Bringing Together Imperial’s and Britain’s Energy System Community

Britain is at the forefront of energy system transformation. In 2018, 53% of electricity consumed came from low-carbon generators, up from 25% in 2009. As a result, carbon intensity halved from nearly 500 to 217 gCO2/MWh (Electric Insights). However, as an island with limited interconnection to its neighbours, the stakes are particularly high to achieve further reductions down to 100 gco2/MWh by 2030 (Fifth Carbon Budget).

At the same time, me and fellow PhD students miss the exchange amongst us as well as with other academic, industry and policy experts on energy system transformation. What is missing is a closeknit energy system community that can easily discuss transformation pathways. Although individually, research, business and policy-making in energy, is world-leading, the community is siloed. In addition, there is no forum within Imperial where students working in this field can easily exchange information and discuss.

The missing link is a platform that offers a direct (!) communication channel between students and experts of all sectors and brings them together to openly discuss ongoing work. That’s why I set up Power Swarm.

Power Swarm is an open, free network of energy system transformation experts across academia, industry and policy. It is not a single event, but rather has two key components:

  1. E-mail list: Every Power Swarmer can write to this list to advertise jobs, papers, conferences, etc., and ask questions related to energy system transformation. The purpose is to leverage swarm intelligence for better information exchange and more efficient problem-solving. When I e-mailed 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!
  1. Workshops: For a different topic each month, academic, industry and policy experts speak about their ongoing work in this area. 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. The workshops take place from 5-7pm and are usually attended by 20-30 people working in the particular field. Past meetings were on ‘Modelling Renewables’, ‘Value of Storage’, ‘Energy Trading’ and ‘Hydrogen’. My roadblock was how to quantify the value of energy storage and the advice from experts of Pivot Power, Aurora, RenewablesUK, and others came in very handy.

Last week’s workshop (21st February) was already our fourth one and focussed on the future role of ‘Hydrogen’ in the UK. 20 to 30 attendees (MScs, PhDs, researchers, NGOs, industry), discussed with speakers from academia (Imperial, UCL), consulting (Element Energy, E4Tech), industry (ITM Power) and policy (BEIS) about the current roadblocks to decarbonising energy, transport, heat and industry with hydrogen. The event was followed by drinks at Eastside where students could network with professionals and continue the discussion.

Power Swarm thereby supports Imperial’s research network and fosters exchange of research insights on energy across departments, connects Imperial’s research community to the wider academic and (most importantly) industry and policy community working on energy, and establishes a forum for students to network among each other, with the Imperial community, and with industry and policy experts.

Power Swarm has already more than 200 members in the energy sector. If you think you could benefit from the network, join!

We would like to extend our thanks to the Graduate School for supporting this Research Community Fund activity.

The first Power Swarm workshop on Modelling Renewables on 18th October 2018.
The fourth Power Swarm workshop on Hydrogen on 21st February 2019.