Ulster University to lead on major cross-border project to develop consumer-owned energy storage

Energy Storage & Demand Side Response PhD Studentships 2017 - INTERREG VA

Applications are invited for six PhD studentships in Energy Storage Demand Side Response.

Energy storage and Demand Side Response are essential elements of large scale renewable energy integration. Global energy demands are growing and in order to ensure an environmentally sustainable future, such growth must be achieved primarily with renewable energy resources. However the variable energy supply from the most likely renewable energy sources (wind and solar) requires temporal management and therefore energy storage and demand side response will see a huge increase in demand.

Candidates should hold, or expect to hold a first or upper second class honours degree in Engineering, Computer Science, Science, or a cognate area.

Applications will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate’s qualifications, skills experience and interests. Successful candidates will enrol as of 1 October 2017, on a full-time programme of research studies leading to the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The studentship will comprise fees and an annual stipend of £14,553. It will be awarded for a period of up to three years subject to satisfactory progress and is tenable in the new Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at the Jordanstown campus.

The Research topics proposed are in the areas of Energy Storage and Demand Side Response. We are particularly interested in proposals within the following areas: Distributed energy storage models for DNO/DSO operations; Development of business models for commercial and community energy storage schemes; All-Ireland Energy Markets considering iSEM, DS3, GB/FR interconnections; Phase Change and Alternative Materials for Thermal Energy Storage; Variable Speed Heat Pump Compressors for Demand Side Response & Network Stability; and Combined Solutions for Electrification of Heat and Transport at a Domestic Level.

Spire 2 PhD Projects

The PhD projects available are:

  • Distributed energy storage models for DNO/DSO operations.

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Professor Neil J Hewitt & Dr Patrick Keatley

    Background: The electricity sector is undergoing a fundamental structural change. It is moving away from the linear ‘one-way’ flow of electricity from large generators, through transmission and distribution networks, to passive consumers. Instead the networks are now moving to a system where generation is distributed and more variable, where consumers can better monitor and manage their energy use, and where new technologies and business models are emerging.

    The Great Britain Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) which is a regulatory body supervising the operation of the gas and electricity industry, defines flexibility as ‘modifying generation and/or consumption patterns in reaction to an external signal (such as a change in price) to provide a service within the energy system. Traditionally, the main source of flexibility is electricity generation and when there is a demand shortage, responses have been to generate more electricity and build more cables to carry it.

    Decarbonisation has effectively decentralised significant portions of electricity generation through the wide-scale deployment of renewable energy (typically from wind and more recently solar PV). However wind and PV intermittency requires new concepts of flexibility management such as energy storage. This will be the responsibility of Distribution Network Operators (DNO) as they transition to becoming Distribution System Operators (DSO), responsible for controlling distributed assets on lower voltage electricity networks.

    Aims: This project will address the potential creation of new business models for DSOs and market participants in Northern Ireland and Ireland – regions of high variable renewable energy penetration. These changes will take place within the context of the all-Ireland single electricity market (SEM) becoming the i-SEM in 2017 with new ancillary services products being created under DS3 (Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System).

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: The project will use market modelling to explore future scenarios for distributed mass energy storage integration in keeping with renewable energy targets. The likely benefits of energy storage will be established and market structures will be evaluated to quantify how commercially viable mass energy storage can be established. It will further examine the question of DSO ownership against procurement of storage and other distributed energy assets from 3rd parties, whether from individual units or aggregated smaller scale units.

  • Development of business models for community energy schemes

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Dr Ye Huang and Dr Patrick Keatley

    Background: Local industry and local communities can suffer from high electricity prices and slow and expensive electricity grid connections, which place these regions at an economic disadvantage. This is especially true with high energy using industries such as the ICT / data centres which need low energy costs to compete in an international market place. In addition, the success of government policies to stimulate growth in the renewable energy sector, especially wind, is now causing imbalances between supply and demand at times of strong wind and low system load that result in the need to switch wind turbines off. This turn-down of wind farms has the potential to bring the growth of the wind industry to a halt and places renewable energy targets in jeopardy because revenue streams would be uncertain over the life of new project assets.

    Aim: Through electricity network modelling, heat network modelling and electricity market modelling, the role of districts and communities as variable renewable energy management systems will be assessed. Initially utilising Coleraine, Northern Ireland as a town-scale community example, the role of heating networks, electricity networks, intelligent control systems and energy storage to manage intermittent renewable energy generation will be assessed. Integration with demand response and management from larger scale commercial entities and aggregated domestic and small business loads will also be modelled. This work will be extended to communities of different scales to assess its impact on variable renewable energy deployment.

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: Numerous communities exist that could host significant variable renewable resources. Community day-to-day energy needs and energy management can be extended into a demand response role with the optimised deployment of energy transfer and storage systems. This is a considerable advance on current UK and Ireland energy policies and regulations, and has the potential to radically inform future energy system thinking. Business models within current, emerging and proposed energy market structures will inform the likely success of such future ventures.

  • i-SEM, DS3 and GB/Fr Interconnection Electricity Market Modelling

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Dr Ye Huang and Dr Inna Vorushylo

    Background: This research will take a strategic overview of the impact of distributed energy resources on wholesale electricity markets. Ireland, Northern Ireland and the West Coast of Scotland have some of the best wind resources (and in the future, wave and tidal energy resources) alongside viable solar energy possibilities. Scenarios for their integration into the electricity networks of the region alongside existing and new centralised generating facilities are based on short to medium term capacity generation predictions and needs. Policies of the national and regional governments are coupled with electricity regulators’ needs to create and operate energy market structures that comply with national, cross-border and international energy market needs. Therefore this project will ascertain whether the system value of distributed energy resources can be realised in emerging and future energy markets. In Ireland and Northern Ireland, this will refer to i-SEM (Integrated – Single Electricity Market) which will take account of the requirements of the European Network Codes and the Target Model and DS3 (Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System) which will examine how the Transmission System Operators can achieve 40% variable renewable energy penetration by 2020. The electricity system will need to be operated in real-time with system non-synchronous penetration (SNSP) levels of up to 75%.

    In Scotland, the National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) has overall responsibility as ‘residual balancer’ of the electricity system. The Balancing Mechanism allows NGET to accept offers of electricity (generation increases and demand reductions) and bids for electricity (generation reductions and demand increases) at very short notice.

    Aim: This project will examine such market structures and consider current and future electricity network integration alongside large scale and distributed energy storage or other stability management mechanisms to determine market value and future business opportunities. This will also require an investigation of the possible market mechanisms at integrating demand side generation into the market. This will be achieved through close cooperation with policy and regulatory stakeholders and utilising regional energy market models employing future agreed scenarios.

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: The outputs will include a series of policy supports illustrating the likely routes to a) meeting 2020 commitments; b) investigating the likely costs and benefits extending out to 2030 and 2050 aspirations and c) the role of distributed energy storage in future markets extending to 2020 and beyond. This will determine market size and characteristics of distributed energy storage devices.

  • Optimal Integrated Solutions for Energy Storage, Electrification of Heat and Transport at a Domestic Level

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Dr Aggelos Zacharopoulos and Dr Caterina Brandoni

    Background: Policies have supported renewable energy deployment and energy efficiency at a domestic level. With reference to renewable energy e.g. photovoltaic panels, these are seen at the distribution operator level as being an unconstrained and unmanaged power supplied typically to the low voltage network, a network which has seen little investment in the last half century. The roll out of smart meters etc., allows the management of such resources and energy loads coupled with the emergence of the electrification of space heating, thermal energy storage, electrical energy storage and the future deployment of electric vehicles. This will facilitate the management of traditionally weal local electricity networks and best utilise supply and demand according to market and end user needs. Therefore this study will reveal optimum combinations of building energy efficiency and technology deployments that work in current and proposed future electricity markets.

    Aim: Through combinations of building modelling and electricity and network modelling, the roll of energy storage (thermal, battery and with future two-way electric vehicle) and energy efficiency will be examined. Experimental verification of technology deployments will be achieved at Ulster’s Terrace Street test facility (a fully instrumented and occupied row of family homes currently with PV, Heat Pumps, Thermal Storage and Battery Storage).

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: This study will inform Distribution System Operators (DSO) of the market and technology possibilities associated with the role of (initially) domestic buildings as a demand side response tool. The size and type of technologies that meet both end-user needs (i.e. thermal comfort, cost effective energy, return on investment), new business opportunities for aggregation service providers and technology providers and DSO needs (i.e. network investment avoidance costs, new business opportunities etc.) will lead to quality reports and publications.

  • Variable Speed Heat Pump Compressors for Demand Side Response & Network Stability

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Professor Neil J Hewitt and Dr Mingjun Huang

    Background: In managing demand side response for the integration of variable renewable energy, this study will examine the management of electrification of heating through vapour compression heat pumps. The study will examine a domestic variable speed heat pump compressor and its role for a) heating homes where neat is required (i.e. through occupancy controls); b) reducing (or increasing) heat pump speed to meet energy network demands and c) optimal sizing thermal energy storage to assist in either end-user thermal comfort and/or electricity distribution system operator needs.

    Aim: The aim to devise a high performance domestic heat pump for retrofit applications, test such a unit and devise an operational map of its performance. Once established, the study will then establish hydronic system radiator controls that will address heat pump compressor operations. Integration with electricity market signals will also be required with differences in capacity accommodated by thermal energy storage. Modelling of the overall system will lead to optimisation for an Ulster University Terrace Street test house and an overall system will be installed and tested under real householder and electricity network demand and conditions.

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: Novel applications of heat pumps that operate with temperature controlled occupied spaces that are able to both meet the needs of end-users and DSO’s will be a major impact. This will also develop a core of scientific outputs. Differences in demand and supply needs must be managed by thermal energy storage, which will be optimally sized when coupled to the thermal needs of the building and the needs of the DSO. While compromises will be required, the understanding of the system relations will reveal sensible solutions.

  • Phase Change and Alternative Materials for Domestic Thermal Energy Storage

    Duration: 3 Years

    Supervisors: Professor Philip Griffiths and Dr Mingjun Huang

    Background: In managing demand side response for the integration of variable renewable energy, the electrification of space heating requires thermal storage. Traditional water based systems are excellent at addressing variable temperatures for optimum heat pump performance i.e. heat supplies at the desired temperature for thermal comfort according to daily and seasonal needs. However such thermal storage takes up considerable valuable space within the home and alternative approaches are required. Higher energy density materials such as phase change materials (PCM) and thermochemical materials have possibilities in terms of high energy density but may need high performance, high temperature heat pumps to realise their full potential.

    Aim: The aim is to first assess an existing PCM unit, understanding the heat exchanger design challenges between a hydronic heating system and the PCM. Once established, best practice in heat exchanger design and materials selection for domestic heating applications will lead to a revised design, which will be modelled, built, laboratory tested and field trialled. Alternative materials such as thermochemical based combinations will also be considered with a view of overall system performance efficiency.

    Outputs - Scientific & Impact: Advanced yet cost effective heat exchangers for PCMs will realise new thermal storage designs. Thermochemical based designs with theoretically higher energy densities will increase compactness and allow greater flexibility in deployment. Overall greater temperature flexibility will allow greater ease of integration with heat pumps for example.


For more information on applying go the research pages on our website. Where you can apply online.

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 28th July 2017

Interviews will be held in August 2017

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This project is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).