Energy and environment

As the largest centre solely dedicated to control and systems engineering in Europe, we are uniquely placed to undertake research seeking to improve the efficiency, autonomy and security of energy generation and distribution.

energy electricity lines

By undertaking this research we can better understand and manage the risks associated with climate change, protect human health and natural environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

We aim to do this through the development of key enabling control technologies for smart grids, energy saving solutions, better models of the terrestrial climate, chemical and radiation pollution, and through the development of advanced technological solutions to monitor environment and identify precursors for natural disasters.

Case studies

Robot navigation: maintaining our water supply using spierbots

The survey and maintenance of water pipes is crucial to ensuring a safe water supply and reducing wastage of a precious resource. However, the inspection, maintenance and repair of water distribution systems is a costly and complex operation, with pipes buried deep underground.

The use of robotics is revolutionising this maintenance process, and our ground-breaking research is at the heart of this. A key issue for the use of robots within water pipes is navigation, with a lack of landmarks to support a normal navigation process. The SPIERBOT (Small Pipe Inspection-Exploration RoBOT) is a novel robotic device we are developing to allow the simultaneous inspection, assessment and mapping of water distribution pipes.

The robot will navigate using ultrasonic scanning of the voids in the ground outside the pipe to create a map of the pipe network and locate its position within the network. At the same time the SPIERBOT will use its sensor array to assess the condition of the pipes.

This research will support more effective monitoring of water pipe damage and allow water companies to more effectively target their maintenance efforts and reduce their costs.

Proposed architecture for next generation smart grid

Professor Qing-Chang Zhong and his team's proposed architecture for the next-generation of smart grids, based on the award-winning synchronverter technology, will allow all power systems to grow organically and to be operated autonomously. The number of energy suppliers will grow as our reliance on alternative energy increases. It will be very difficult to regulate all the different suppliers, unless next-generation smart grid technology is widely adopted.

This research has shown that If all the power supplied to the grid can be synchronised at the bottom level, as the power is fed into the grid, then all suppliers can work together in a stable, completely autonomous manner. The secret to this system lies in inverters – the devices that change a DC current to an AC current, that all renewable power generators need in order to be able to feed power into the grid.

With the synchronverter technology, these inverters can be controlled to have the internal dynamics and external functions of conventional synchronous generators – the mechanism needed by all generators to convert mechanical power into electrical power. The research team believe they can produce a self-regulating power system by enabling the energy suppliers to synchronise their outputs through the power network itself.

A number of blue-chip companies have already expressed great interest in this architecture.

REF 2021 illustration

Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

The results demonstrate our research and impact excellence across a broad range of disciplines and confirm that our research is having a significant positive impact on lives across the globe.