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New head for sustainability institute


Professor Phil Taylor - a leading expert in renewable energy and academic lead for the UK’s largest Smart Grid project - has been appointed as the new lead on sustainability at Newcastle University.

An engineer with experience of working in both industry and academia, Professor Taylor takes up the post of Director of the University’s Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) this week, bringing with him a team of 17 academics and students.

Charged with leading the University’s Sustainability agenda – one of the three societal challenge themes along with Ageing and Social Renewal – Professor Taylor says it was the potential to make a real impact that attracted him to the role.

“Newcastle University is very solution-focussed and it’s this which I find really exciting - the opportunity to take our cutting-edge research and turn it into something tangible and useful to society,” says Professor Taylor, who was previously Co-Director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University.

“The work coming out of NIReS is already having a global impact and the next step is to build the Institute so that it is recognised as a world-leading centre for sustainability research.”

A key part of the role will be to take forward Science Central in the heart of Newcastle City Centre to create an exemplar of sustainability research that is of international importance.

“There’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes and now we really need to push Science Central forward so people can see things happening,” explains Professor Taylor, who lives with his family in Whitley Bay.

Similar to the £54 million Smart Grid Project, which has brought together academics from a range of disciplines as well as key industry partners, Professor Taylor says it is this multi-disciplinary approach that will be key to the success of Science Central.

“We need to bridge the gap between academia and industry and make things happen,” he explains. 

“Science Central has such potential not just in terms of the work going on inside the buildings but the buildings themselves – how they are heated and powered and how we use the site.  It’s really exciting and at Newcastle we have the expertise and the talent to take it forward.”

Training in Liverpool and Manchester, Professor Taylor worked for five years as Research and Development Director for Senergy Econnect, an international renewable energy consultancy, before moving to Durham University where he established a world-leading research team.

One of the key projects he leads is the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) - the UK’s leading Smart Grid project and at the forefront of a move towards a low carbon economy.

Drawing on the expertise at Newcastle University together with key partners such as Northern Powergrid, Siemens, EA Technology and others, the project also involves 14,000 Smart Meter customers.

Professor Taylor says the long term plan is to create an urban Smart grid demonstrator in the heart of Newcastle on the Science Central site.

“In the past, electrical networks were operated in a passive manner, electricity flowing from high voltage networks down towards the customer at low voltages,” he explains.

“But as low carbon technologies have come along all that has changed.  Distributed generation such as Wind farms right down to heat pumps and solar panels means power is now flowing in both directions and in a relatively unpredictable way.

“We need to find a way of managing that power in real time such that the low carbon transition can be achieved at reasonable cost and without degrading power system reliability.

“That’s why a smart grid system is so important.  We need to match supply to demand in real time and within network constraints and that means making the grid more intelligent. This intelligence allows demand response, the involvement of customers, and energy storage to be integrated into existing networks.”

NIReS was established two years ago to bring together all the sustainability-focussed research going on across the University.

published on: 23 April 2013