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Research at UCL Australia

UCL School of Energy and Resources

Research in the School of Energy and Resources focuses on both the upstream and downstream development of energy and resources, covering a wide range of disciplines - from engineering and economics to environmental science and law. 

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Mullard Space Science Laboratory

The Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) is a world-leading research organisation delivering a broad science programme that is underpinned by a strong capability in space science instrumentation, space-domain engineering, space medicine, systems engineering and project management.

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International Energy Policy Institute

The International Energy Policy Institute (IEPI) was created to address key policy issues in the mineral, energy and resources industries through intensive and innovative research.

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Research at the IEPI

Professor Stefaan Simons

Professor Stefaan Simons

Research

Research at UCL Australia

UCL Australia applies a systems approach to energy and resources research across sectors (government, industry, communities) and disciplines (technology, natural and social sciences, economics and law). UCL Australia has a particular focus on:

Shale and other unconventional gas

Australia is currently engaged in a significant debate over the future of its gas resources, their availability and how they may be best exploited. Whether or not a “shale gas revolution” can be realised will depend on a number of diverse factors. Two questions are at focus in the current debate: Is it desirable or possible for Australia to replicate the shale gas boom that has occurred in the United States in recent years; and if shale was to make a major contribution to Australian gas supplies, what impact would this have on both export and domestic market prices and government policy setting levers? This cluster is looking at whether conditions in Australia encourage the development of shale gas and, if so, what additional legislative safeguards for the environment and competing land issues might be needed and what policy options could be available to governments at both Federal and State levels to enable an Australian shale gas revolution.

With the increasing exploitation of both shale gas and coal seam gas, the engineering needs of on-shore gas exploration are changing. The increased number of operations and higher demand for exploration and extraction hardware has led to a need for modularity and mobility of such systems to enable effective exploitation. However, management, governance and organisational structures are not evolving at the same rate. The new practices are more likely to benefit from a systems-oriented and more agile approach to project management. Hence, this cluster will also be looking at management practices within the industry and analyse these with an aim to understanding their strengths and weaknesses, to enable identification of better practices.  

The low carbon economy

Global energy demand is increasing on a daily basis. If every individual energy consumer was able to choose the best time to use their energy, overall and, hence, peak demand, could be significantly reduced. Smart technologies combined with systematic epidemiology research techniques (large scale data) can improve our understanding of end-use demand. This cluster will investigate how these technologies can affect energy efficiency by improving our understanding of energy demand issues (including consumer behaviour and perception of the technologies), the technical and political drivers and barriers to household demand management and the role that feed-in-tariffs and other incentives can play on changing consumer behaviour.

As the world continues to pursue a lower carbon future, prospects for economic and social prosperity will increasingly depend on a region’s ability to innovate as employment shifts from carbon-intensive activities. Will this clean energy future provide an impetus for new jobs in renewable energy, low carbon technologies and carbon farming – or will the clean energy future come through disruptive innovation – or a combination?  How will countries and regions adapt? Investment decisions are generally made in a ruthless financial matrix, but will triple bottom line measures be the new investment model for low carbon opportunities? Government policies and planning practices have a major role to play in implementing low carbon strategies by influencing their economics, social acceptance and environmental impacts. This cluster will investigate these issues through the interactions and opportunities in the relationships between technological and social systems and consider whether legislative backing will result in greater incorporation of low carbon approaches in policies and planning.

Electricity markets, transmission and renewables

Power systems are complex and whether you rely on cross-boundary super grids to diversify your energy supply or community based meso-grids in an attempt to provide sustainable energy, it is the interaction of generation along with transmission that dictates the effectiveness of the overall system.  All this must be coupled with appropriate and effective policy and regulation that incentivises generators, transmission system operators and distribution network operators to move away from business-as-usual and, through innovation, optimise the use of their assets with new control protocols to embrace the objective of decarbonising the electricity supply and demand system. 

The integration of renewables into the system poses additional challenges, not only from a technological perspective, but also from an economic, legal and political viewpoint. This cluster will focus on the market rules for controlling the system and the policies, market forces and regulations that need to be put into place to enable the creation of a low carbon electricity system.

Adding value to resources

Australia, in common with many resource-rich nations, fails to capitalise on the full value of its resources. The temptation to extract and export minerals and energy resources in only slightly refined forms to satisfy global demands for raw materials and energy vectors is strong, but comes at the detriment to the domestic market and has limited prospects for the economy as a whole. This cluster looks at how Australia could add further value to its resources, through additional downstream processing, product manufacture and the development of innovative domestic and international market mechanisms. Two key resources are subjected to particular scrutiny; namely, uranium and coal.

The fortunes of the uranium industry are almost completely dependent on the financial viability of nuclear power and, ultimately, technological advances in the electric power generating industry. Few independent studies have ever attempted to examine the true global resource implications of the nuclear fuel cycle, particularly in the context of the key drivers of energy security, increasing demand, climate change and carbon pricing. In addition, the potential for financially viable next generation nuclear power reactors, based upon smaller scale reactors than those of the current generation, may also provide an opportunity for more flexibility in the generation “mix”. This cluster will investigate the opportunities and implications of developing the uranium resource industry in Australia and identify the policy, legislative and regulatory measures that would be required, including the workforce implications for civil nuclear power. 

Australia is the world's largest exporter of metallurgical coal and the second largest exporter of thermal coal. Australia is also the fourth largest producer, and has the fifth largest resources of black coal in the world. However, with many of Australia’s current customers for coal planning to implement carbon constraints to their domestic markets, will this resource eventually become a valueless asset? In contrast, although the burning of coal to produce power is gradually being phased out, coal could become a valuable source of synthetic liquid hydrocarbons, particularly as Australia’s own oil resources are in decline? Hence, this cluster will also investigate the prospects of adding value to Australia’s coal resource through coal-to-liquid processing, determining the socio-economic and environmental impacts and the policy and regulatory requirements. 

Community engagement and governance

It is generally agreed that resource developers and industries need a ‘social licence’ from the community in order to operate in relative harmony, but there is no formal application process and a community can remove a social licence far more quickly than it grants it. The internet and social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have removed communication barriers and enabled communities to share views instantly and widely.  Government and industry, bound by rules, policies and regulations, have quickly fallen behind in stakeholder engagement. Combined, this is potentially leading to large changes in the way energy and resource projects are undertaken in practice. Our research is investigating what a social licence constitutes and how its presence might be determined and its operation monitored, as well as assessing whether (or how) it could be underpinned by legislation for accountability or other reasons. 

While a ‘social licence to operate’ focusses on interactions and responsibilities between companies and their local stakeholders, there is still also an important role for governance at a broader, international level. For an increasing number of hydrocarbon projects now underway in politically unstable nations, an often overlooked issue is the governance surrounding the oil once it hits the wellhead in the host country. An example is Nigeria, where an estimated 100,000 barrels per day of oil was stolen from pipelines in the Niger Delta and laundered in world financial centres like the UK and the US. Thus, some of our research is also looking at the international dimensions of such incidents and exploring what adequate governance responses might be from the international community.

Some level of environmental monitoring is nearly always required for major energy and resources developments but many monitoring programmes are inefficient and produce poor quality information. Our research is developing better and more cost effective environmental and resource monitoring and assessing the potential of novel statistical approaches and developing technologies. For example, UCL’s MSSL is developing hyperspectral imaging as a tool to monitor non-biogenic methane from air- or space-borne craft which might be used by oil companies exploring new resources and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions of existing operations or by farmers and environmentalists assessing different sources of CH4 production.  Another area of focus is monitoring of offshore and coastal impacts from energy and resources developments.  Other aspects of our research involve environmental valuation and questions surrounding the economic value of the environment and ecosytems, particularly in conservation and environmental offset projects.

Our research is interdisciplinary, cutting across the three units within UCL Australia - the School of Energy and Resources, the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (Australia) and the International Energy Policy Institute

UCL School of Energy and Resources

Research in the School of Energy and Resources focuses on both the upstream and downstream development of energy and resources, covering a wide range of disciplines - from engineering and economics to environmental science and law. 

Key research areas include systems process modelling and optimisation, environmental economics, international energy law, governance of resource use, environmental impact assessment and monitoring of coastal and offshore development.  

Current projects include:

• Reliability and resilience of Smart Grid technologies and architecture.

• Design and optimisation of water distribution networks.

• Monitoring of environmental impacts from dredging and port development.

• International regulation of offshore energy exploration and exploitation.

Staff members 

Dr Ady James
Academic director

Dr Craig Styan
Senior Lecturer

Dr Adeline Tubb
Lecturer

Dr Katelijn van Hende
Lecturer

Christine Trenorden
Visiting Professor 

Dr Laura Falkenberg
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Mullard Space Science Laboratory

The Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) is a world-leading research organisation delivering a broad science programme that is underpinned by a strong capability in space science instrumentation, space-domain engineering, space medicine, systems engineering and project management. Read more.
Research at MSSL (Australia) includes cosmology and the study of extra-galactic objects, studies of the Sun, planets and their moons and the Earth as well as humans working and living in space. We are also researching and developing the next generation of space instrumentation.

MSSL (Australia) is looking at hyperspectral imaging instrument development for greenhouse gas monitoring and natural resource exploration. MSSL (Australia) is also involved with the QB50 project, an international collaboration in which a flotilla of 50 CubeSats will provide unprecedented access to the Earth’s thermosphere.

Capabilities

MSSL has a long heritage of providing high-quality space instrumentation for international space research missions. For over 40 years we have been involved in more than 35 scientific space missions and over 200 rocket launches.

MSSL develops and tests hardware and software, usually working as part of an international consortium. Our engineers and scientists work side-by-side to ensure that the instruments we produce optimally address key questions in modern space science. By linking post-launch support to pre-flight and flight calibrations, our scientists are able to understand instrument responses and improve data analysis.

One area being pioneered by MSSL today is the construction of smaller and lighter scientific payloads for satellites.

UCL Centre for Systems Engineering

MSSL plays host to the UCL Centre for Systems Engineering – a relationship that extends also to UCL Australia. We conduct research projects in a broad range of industry sectors including aerospace, transport, defence, energy, construction, health, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. We are interested in understanding how to make complex systems work better, whether these are'hard' technology-based or 'soft' human-based systems.
Across the different industry sectors, we have five broad research themes.

  • Systems modelling and optimisation – system dynamic modelling, cost-benefit analysis, soft systems methodology, intelligent systems, adaptive modelling, applying a systems approach to provide insights in new domains (e.g. health, education, sport, transport).
  • Risk modelling and management – system failure, system integrity, risk management, decision making under uncertainty.
  • Technology planning – technology maturity, technology road-mapping, scenario planning, game theory, technology valuation, technology decision making, adoption of technology and diffusion of innovations.
  • Project management – causes of failure in technology projects, management of special projects where normal project management approaches do not apply, sources and consequences of variability within projects, value-driven project management and systems engineering.
  • Defining systems engineering – systems engineering competencies, principles for systems engineering management, systems engineering standards and terminology, relationship between systems engineering and project management, scope of systems engineering, value of systems engineering, definition of systems architecture.

These themes are a focus not only for funded research, but for major research projects undertaken by our Master’s and PhD students as well as visiting research staff.

For more information about the MSSL (Australia) please contact Dr Ady James or connect with our staff.

International Energy Policy Institute

At UCL Australia’s International Energy Policy Institute we focus on upstream (exploration and production) issues – an important, though complementary, contrast to the downstream (consumer) focus of the UCL Energy Institute (London). We recognise in particular, the Asia Pacific’s influence on global coal, nuclear and gas markets and its growing prominence in renewable energy.

Our main research focus is on issues surrounding investment in power generation technologies where liberalised power markets are operating under carbon constraints. These include the complex interactions and implications of technical, legal, financial and environmental effects on power generation. We also examine the role of governments in energy technology investment and the positive and negative impacts of being a resource-rich nation – including the ‘resource curse’. 

Value-adding to energy resources and assets, particularly global uranium production, the unconventional gas revolution and renewable energy are also focal points for the research programme – particularly the impact of policy setting on communities, the environment and energy transmission.

The inter-relationships between energy and climate policy are also being examined.

Core research themes
  • adding value to energy resources
  • fossil, nuclear and renewable energy futures
  • community engagement
  • climate strategies. 
Current projects at IEPI
  • Adding value to global uranium resources
  • The impact of climate policies on Australia’s Steel Manufacturing Sector
  • Energy epidemiology – demand response management
  • Engaging regional communities in climate action plans and sustainable energy futures
  • The prospects for a shale gas revolution in Australia
  • Alternative uses for coal – do they make sense?
Staff members

Professor Stefaan Simons
Director

Professor Tony Owen
Emeritus Professor

Professor Paul Stevens
Visiting Professor

Dr Tim Stone
Visiting Professor

Dr Gillian Owen
Senior Research Associate

Dr Navinda de Silva
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Dr Darien Simon
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Dr Michel Berthelemy
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Dr Cristelle Maurin
Post-doctoral Research Associate 

Mr James Voss
Honorary Reader