Doctoral student with key role in Uppsala municipality's energy future

21 december 2021

Lit-up houses around river

Uppsala University and Uppsala Municipality want to find out, among other things, which electricity consumers could take turns in using electricity to reduce the load on the grid.

For almost three years, a strategic partnership agreement concerning research in the area of sustainable urban development has been in place between Uppsala University and Uppsala Municipality. This unique partnership model, which includes a doctoral student co-financed by the Municipality, is now being extended.

“Frequent meetings between academics from the University and the Municipality have meant that dialogue and knowledge transfer occurred very naturally,” says Rafael Waters, professor in electricity.

On 9 December, the partnership agreement first concluded in February 2019 between Uppsala University and Uppsala Municipality was extended. The focus of the new agreement is sustainable social development. One of the partnership’s collaboration projects is being led by Professor Rafael Waters of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Uppsala University. Along with the doctoral student Carl Flygare employed by the Municipality, he meets regularly with representatives of the municipality.

Rafael Waters, professor at the Department of
Electrical Engineering. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“Sustainable development entails a great many challenges where research can contributeto the solutions, and this is a way that we believe we can contribute in more concrete and effective ways to what is being asked for. I hope this is just the beginning,” says Rafael Waters.

Electricity systems are being faced with a number of changes, and here research and development of the electricity supply network can contribute important pieces of the solutions required. Electricity consumption increases as cities like Uppsala grow. But the expansion of the electricity grid is inhibited by a lack of available land in Uppsala Municipality, which risks putting a spanner in the works for local development plans. And there are long lead times – the time from the process starting until it has fulfilled its purpose.

Data analysis of electricity consumption

An alternative to expanding the grid is to make its utilisation more efficient using various flexibility solutions according to Carl Flygare, whose doctoral studentship is funded 50 per cent by the University and 50 per cent by the Municipality.

Carl Flygare, doctoral student at the Department of
Electrical Engineering. Photo: Private

“In our dialogues we try to find out more about how different activities consume electricity and analyse whether it’s possible for activities to take turns in using the available electricity in a different way. Either through smarter management or new habits. It’s about reflecting on what data we could obtain and what we should use it for,” he says.

Historically, there is a rough picture of electricity consumption in the Municipality, primarily annual consumption, but no more detailed knowledge exists about when this consumption occurs in time and space. With this information, you can analyse which electricity consumers could potentially balance other users’ electricity consumption, according to Carl Flygare.

“If you can plan your electricity consumption a bit better, you can use the same grid but more efficiently. This may be a preferable solution to expanding the grid, which is expensive and takes a long time. In theory, we could supply about 50 per cent more electrical energy per year to Uppsala using the same grid as today, although the margins are not evenly distributed throughout the year and are lower during the winter than the summer.

Co-location and energy storage

One potential strategy for the Municipality in land use cases could be to approve the co-location of constructions that draw heavily from the electricity grid at different times of the day. Another alternative to grid expansion is to install local energy storages, where the batteries can be quickly connected to supply to the grid in the event of a capacity shortage or an increase in the price of electricity.

According to Carl Flygare, what makes electricity questions so interesting and complex is that they rapidly embrace engineering, economics and social contexts. Rafael Waters agrees:

“We want our research to be relevant to the community. Which is why we have everything to gain from a close dialogue with those who are experts in the problems we want our research to solve, and who are going to implement the solutions we develop.”

FACTS PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE UNIVERSITY AND THE MUNICIPALITY

The Uppsala University strategic partnership with Uppsala Municipality is based on common interests and mutual intentions. It aims to establish long-term relationships for developing knowledge together that will help strengthen each organisation’s position, individually and collectively. The partnership supports current and new forms of third stream activity between the University and the Municipality. The strategic partnership was renewed in December 2021 and will now extend until 2024.