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Energy Area | Research Degrees

Wind Turbine

The interdisciplinary strengths of The Open University are well suited to the challenges of energy science technology and policy. Our interest 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 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 technology and policy we have a growing engagement with fuel cells and hydrogen-based energy systems. This is one way in which our interests in energy relate to an interest in transport.

The Open University is part of the Doctoral Training Alliance – ENERGY of the University Alliance. We are delighted with the success of DTA ENERGY in securing research support for OU students. DTA Energy enriches the student research and training experience for students associated with energy matters at the OU.

Key facts

  • Energy researchers at the Open University fall under an umbrella grouping known as OU Energy
  • The OU hosts a series of conferences and meetings on energy related topics. Several of these meetings in recent years have been organised by the School of Mathematics and Statistics
  • In the area of civil nuclear power the OU collaborates with Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge via the EPSRC-funded ICO Centre for Doctoral Training The final students under these arrangements are expected to be admitted in October 2018, but subsequent arrangements may be possible.
  • The OU has strong links with Milton Keynes Council on matters relating to urban futures, sustainability and energy. As a leading modern city, Milton Keynes is an excellent environment in which to innovate and develop energy solutions.
  • In recent years the OU has led a major public and private research programme concerning the smart future. Known as ‘MK Smart’, the multi-million-pound programme had a major energy theme.
  • The OU advises and informs the UK government and the European Union on a wide range of energy issues. We can draw upon 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 and have strong industrial research links with Airbus, Rolls-Royce, British Energy, EDF, AREVA and TWI. 

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 cluster has been used, among other things, to analyse patterns in electricity consumption and generation as part of E.On’s Thinking Energy project and to analyse city-wide public transport data to understand people’s transport behaviour.

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.

Please also look elsewhere in this prospectus for sub-sections relating to more specific aspects of our energy research.

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

William Nuttall, Professor of Energy
+44 (0)1908 655113

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page.