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GPS imaging of the polar ionosphere (Paul Spencer / Ping Yin)
GPS imaging of the polar ionosphere (Paul Spencer / Ping Yin)
Dr Li's pricing methodology could make a cost saving of £200m.
Dr Li's pricing methodology could make a cost saving of £200m.

Internal News - 24 July 2006

Academics win prestigious research funding

Two academics in the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering have been awarded research funding under prestigious schemes run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Dr Cathryn Mitchell is one of only six successful applicants in the EPSRC Challenging Engineering Awards scheme, and will use the funding to establish a new research centre in imaging science at the University.

Meanwhile, Dr Furong Li has been awarded an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship to advance her groundbreaking research into a new charging methodology that could dramatically reshape the UK’s pricing system, ultimately benefiting consumers with secure, sustainable and affordable electricity.

The Centre for Imaging Science at the University will be established with a £1 million grant over five years and will build strong links with international research centres and industrial collaborators.

The centre will pool expertise within the departments of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Physics and Mathematical Sciences on research projects seeking to extend the range of imaging technologies in a number of fields, including:

The Centre builds on work established by Dr Mitchell looking into alternative uses of tomographic imaging. This is the process of building up an image using sections, and first originated in the medical field.

“We are aiming to build close links with industry through the Centre, so the work of Jon Hunt from Research & Innovation Services (RIS) in helping prepare this application has been very important. This pre-award project management support provided by RIS for these types of institutional research bids is essential,” said Dr Mitchell.

“We have key strengths across the University in the interface between engineering and imaging science that have helped us build a strong reputation in this area.

“The new Centre will help cement this reputation even further, and will become a catalyst for the further development of research and practical applications in this field.”

Dr Li’s work has already attracted a great deal of interest from companies involved in generating and distributing power in the UK. It builds on a call made by the power regulator, Ofgem, to change the pricing system for power transmission in order to remove the commercial barriers that hold back a substantial increase in renewable energy supply in the UK.

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.

“Ofgem has reacted to Government pressure by calling for a new pricing model that factors in the cost of distribution to make suppliers pay a fair rate for energy generated farther away,” said Dr Li.

“This would help establish greater incentives for energy produced locally through renewable sources, and would help facilitate the investment in the local supply networks to do this as cost-effectively as possible.”

Dr Li has recently developed a methodology for such a pricing system and demonstrated its benefit through a study commissioned by Ofgem in 2005. The study indicates that a cost saving in the order of £200m could be achieved by adopting her new pricing approach.

Ofgem is using this evidence to urge power companies to move to an economic-based charging model and her pricing system is currently being widely debated among the UK’s 14 network companies and their stakeholders.

The local distribution company, Western Power Distribution, is adopting her pricing model from April 2007 upon a successful consultation with its stakeholders.

As part of her £615K five-year fellowship, Dr Li will further develop the pricing system to specially address the concurrent concern of fair pricing of intermittent energy. In addition, she aims to unify the transmission and distribution network charging models in the UK and unify charging models across countries that have privatised power industries.

She will hold regular meetings with key power companies such as National Grid, Scottish Power, Western Power Distribution, EDF, United Utlities, Econnect and Npower, comprising of energy generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

Dr Li will also further her knowledge in economics through a three month secondment with the country’s leading economists at Cambridge University.

Dr Li is hoping that over the five-year period she can establish an internationally leading team in the area of network planning and pricing, providing practical solutions to emerging techno-economic problems.