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Brunel researcher awarded prestigious £1.8m UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship

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Dr Xin Zhang, Senior Lecturer in Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE), has been awarded a prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship under the latest round 6 of calls.

The £1.8 m Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) award will support Dr Zhang’s research in addressing a significant challenge in modern society, namely Digitalisation of Electrical Power and Energy Systems Operation in order to enable the large-scale decarbonisation of electrical power and energy systems. The highly competitive scheme is designed to tackle major research challenges and support the research and innovation leaders of the future. Dr Zhang was named as one of 84 of the most promising research leaders who benefit from a total of £98 million to tackle major global issues and to commercialise their innovations in the UK. 

Dr. Zhang commented: "I feel a great honour to be awarded this highly prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. This Fellowship will develop my unique capabilities to become a future leader in power and energy system digitalisation. Prior to my academic career, I worked in the power industry for over eight years operating the UK largest energy management system in the electricity national control centre. It has not been easy for me to make the career transition from industry to the academic environment, but I shall benefit from the long-term and reliable support from the Future Leaders Fellowship, which enables me to fully utilise my industrial and academic experience to advance a new field of digitalisation. The Fellowship will support us to develop and apply the most advanced digital technologies to tackle the real-time challenges of power system operation with up to 100% renewables."

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Dr Xin Zhang

Professor Geoff Rodgers, Vice-Provost for Research and academic mentor to Dr Zhang, said: “I am delighted that Xin has secured a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. He has an excellent research track record and highly relevant industry experience. His novel and potentially high impact research on digitalisation of electrical power and energy systems operation are perfect for this highly prestigious fellowship.”

Electrical power and energy systems represent critical national infrastructure that interoperates with wider economic sectors including transport, communications, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and education. Reliable power system operation is the key in ensuring the electricity generated from various energy sources can travel in a secure way to meet the electrical loads of those sectors. Reliable power system operation will greatly impact the social comfort of people's lives as well as the healthy growth of the UK economy. The large scale of low-carbon and renewable energy sources (RES), as well as the increasing size and complexity of electrical power and energy systems require advanced monitoring, modelling and control techniques to handle major disturbances such as blackouts.

Dr Zhang will take an industry focused approach to investigate the fundamental modelling methods and advanced simulation tools to address the challenges in real-time power system operation with up to 100% low-carbon and RES. A key objective of this Fellowship is to understand the fundamental interdependency and interoperability of various energy systems and entities, and across transmission, distribution and renewable system operators. This will include novel development of whole system modelling approaches and applications of digital simulation techniques into the future power and energy systems operation. The Fellow will work with electricity system operators at the whole system level (transmission, distribution, renewables) and is supported by market-leading digital technology industry partners. The investigation, development, demonstration and deployment of advanced power system models, tools and techniques will provide cost-effective and scalable simulation platforms to wider industry and academic communities.

With support from UKRI and Brunel the Fellow will develop into a Future Leader in the field of power and energy systems digitalisation, by working with eight industrial partners in power systems engineering and digital technologies, three internationally respected research and engineering societies, and accessing mentors from academia and industry.

Head of EEE and Co-Investigator, Professor Gareth Taylor commented: “I have successfully collaborated with Dr Xin Zhang on previous industry led power systems research projects before he joined the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE) at Brunel in May 2021. On that basis, as the BIPS Research Centre Director, I was also very pleased to work with him and Prof Geoff Rodgers to help prepare his successful application for a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship award. I am also highly confident that Dr Xin Zhang will progress successfully as an internationally recognised research leader in future power systems.”

The results of Dr Zhang’s research will support the UK Government in shaping future digitalisation strategies across national energy infrastructure for Net Zero and Digital Economy, with technology acceleration and policy recommendation to shape a low-carbon electrical power and energy systems.

Building on the success of the £900 million invested in the first six rounds of Future Leaders Fellowship, UKRI has additionally committed £100 million for a seventh round, with an eighth round planned to follow. The scheme helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background. Researchers can apply for substantial long-term funding to support their research or innovation and develop their careers, with each fellowship lasting four to seven years.

 Article written for Leading Edge Magazine by Vic Gill

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