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Internal News - 04 December 2006

Research attracts major industry interest

A recent networking meeting attracted over a third of the UK’s electricity generation and supply companies to the University of Bath to find out about the work of a researcher in the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering.

Dr Furong Li has developed a new pricing system which favours the use of locally-produced renewable energy, helps to release congestion and creates greater efficiency within the transmission system.

Her system has recently been the subject of a consultation issued by the energy watchdog, Ofgem, which is keen to promote the efficient use of renewable sources of energy. This followed an Ofgem study which indicated that adopting Dr Li’s system could save around £200m in future network development.

At present, distribution network companies charge a flat rate for distributing the energy to consumers regardless of where the energy was produced. This means that suppliers in areas close to power generation facilities are subsidising others who are based further away – despite the massive increase in costs associated with distributing energy over greater distances.

Dr Li’s system changes the pricing system for power transmission in order to reflect its true cost, hence removing the commercial barriers that hold back a substantial increase in renewable energy supply in the UK.

She has already been awarded more than £600,000 by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council as part of an advanced research fellowship to help develop her system further, taking into account of the unpredictable nature of renewable energies.

Part of this involves working with the power generation, transmission and distribution networks through regular meetings, the first of which involved nine major companies including National Grid, Scottish Power, Npower, United Utility and Western Power Distribution.

“It was amazing to see so many companies wanting to take part in the networking forum we have established; they raised a number of issues that we will be able to investigate through the methodology, two or three of which would make interesting research projects on their own merit.” said Dr Li.

Western Power Distribution (WPD) will be the first to adopt her new pricing model, and many of those companies who have taken an early interest in the methodology are visiting WPD to find out how they are implementing it.

“The methodology could equally be applied in areas such as transport and other utilities, and we are investigating opportunities in these areas as well,” said Dr Li.

One area the methodology might be applied to is that of monitoring congestion within a city – something difficult to achieve by conventional means.

This would enable planners, for example, to develop schemes that would be effective in tackling congestion problem areas and identify where public transport can make improvements.

Dr Li has also been invited to present her new method at the most prestigious power engineering annual meeting in the US next year.