Staff Services Student Enterprise

MSc students have the energy to solve industry challenges

Shaun Dakin/Unsplash
06 Apr 2022
Project contact
Andrew Aveyard
Business Development Executive for Energy

Edinburgh Innovations and the School of Mathematics organised a week-long industry challenge event for MSc students from several disciplines interested in working with the energy sector.

The challenge, set by the National High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Centre and based around the development of HVDC interconnectors, was “In order to make coordinated offshore development happen, what would the optimal network for offshore wind look like?” Students were given presentation and pitching training and an opportunity to develop transferable skills, including working as part of an interdisciplinary team, and developing entrepreneurial problem-solving.

Maria Tovar from the School of Mathematics has successfully run an MSc industry challenge for a number of years in collaboration with the Business School. Previous partners include Edinburgh Airport, which went on to support four MSc dissertation projects.

The organising team – Andrew Aveyard, Rosie Wilkie and Maria – came up with the idea to set a wider challenge to include engineering and geosciences expertise, as well as maths, to develop cross-disciplinary working. Andrew contacted industry partners to find a company that would be willing to set a challenge and support the event. One of those companies, SSE Energy, helped to connect them with the HVDC Centre, which saw the opportunity to find innovative ideas to make offshore electricity generation more sustainable.

Ben Marshall, Technology Manager at the HVDC Centre, provided excellent support throughout the challenge, being instrumental in helping develop the topic, and providing data and background information to help the students have the material they needed to develop their ideas. He also supported the teams throughout the week-long challenge and sat on the judging panel.

The event attracted more than 50 students from across the University: Engineering, Mathematics, GeoSciences, Social and Political Science, Business School and Informatics. Following the event brief given by the HDVC Centre, the students participating were split into six interdisciplinary teams.

Winners of the HDVC challenge
The most valuable aspect of the project was the opportunity to collaborate with a very diverse group of students and learn from each other.

Francisco Sequera, MSc Sustainable Energy Systems

What surprised me about the event was the visible gender equality as I have never seen so many women in a science project (this is a compliment!) I found it very empowering.

Runlin Chen MSc Mathematics and Statistics

The organising team ran a session with academics from Mathematics (Lars Schewe) Engineering (Alasdair McDonald) and Geosciences (Simon Shackley) to suggest ways to tackle the challenge so it was digestible by the students, because the scope of the challenge was so wide and the students were from such diverse backgrounds. The academics and industry experts were also on hand throughout the week to advise and make suggestions to students during the challenge.

EI’s Student Enterprise Team (Teodora Handrea, Karis Gill and Christina Starko) also supported the students during the week with team-building skills and pitch development sessions. Towards the end of the week, they ran a practice session where each team presented to a number of academics, business development and EI staff to receive suggestions to improve their pitch.

The event was well organised from the beginning (assigning groups, introductory talks, ice-breaker exercises, catering) to the end (heats, presentations with the great judging panel, the reception). One of the best academic experiences I have had!

Runlin Chen, MSc Mathematics and Statistics

For the final part of the challenge, each team presented to an industry judging panel which included:

  • Eric Leavy, Head of Network Design at Scottish Power Electrical Networks
  • Shirley Robertson, Head of Environment Consenting and Sustainability Strategic Policy at Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks
  • Colin Thomson, Energy Futures Manager at Scottish Gas Network
  • Kristin Gardner, Development Manager at Crown Estate Scotland
  • Ben Marshall, Technology Manager at the HVDC Network

The judging panel decided that Team H2VDC delivered the best pitch, having developed a solution repurposing oil and gas rigs as multi-purpose electrical and hydrogen hubs, minimising HVDC cables to shore, and allowing the generation and storage of green hydrogen in geological formations.

The HVDC project was a great opportunity to really understand the technical challenges. Our team learnt that the integration of HVDC and offshore wind farms gives us a full range of possibilities to achieve the net-zero goal.

Francisco Sequera, part of the H2VDC Team

The winning team have been invited to visit the HVDC Centre and present their idea at the HVDC conference. The team were awarded restaurant vouchers, and the runners up were given shopping vouchers.

Thanks to the organisers for all your efforts: I thought the event was very successful. Chatting to the students after the event, I got a sense of how much effort they’d put into the topic, and how much interest it had generated.

Ben Marshall, HVDC Technology Manager

Overall, the panel were really impressed with the wealth of ideas and the detail all the teams had managed to come up with in just three days. They felt some of the ideas were potentially fundable, with some further work. As a result, follow-up meetings with some of the judging panel will be organised.

Edinburgh Innovations has been delighted to pull together this opportunity to inspire the next generation of graduates, to give them enterprise skills and real-world experience, as well as to build new and strengthen existing relationships with industry.

It is a great pro-active example to illustrate to industry the breadth and cross-disciplinary research expertise and the entrepreneurial environment we have developed at the University of Edinburgh.

Andrew Aveyard, Business Development Executive for Energy, Edinburgh Innovations.

We are keen to run this event again and develop it over the next couple of years, growing engagement with students and academics across the University and also growing relationships with industrial partners.

There will be other opportunities like this going forward and EI has lots of resources and tailored support we can offer you, whatever stage you are at on your innovation journey.

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