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Modelling energy flexibility in Britain’s future energy systems

Project Description

Primary supervisor: Dr Grant Wilson
Secondary supervisor: Dr Adriano Sciacovelli
Industrial supervisor: Energy Systems Catapult

The decarbonisation of heat is one of the major challenges for Great Britain in its long-term ambition to decarbonise its economy. This project will investigate what mix of options are available to provide the flexibility required to balance Britain’s future energy systems over different timescales. As now, this will be necessary to help match the supply of primary energy with the end user demand for the services that this energy provides. The project will investigate the costs and controllability of different types of energy system flexibility across multi-energy vectors, and importantly their limits over different timescales.

Applications are invited to undertake a PhD research project to investigate, ‘Modelling energy flexibility in Britain’s future energy systems’. The topic is a desk-based modelling project rather than a laboratory-based project.
The project will utilise a range of energy systems models developed by the Energy Systems Catapult to investigate the flexibility of energy systems at a national or regional scale. The research will focus on the amount of flexibility needed under a range of different future scenarios and a comparison of different options; in particular the research will consider the future role of gas networks in facilitating decarbonisation, and the use of thermal storage. The project sits within the School of Chemical Engineering, the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage and the Birmingham Energy Institute.
A backbone of Britain’s current energy systems is the natural gas network that provides much of Britain’s non-transport energy demands, especially over the winter period when space heating demands are at their highest. Significant progress has been made in decarbonising the power sector (in 2018 Great Britain generated around 20% of its electrical generation from wind and solar sources) leading to the lowest per kWh power sector emissions.
The provision of heat is arguably the next greatest challenge for Britain, due to a number of energy system factors including the prevalence of the existing natural gas network (80%+ of homes connected to the gas grid), the seasonality of the demand (it is colder in the winter than the summer) and the within day swings of demand for natural gas. These engineering challenges are driven by consumers, who have a high level of expectation from their heating systems, and a familiarity with the current system. The natural gas system has inherent flexibility over a number of different timeframes such as the seasonal flexibility helped by international supply chains that provide greater amounts of natural gas in the winter than the summer. Linepack is the amount of gas contained in the natural gas networks, and this can be increased or decreased by changing the pressure in the higher-pressure parts of the gas network. This is used to balance significant demand swings within a day. The gas system provides the greatest amount of within day flexibility to Britain’s energy systems – and this research will help to build knowledge of the levels and types of flexibility that future energy systems in Britain might require.
The successful candidate can expect to work in a supportive team environment with plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and develop expertise.
More information about the School can be found at:

The candidate should be a UK/EU citizen and should have at least a strong upper second-class (2.1) degree in Chemical Engineering or related numerical discipline. Experience of time-series data handling and analysis, and background knowledge of Great Britain’s energy systems will be an advantage.

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded by the school of Chemical Engineering. Suitably qualified non-EU students may apply for this project but only if they have full funding to support their studies.
Enquiries about the research project should be addressed to
Name: Dr Grant Wilson
Email address:
All applications should be made online at View Website
Under programme name, please select PhD School of Chemical Engineering FT

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering?
Chemical Engineering

FTE Category A staff submitted: 32.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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