The interdisciplinary strengths of The Open University are well suited to the challenges of energy science, technology and policy. Our interests in energy systems span our expertise in end-user concerns and the potential for consumers to become ‘prosumers’; through the design of regional energy systems; to national energy policy and global considerations. There is particular interest in low-carbon energy options and in the needs and interests of developing countries.
The OU has a long-standing interest in matters relating to civil nuclear power at both a technical and a more policy-oriented level. The university is engaged with matters relating to the future of our energy system, particularly involving decarbonisation and the move to smarter systems. The issues extend beyond the ‘physical layer’ of power flows, to include the ‘cyber layer’ of information technology and the ‘social layer’ of end-user behaviours.
These interests link to the concerns of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, where researcher interests span: deterministic and statistical modelling and dynamical and complex systems. These researchers have a growing interest in energy research including applications in smart grids, energy storage, and demand forecasting. The School of Computing and Communications is also engaged in research relating to smart energy futures.
The OU has a very well-established capability in energy materials science especially as concerns steel metallurgy and materials engineering. These interests include bonding and residual stresses – topics of great interest to the energy sector. In addition, we have energy materials work related to: nano-structures, graphene, innovative solar photovoltaics, electricity storage (batteries), nuclear materials and semi-conductor science.
At the interface of science, technology and policy we have a growing engagement with hydrogen-based energy systems including whole-system (production through to use) technology assessment. This is one way in which our interests in energy relate to an interest in transport.
- Energy researchers at the Open University fall under an umbrella grouping known as OU Energy.
- In the area of civil nuclear power the OU is one of five universities delivering the EPSRC-funded Nuclear Energy Futures Centre for Doctoral Training. This will provide funded PhD opportunities for the next five years.
- The OU is actively examining the prospects for hydrogen as a low-carbon energy carrier of the future. Our interest includes both ‘green hydrogen’ utlising renewable energy sources and ‘blue hydrogen’ based on natural gas but mitigating emissions via carbon capture and storage.
- OU researchers in energy maintain strong links with associated industrial companies. Our international links to overseas universities and research institutes also greatly enhance our capabilities and the relevance of our work.
The OU advises and informs policymakers on a wide range of energy issues and we can draw upon our strong links to industry, both locally and globally.
The OU has particularly strong experimental capabilities in energy-related materials engineering. Research focuses on the use of advanced metal alloys in demanding applications. Our laboratories include a residual stress facility for X-ray diffraction and ‘contour’ method measurements, a high temperature facility for X-ray diffraction and contour method measurements, a High Temperature Facility for hot forming and creep testing, diffusion bonding equipment and a microscopy suite (optical, SEM, TEM, EBSD, FIB etc.). We have access to international facilities for neutron and synchrotron X-ray diffraction experiments.
The OU also possesses important experimental facilities for energy materials science including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, Raman scattering, and facilities for plasma-based materials processing. The School of Computing and Communications at the OU maintains a high-performance computing cluster, enabling researchers to more quickly analyse, store and archive vast quantities of energy and transport data. The OU has experimental capability in energy from waste and biomass conversion associated with its own internal needs in environmental waste management. More generally the OU seeks to achieve best practice in terms of its own energy use and management.