UC News - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Awards for Canterbury power research


EPECentre Director Dr Allan Miller

3 July 2015

Researchers from Christchurch’s Electric Power Engineering Centre (EPECentre) at the University of Canterbury (UC) have received two coveted awards at the Electricity Engineers’ Association (EEA) Conference for the second year in a row.

Held in Wellington last week, the conference is the premier power engineering event for the New Zealand electricity supply industry, and was attended by more than 1,000 delegates and visitors.

The EPECentre researchers received two of the four Best Paper Awards judged by industry peers and awarded to papers of outstanding quality – from a pool of around 85 papers.

Rotorua-born PhD student Luke Schwartfeger received the Best Student Paper for his paper on solar power, and EPECentre Director Dr Allan Miller was awarded Best Member Paper for his paper on electric vehicles. The two UC researchers also won awards in 2014.

Conference delegates heard from New Zealand and international industry leaders and technical experts, and participated in a range of technical, engineering and safety discussion forums at the three day event. The conference was a key opportunity for technical experts, power engineering and health and safety practitioners to examine and discuss industry issues, to share knowledge, and to learn about new technologies and systems in the many fields of power engineering.

Luke’s winning paper looked at the environmental aspects of photovoltaic solar power. Photovoltaics (PV) is a method of converting solar energy into direct current electricity using semiconducting materials.

Luke examined the lifecycle of solar panels and the energy used, and greenhouse gases and other pollution created during their production. He concluded that while there are small positive environmental benefits to their use in New Zealand, it takes a number of years for the energy savings made while they are in use to  ‘pay back’ the energy and greenhouse gases used in their production.

“Given New Zealand’s plentiful renewable energy resources, such as wind and geothermal, these may be better options for environmentally friendly, renewable energy here, whereas solar panels have much greater benefits in countries, such as Australia, where coal is still a significant energy source,” says Luke.

Dr Miller’s paper on electric vehicles and demand response, researched with EPECentre research engineer Dr Michael Hwang, explored the prospect of using the “much talked about vehicle-to-grid concept” of electric vehicles to power the grid. His research found that this is likely to impact on the utility of the vehicle, reduce battery life and has little financial benefit to electric vehicle owners. What is far more beneficial is simply recharging electric vehicles at night when power is cheaper. However, over time, as more and more electric vehicles come into use, the increased demand on power for recharging is likely to drive demand for more interactive control of recharging based on signals like real-time electricity prices.

Both researchers plan to continue their research in these areas as part of wider work funded by the six year Renewable Energy and Smart Grid (GREEN Grid) grant, overseen by Dr Miller. Luke will explore how New Zealand can get to more than 90% renewable energy, looking at the technical and economic aspects of this, and other researchers will explore the power quality aspects of a continuing move towards using PVs to power the grid, transferring findings to industry to help them manage power quality with PV better in their networks.

The EPECentre is the lead institute for the GREEN Grid project, a Crown and industry-funded initiative to investigate the potential of new energy technologies. Its work is part of a developing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at UC, which is shifting from a sole focus on getting research published to managing intellectual property to maximise gains for businesses, communities and environments.

For further information please contact:
Charlene Smart, University of Canterbury, Communications Advisor on 03 365 2260.