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Research and Scholarship

Engineering the Future of Electricity

Every time you flick on a light or turn up the central heating, and even by reading this article on an electronic device – you plug into an energy system that makes modern life work.

Keeping that power supply running effectively and in tandem with modern demands is a key goal of Professor Mark O’Malley, a lecturer in Electrical Engineering at UCD.

Over the past five years, Professor O’Malley has received over €10 million in research funding, while being Director of the UCD Energy Institute and the Electricity Research Centre.

A complex system

We need to be smart about how we source and protect our energy, but it’s a complex system, explains Professor O’Malley.

“A century ago people had a little power station nearby and it was local, then slowly but surely over the decades it built up into this enormous connected system”.

“Electricity transmission lines, gas pipelines, transport networks and water are now connected to each other across all scales, from small to large, and you have regulatory policies, technical issues and consumer preferences feeding into it”.

We need to be smart about how we source and protect our energy, but it’s a complex system, explains Professor O’Malley.

Altering Supply Without Faltering

The major challenge in all of this is to technically improve the energy system without taking the power offline; which is not an option in today’s energy-hungry world. Professor O’Malley cites the rise of renewable energy as an example.

“Wind and photovoltaic (solar) energy connect to the electricity grid through power electronics, but this leads to a system dynamics problem. It was a synchronous power system and now there is more and more non-synchronous generation”, he says.

“And changing it is like changing the engine in a Boeing 747 as it is crossing the Atlantic in mid flight – we can’t turn this thing off, we only have one power system, so we are developing ways to evolve it on the fly”.

 

A hybrid that can use gas or electricity protects you against serious supply issues and you can also use the most cost-effective when it is available.

Balance of power

Energy security is also a key issue. Professor O’Malley points to Ireland, which relies heavily on imports of natural gas, yet also has a renewable option in electricity from wind.

“A hybrid that can use gas or electricity protects you against serious supply issues and you can also use the most cost-effective when it is available. But that leads to an economic question and the actual electricity system itself has to be a dimension bigger, so we work on trying to develop the best case solutions for that, to get the best compromises”.

Meetings of minds

One of the greatest immediate effects of Professor O’Malley’s work is through the researchers who train in his group. These are the people who are helping to grow the knowledge base and energise ideas for the future.

And with a mind that’s never at rest, Professor O’Malley is also looking towards the future as co-founder of the International Institute for Energy Systems Integration, a global community of magnificent minds seeking to develop an efficient world energy system.

“This is a global issue, so we are trying to work together for everyone to bring their proposition to the table – we need to collaborate, and I can bring my experience to that”.

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Featured Researcher:

Professor Mark O’Malley

Mark O’Malley was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1962 and graduated with a BE and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the National University of Ireland in 1983 and 1987 respectively.  He is recognized as a world authority on Energy Systems Integration and in particular Grid Integration of Renewable Energy.

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