Summoning the hive – Connecting Britain’s energy system community

Oliver Schmidt is an alumnus of our MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures. He is currently studying for a PhD with a focus on energy storage technologies and how they can fit into a wider energy system. Recently he helped found Power Swarm a network of people working on the issues around whole energy systems. He has written us a blog post about their work and how people can get involved.

Britain is at the forefront of a low-carbon energy system transformation. The amount of electricity coming from low-carbon generators, such as nuclear plants, wind turbines and solar panels, has doubled over the last decade, from 25% in 2009 to 53% in 2018. As a result, carbon intensity halved from nearly 500 to 217 grams of CO2 per kWh (Electric Insights).

However, as an island with limited interconnection to its neighbours, a further reduction down to 100 g/kWh by 2030 (Fifth Carbon Budget) is challenging due to the limited ability to import electricity when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Individually, Britain’s academics, businesses and policy-makers are world-leading, but the communities are silo-ed. Britain lacks a close-knit energy system community that can easily discuss transformation pathways. The missing link is a platform that offers a direct communication channel between experts of all sectors and connects them to openly discuss ongoing work. That’s why Iain Staffell, Malte Jansen and I have set up Power Swarm.

First Power Swarm workshop on Modelling Renewables on 18th October 2018.
First Power Swarm workshop on Modelling Renewables on 18th October 2018.

Power Swarm is an open, free network of energy system transformation experts across academia, industry and policy. It has two key components:

  1. An e-mail list
    Every Power Swarm member can write to this list to advertise jobs, papers, conferences, etc. and ask questions related to energy system transformation.
  2. Regular workshops
    Covering a range of topics, our workshops host academic, industry and policy experts to speak about their ongoing work. Two hours with five presentations of ten minutes ensure a concise format that allows for real, content-based, cross-sectoral discussions. No need for shiny result slides, rather a discussion of current roadblocks.

Our email list is an amazing resource, leveraging ‘swarm intelligence’ or the ‘hive mind’ for better information exchange and more efficient problem-solving. When I asked the group about recent reports on the amount of storage required in future energy system scenarios, I received more than 15 reports I hadn’t been aware of. That’s my PhD literature review sorted!Last Power Swarm workshop on Hydrogen on 21st February 2019.

Last Power Swarm workshop on Hydrogen on 21st February 2019.The workshops are proving equally useful. We have held four workshops and are seeing attendances of 20 to 30 people. I think what has helped us is the breadth of topics we have covered including modelling renewables, electricity storage, energy trading and hydrogen. I have not seen a comparable forum where experts across academia, industry and policy can discuss so easily about energy system transformation. We have set a preliminary schedule of events and mapped out what topics we plan to discuss. Suggestions for topics or to host a workshop are always welcome.

We already have more than 200 members across the UK. If you think you could benefit from the network, then please join in.

Oliver Schmidt

Oliver SchmidtOliver works as PhD researcher in the climate change mitigation team at Imperial College’s Grantham Institute and the Centre for Environmental Policy.

His expertise are cost projections for energy storage technologies and using these in energy system models to determine the value of energy storage in low-carbon energy systems. His methods include learning curves and expert elicitations as well as power system and integrated assessment models.

Oliver studied mechanical engineering with a focus on renewable energy technologies at ETH Zurich and then moved on to the MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures at Imperial College London. He spend two years in consulting working with the management of a major European utility on the key challenges of the sector. Within his PhD, Oliver aims to provide more transparency about the role of energy storage in future energy systems.

Oliver is also the founder of Storage Lab.

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