In the latest instalment of Creating the Future, Ann O’Dea speaks to Prof Andrew Keane, director of NexSys, about how a multidisciplinary approach is critical to making the transition to a decarbonised economy.
As well as working with the Energy Institute at University College Dublin, Prof Andrew Keane heads up NexSys (Next Generation Energy Systems), the major all-island research programme that targets the development of credible pathways to a net-zero carbon energy system. An electrical engineer by trade, his experience working in industry has given him a unique insight into how his group’s research will impact how we achieve our decarbonisation goals.
Today, Keane’s research is focused on the area of electrical networks and decarbonisation of the electricity system, so he was an obvious candidate to head up the 42-strong team of academics from universities all over the island of Ireland that make up NexSys.
“The electricity system is an all-island system in Ireland, so it made a lot of sense from all angles to pursue this in an all-Island way,” says Keane. “NexSys is about finding pathways to a net-zero energy system and while we can talk a lot about what we need – more renewables, wind and solar – and we can kind of imagine what that might look like in the future, there’s a need for real deep research to try and identify the pathway to actually getting there, to actually making that system work and work reliably and securely.”
While much of Keane’s work is around the electricity grid and the integration of everything from solar to EV charging, he believes the greatest challenge is possibly the societal transition, and this is where the multidisciplinary aspect of NexSys comes into play.
“When you look at the energy transition, there’s the technical piece, and the need for long-term basic research to help the acceleration progress, but there’s also a need to look at it from different angles, so we need energy economics, environmental psychology, finance, the list goes on. It’s that multidisciplinary approach which doesn’t often naturally happen within our university systems.”
“It’s a big focus of what I’ve been doing as director of the institute for several years, trying to reach across disciplinary boundaries and trying to learn the language of a social scientist, of an economist, and for them to learn the language of engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and so on. It takes time but it’s really worthwhile and, in my view, essential.”
In a conversation that ranged from issues like international energy grids and green hydrogen to decarbonising the aviation industry, Keane describes how we might get to that net-zero economy and has invaluable advice for those researchers hoping to be part of that journey, regardless of background or discipline.
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