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Dr Sam Williamson

Sustainable and Renewable Electrical Energy Systems

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.

Research 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

Organisations