Sunshine, lollipops and buggies everywhere as DIT goes green

29 Jun 2017

Ayda Esfandyari, PhD student of engineering at DIT, beside one of the electric buggies on campus. Image: Conor Mulhern/

When it comes to going green, every little helps. For DIT, that means solar-powered buggies motoring around its Grangegorman campus.

Times are changing at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), with a gradual move into one campus – from its current, disparate spread throughout several Dublin sites – well underway.

To prepare for the eventual entirety of the faculty being in Grangegorman, DIT is already looking at ways to better manage its energy output.

Future Human

Electric vehicle

In Ayda we trust

Luckily, in PhD researcher Ayda Esfandyari, DIT has found someone clever enough to navigate a path through a world of excess.

Designing a solar-charging station on site for a fleet of electric buggies – there are two at present, with much more to follow – Esfandyari’s work is catching the eye. The energy generated is already surpassing buggy-related requirements.

“It is currently over-generating,” she told, “but the energy never goes to waste. It is fed back into other parts of the campus.”

The vehicles on campus at the moment are used daily by the estates staff in Grangegorman for a variety of tasks, including: to transport goods from building to building, to patrol the campus at night, and to respond to accidents quickly.

With 1,200 students and 200 staff on a campus spanning 73 acres, the buggies are in constant use.

Ayda Esfandyari with some Terry Maher and Himzo Kacar of the DIT estates team. Image: DIT

Ayda Esfandyari with Terry Maher and Himzo Kacar of the DIT estates team. Image: Conor Mulhern/ 

Electric vehicles push

“I have been working on this project since 2015,” said Asfandyari, “and I have 18 months remaining on my PhD.

“Overall, I’m interested in how to optimise the system in future, upscale it and adapt it to different environments.

“You can look at technology, economics, policies; it would be interesting to look at the techno-economic analysis or the techno-social economic analysis. This has so many elements!”

Originally from Iran, Esfandyari grew an interest in renewable energy while undertaking a master’s in electrical energy engineering at University College Dublin. She followed that up with her current PhD in energy at DIT, with supervisor Prof Brian Norton, president of the institution, playing a key role.

“Battery electric vehicles have been recognised as the ideal solution for lowering the Co2 emissions in the transport sector and helping to achieve a sustainable future,” explained Esfandyari.

This is not just an environmental issue, as the EU is putting pressure on member states to reach emission goals and, ultimately, become self-efficient.

DIT purchased a battery energy storage system for this exact goal, to achieve ‘self-consumption’, and Esfandyari is working on an energy management technology to future-proof the investment.

The testbed of PV solar panels for the vehicles, installed on one of the rooftop buildings in DIT Grangegorman

The testbed of PV solar panels for the vehicles, installed on one of the rooftop buildings in Grangegorman. Image: Conor Mulhern/ 

European race

“This is where Europe is going,” Esfandyari said. “This is where the targets are pushing towards. We generate the solar energy from the panels and store it in an optimal manner in this unit and then we use that energy when we need it.”

The project is not solely a DIT domain; it is State funded, and the institution is also partnered with Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Dr Sarah McCormack, associate professor of civil structural and environmental engineering at TCD, has a major input. Going green is not siloed – everyone is involved.

“Yes, Sarah is my day-to-day person. Then there is Paul McDunphy, the estates manager, and Terry Maher, the services supervisor. Dr Michael Conlon, too. There are many people involved,” said Esfandyari.

Get the word out there

There has been very little promotion of the project to date, with Esfandyari the sole researcher involved. However, with just 18 months remaining on her PhD, that will soon change.

The team only started advertising the project recently, having invested a lot of time into designing, seeking planning permission, issuing tenders etc.

“For me next year, I will be focused to get some funding for continuing the project, and talking to businesses. Michael Conlon has lots of contacts in the industry. There should be enough interest. It’s just a matter of putting ourselves out there.”

Esfandyari’s research falls under the aegis of the Dublin Energy Lab, an interdisciplinary research centre at DIT, which she is happy to be working with.

“Research gives me a pulse, it challenges me, it makes me feel alive. I feel like I’m young and I’m contributing to finding renewable energy sources and hopefully making the world a better place. That’s everyone’s dream, isn’t it?”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic