Robert J. Howlett

Sustainable Energy through Smart Integrated Electric and Heat Power Networks

Dr. Robert J. Howlett is Academic Chair of KES International a non-profit organisation which facilitates knowledge transfer and the dissemination of research results in areas including Intelligent Systems, Sustainability, and Knowledge Transfer. He is also a co-Editor of two book series, Advances in Sustainability Science and Technology and Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies.

Providing energy to support life and economic development in a resilient and dependable way, while at the same time minimising carbon emissions and environmental impact, is one of today's great challenges. 

16477The Covid-19 pandemic has led to immense human tragedy, and also economic decline, with the likelihood of recession in many parts of the world.  It is estimated by the International Energy Agency that the pandemic will lead to a decrease in electricity consumption of 5% in 2020, and a decline in global CO2 of 8%, to levels similar to 10 years ago [1].  Of course, there is the danger of a bounce back that leads to an even greater increase in emissions than the decline. The temptation to take advantage of historically low oil costs to boost economic recovery should be resisted. 

Governments have started to inject stimulus funding to restart stagnant economies and there is the opportunity to use this to invest in clean energy technologies.  It should be emphasised that this would be an investment, not spending without return.  The International Renewable Energy Agency in its 2020 Global Renewables Outlook report describes two pathways based mainly on renewables and energy efficiency measures, to keep the rise in global temperature well below 2 degC and towards 1.5 degC this century [2].  It envisages that as well as alleviating temperature rise, the proposed transformation would pay for itself with a return of 3-8 USD for every USD spent.  Hence, there is a clear case for spending on energy projects that are sustainable, but which also provide resilience and are resistant to natural disasters including pandemics which may occur in the future.

The energy industry is already in the midst of huge changes motivated by the need to reduce carbon emissions, driven by the intersection of a number of key evolving technologies, as illustrated below:

FusionOfTechnologies2 © Springer Nature

Decarbonisation requires a move away from fossil fuels and a shift to photo-voltaics and other renewables. This in turn is prompting a reorganisation of the energy infrastructure away from centralised generation to a range of renewable energy sources, and increasingly storage, distributed throughout the grid.  Decentralised micro-grids bring improved resilience with the ability to 'island' and operate independently in the event of grid failure, and potential reduction in transmission losses.

In addition, the previously mainly passive infrastructure is undergoing digitalisation through the incorporation of network-connected sensors and smart control.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning, can lead to more efficient control, and forecasting of the availability of non-dispatchable renewable energy, as well as demand.  A large proportion of energy use is for space heating in households, offices, commercial buildings and industrial units.  Hence, energy models for use in these situations need to include control of temperature, for example heat pump sub-systems and low-temperature heat networks, as well as electrical power.  Sector coupling to develop a holistic treatment of electricity, heating, cooling and transport becomes increasingly important.

A good example of this is the GreenSCIES project [3] in the Islington district of London, UK. This will be a smart energy system that integrates new low-carbon energy technologies across heat, power and mobility.  The network will provide power, heat and cooling for 33,000 residents and 70 local businesses, and also charging points for electric vehicles. The system will share heat and cooling between buildings using a 5th generation low-temperature heat network with heat pumps to raise or lower the temperature of buildings as required.  Waste heat from buildings and the tube (London's underground railway) will also be harvested.  Artificial intelligence will coordinate access to renewables, battery storage, and the grid to provide electrical power.

Smart integrated electric and heat power networks hold out the promise of systems which provide cost-effective power, with low emissions and improved resilience to failure and disaster.

The Springer series 'Advances in Sustainability Science and Technology' provides an opportunity for publishing novel contributions on the topics discussed here, and also similar subjects in renewable energy, sustainable building, sustainable manufacturing, and related areas. We welcome proposals for monographs, conference proceedings and other research volumes in this area.


[1] International Energy Agency Global Energy Review: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020: April 2020

[2] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its Global Renewables Outlook: https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Apr/Global-Renewables-Outlook-2020: April 2020

[3] GreenSCIES, Green Smart Community Integrated Energy System: https://www.greenscies.com/: accessed August 2020

Biography: Robert J. Howlett

Robert J Howlett © Springer NatureRobert Howlett has a PhD from The University of Brighton, UK, an MPhil from Sussex University, UK, both in engineering subjects and a BSc in Electrical Engineering.  He has several decades of experience in teaching and research in UK higher education. He is the Academic Chair of KES International a non-profit organisation which facilitates knowledge transfer and the dissemination of research results in areas including Intelligent Systems, Sustainability, and Knowledge Transfer.

His technical expertise is in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning for the solution of industrial problems.  His current interests centre on the application of intelligent systems to sustainability, particularly renewable energy, smart / micro grids and applications in housing and glasshouse horticulture.  Previously he has been successful in applying neural networks, expert and fuzzy methods, and related technology to energy efficiency and renewable energy systems; condition monitoring, diagnostic tools and systems; automotive electronics and engine management systems.  He previously developed a national profile in knowledge and technology transfer, and the commercialisation of research.

Robert Howlett is Visiting Professor at 'Aurel Vlaicu' University of Arad, Romania, and also Visiting Professor at Bournemouth University, UK.  He works with a number of universities and international research groups on the supervision teams of PhD students, and the provision of technical support for projects.

He is series co-editor of two Springer book series, Advances in Sustainability Science and Technology and Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies.  He is Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Knowledge Based and Intelligent Engineering Systems and Honorary Editor of Intelligent Decision Technologies: An International Journal.  

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