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PhD Studentship: Planning for the Extremes: Wildfire Resilience of Power System Infrastructure

University of Birmingham - Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: Not Specified
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 7th December 2023
Closes: 7th March 2024

Due to the longevity of infrastructure investments, it is critical that energy infrastructure be located and designed with future climate in mind. By 2030, National Grid is expected to build “over five times more transmission overhead or underground lines than [they have] built in the last 30 years” along with a simultaneous increase of 2.5 to 5 times the capacity of generation from solar (National Grid, 2023). Recent analysis of exposure of power infrastructure in the Continental United States has revealed a relative increase of 70% in the exposure of transmission powerlines to large wildfires (Modaresi Rad, 2023). The UK is now experiencing record numbers of wildfires, with risks expected to significantly increase in the coming decades (Climate Change Committee, 2023).

The heat and smoke from wildfires can directly damage power system infrastructure (Jahn, 2022), as well as limit solar generation production (Donaldson, 2021). As exposure to adverse wildfire weather increases in many parts of the world due to a changing climate and wildland-urban interface, it is critical for electric utilities to proactively plan for wildfire impacts and avoid expensive reactionary investments.

This PhD project will investigate topics such as:

  • Changing exposure of critical national infrastructure to wildfires with an emphasis on electrical power systems.
  • Development of open-source probabilistic tools to support distribution network planning and operational response to wildfires.
  • Socio-economic disparity in the exposure to wildfire induced outages.

The successful candidate will join work within a large interdisciplinary team, connecting across a range of resilient systems and wildfire research projects within the University of Birmingham, and have the opportunity for further industry partnership. The Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR) provides an ideal computing environment to conduct this research, with access to BlueBEAR - the University supercomputer and other HPC services, as well as training and coaching.

Applications are open to students that have, or expect to obtain, a 2:1 degree (or equivalent) or higher in a wide variety of scientific disciplines including engineering, computer science, mathematics, and related areas. Due to the nature of the project, the applicant should be able to demonstrate strong programming capabilities as well as strong written and verbal communication skills. Funding is also provided for career development, training, and presenting work at international conferences.

Interested students should first make an informal enquiry to Dr. Daniel Donaldson d.l.donaldson@bham.ac.uk with the subject line 'Prospective PhD Student', including the following:

  • A brief statement explaining your motivation for pursuing a PhD and how your experience makes you a strong candidate to undertake this research (1-page A4 maximum).
  • CV containing academic record and relevant experience.

School of Engineering, at the University of Birmingham, has strong commitments to diversity and equality of opportunity, and welcome applications from candidates irrespective of their background, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or age, providing they meet the required criteria.

Funding notes:

Funding will be provided to cover fees at UK rate plus a monthly stipend equivalent to EPSRC rate. International candidates are eligible to apply, but they are expected to cover the difference between international and UK fees by other means.

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