP26 Energy Day and the Supergen COP26 Fishbowl event, I was happy to see and engage in interesting discussions about the role of energy networks in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Now that COP26 is over and the Glasgow Climate Pact is ready, I hope to see governments implementing ambitious action plans that lead to rapid decarbonization worldwide. Ultimately, I look forward to seeing bold climate commitments put into practice towards net-zero carbon emissions in the next few years.