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Dr Sam Williamson

Dr Sam Williamson

Dr Sam Williamson

Lecturer in Electrical & Electronic Engineering

Area of research

Sustainable and Renewable Electrical Energy Systems

Office 4.17 MVB
Merchant Venturers Building,
Woodland Road, Clifton BS8 1UB
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 954 5177

Summary

What does sustainable energy mean for you?

Sustainability has relationships with environmental protection, economic longevity, social acceptance and policy support. A definition I like to use suggests that for a system to be sustainable nothing can cross its system boundary. Therefore, in the context of energy, the system does not require any energy to be imported into it. This system could be a small community in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest, a city in the UK, a whole country or even continent - the critical element is that no energy is brought into the system. You can also extend this concept to think about the other components that are required for energy systems – for example equipment, knowledge, finance. Can an energy system be made that is completely independent? And how do you ensure it is appropriate for the situation?

My research investigates these ideas for sustainable energy access through the concepts of renewable energy microgrids and whole energy systems analysis, with the aims of supporting international climate targets and working towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. My research targets empowering and enabling communities large and small to be able to support themselves using tools, techniques and services locally available, especially in the international development context.

In the renewable energy microgrid domain, we have been studying the control of power electronic interfaces for AC and DC microgrids to interface renewable sources, including developing mechanisms to enable intelligent, autonomous energy management systems and peer-to-peer electricity trading. We are conducting research into whole energy systems on small island states to understand how to decarbonise the energy chain. This includes surveying households, industries and institutions on their energy to understand the services they require, and the relationship to energy poverty, policy and governance. We are also investigating undesirable effects on the electrical grids to propose design changes. We are working to understand energy needs in humanitarian camps for displaced people, and investigating the use of electric cooking in off-grid communities from a socio-technical and cultural perspective. We are working to understand how to design systems to be appropriate, through the investigation of micro-hydropower in Nepal, understanding technical, social and economic causes of failure and what design features enable successful projects.

I am a member of the Electrical Energy Management Group, the Energy Systems and Design Group and the Cabot Institute Low Carbon Energy theme. I work with a number of collaborator academic institutions, governmental organisations and non-governmental groups such as PEEDA, GEDAE, Practical Action, RERL and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Biography

I am passionate about engineering supporting a positive social change, providing a more equal and just society. During a sabbatical year in Nepal during 2008-9, I realised first hand how energy was a key enabler to achieve this. Since then, I have been working on small-scale hydropower through my PhD study, a follow on EPSRC grant, and currently through an EPSRC DTP scholarship. From my experiences in remote and rural communities, I have learnt how innovative they are, able to understand, modify and repair technology with limited tool sets and potentially restricted understanding. I have forged links with research groups in the Global South, from Brazil, South Africa and Nepal, to co-design and co-produce high quality research outputs and educational materials. Prior to my time in academia, I worked in engineering consultancies for Airbus and other clients developing design methods, test plans and safety databases.

I grew up in Cornwall, spending my summers working for my parents in their dairy engineering company. I therefore enjoy spending time outside, especially ambling along beaches or walking up hills. I am very keen on living a minimum impact life, and so live in an energy efficient house which we developed with my family and two cats.

Teaching

I currently teach two undergraduate units: Electrical Systems Engineering (EENG17300) and the Electro-Mechanical Systems Design Project (EENG20001). Electrical Systems Engineering provides students the basic building blocks for electrical systems, including transformers, three-phase systems, electrical machines, power electronics and control, supported by AC values and power theory. Students learn through a series of lectures, demonstrations and simulations how these systems operate and how to model them. In the Electro-Mechanical Systems Design Project, students are required to design, simulate, build and test a solar water pump. Through a series of taught content, including invited lectures from practitioners and experts, and practical sessions they develop the skills to investigate the field of solar water pumps, and demonstrate core experimental and research skills. I also provide guest lectures on Engineering for International Development and Environmental Policy and Social Justice, in the areas of energy access, poverty and justice.

I was nominated (2017) and shortlisted (2018) for the Bristol Teaching Awards.

Keywords

  • Off-grid AC and DC microgrids
  • Microgrid primary control
  • Peer-to-peer electricity trading
  • Micro- and pico-hydropower
  • Whole energy systems
  • Energy access
  • Electric cooking
  • Humanitarian energy

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Courses

Dr Williamson currently teaches 2 courses:

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