Bright Sparks Helping to Keep the Lights On

Bright Sparks Helping to Keep the Lights On

A system which could help keep the UK’s lights on and save the energy industry millions has been devised by a group of Heriot-Watt PhD students on a three month multi-disciplinary project.

The students, all in the first year of their PhD studies in a range of engineering specialties at the EPSRC funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Embedded Intelligence at , were working within a £200,000 knowledge transfer project funded by Siemens and Innovate UK, led by KTP Associate Graeme Coapes.

The team’s challenge was to investigate novel ways of monitoring and maintaining power network infrastructures around the world, systems which have often either exceeded or are nearing the end of their useful life but which are too expensive to replace wholesale. What is needed are new ways of pinpointing speedily and accurately where problems may be developing so they can be dealt with before they cause a major breakdown.

Challenge and innovation
Guided by Siemens experts, the Heriot-Watt team designed, built and tested a sensor which can detect partial discharge, small electrical sparks that occur within the insulation of high voltage electrical systems and often the first sign of a potentially major problem. The system would allow operators to pinpoint and deal with the problem before it has a chance to compromise power supply.

The result, says project manager Associate Professor David Flynn, of Heriot-Watt’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, reflects not only the ingenuity of the team members but also the system and support network within which they were working.

“This is a terrific example of the way such a Centre for Doctoral training can work, bringing together postgraduate students from a range of engineering specialties, setting them a challenge and allowing them the time, space and support to innovate.

“The team tested their theory using the University’s simulation systems and produced a prototype which was tested by Siemens and proved to work. It’s now with Siemens to finalise commercialisation and hopefully offer the industry a new, speedy and practical system to monitor and support the energy infrastructure.”

R&D Product Lifecycle Manager at Siemens, Scott Rowland, said, “The motivation and ingenuity shown by these students was outstanding. The project highlighted the great rewards that can be provided by close collaboration between industry and local universities.”