GRC 2013: Energy

The fourth Graduate Research Conference took place from 19-22 June, 2013 at University College Dublin with the theme Energy: Systems, Solutions and Policy.

The conference attracted more than 70 participants, representing PhD students and academics from 18 universities across the U21 network, and was opened by Professor Bairbre Redmond, U21 manager.

The conference was organised around three sub-themes:

  1. Energy Systems – is a smart, interconnected, low carbon energy infrastructure an achievable and desirable goal?
  2. Energy Policy – how far should we pursue renewables-based national and global energy policies? 
  3. Energy Solutions – which technologies and incentives are required to meet future low carbon energy needs? 

A number of keynote speakers introduced each sub-theme, highlighting the multi-disciplinary and holistic nature of many real-world energy-related problems, before the PhD students presented their own perspective as seen from their discipline.
The introductory talks covered:

  • Changing energy consumption patterns and the trend towards a more sustainable future – Professor Peter Lund, Aalto University, Finland
  • The European Commission Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan and Ireland’s upcoming Energy white paper – Joe Costelloe, Irish government Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Sustainability management through carbon capture and storage technologies – Professor Stuart Haszeldine, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • The development of a national electric vehicle charging infrastructure – Senan McGrath, chief technology officer, ESB eCars. 

As part of each theme, a group of 8-10 students presented their research work, aiming to succinctly introduce their concept, highlight results, and summarise their conclusions, all within 7 minutes. A wide variety of topics were presented ranging from energy storage to better integrated wind power. Each session was notable for the strong engagement from the student audience, highlighting a wide breadth of expertise and insight, and well-informed questions.

Review panels consisting of academics from U21 universities and government and industry representatives. The panels offered advice and guidance to the presenters, while awarding prizes for the best presentations. A poster session of the student work across all the conference themes also highlighted interests in reversible hydrogen nano-storage solutions and energy production from sewage sludge treatment, amongst others.

Technical visits took place to EirGrid, where students visited the National Control Centre and saw how engineers securely manage and operate the power system, and to SEMO (single electricity market operator for Ireland) where the students heard about the schedule for generating units and how Ireland plans to meet its 2020 targets of 40% renewable energy penetration. A separate trip also took place to the 747 MW Huntstown power station, which can provide up to 20% of the electrical demand for the Irish power system. By good fortune, a combined cycle gas turbine power plant was out for maintenance, allowing everyone to look inside the turbine chamber and see the plant components. 

Two workshops, facilitated by the National Digital Research Centre and Arup Consulting, encouraged the delegates to consider the commercial potential of their research. Using the Lean Business Model Canvas, the groups framed their business ideas by considering the problem, solution, unique value proposition and potential customers. Some exciting ideas were presented, drawn from a wide range of research interests in the energy field. The workshop highlighted many of the opportunities and obstacles which exist when bringing research to commercialisation. Leading on from this, an overview was given of the EU Marie Curie International Fellowship Programme (2013-18), which proposes a network of transnationally mobile post-doctoral research fellows based around the theme of energy and the Universitas 21 network of universities. Potentially, student attendees at the conference could later be appointed as Marie Curie research fellows themselves.

Of course, one can’t come to Ireland without experiencing some of the local culture. The conference attendees travelled to Glencullen, high in the Wicklow mountains, to experience some local cuisine, surrounded by traditional Irish singing and dancing. Overall the conference proved to be a great success; many new research links and relationships were formed, and the surprisingly good Irish weather only added to the event.

Dr Damian Flynn
Academic Conference Coordinator
University College Dublin