40 years of energy research at Ulster

Professor Neil J Hewitt reveals how Ulster University has integrated international research into educating the next generations of energy engineers.


Energy Research celebrates 40 years of excellence at Ulster University. Earliest activities emerged in the 1970s at the Coleraine campus (the then New University of Ulster Energy Study Group) focusing on heat pumps – a theme that remains vibrant with the current Centre for Sustainable Technologies today.

An early NUU Master Degree programme in energy was taught at this time. This group evolved into the Northern Ireland Centre for Energy Research and Technology (NICERT) led by Professor John McMullan specialising in heat pump development and techno-economic modelling of energy systems. The 1990s saw the development of PROBE (Centre for Performance Research On the Built Environment led by Professor Brian Norton) at its Jordanstown campus focusing on energy use in buildings and during this period, the first joint Master Degree programmes were launched between the two centres (PgD/MSc Energy Technology at Coleraine and PgD/MSc Renewable Energy at Jordanstown). Research at PROBE developed early vacuum glazings, solar energy and emerging thermal storage concepts with both groups enjoying significant national and international research funding.


In 2001, Ulster decided to merge the research groups into the Centre for Sustainable Technologies (led at that time by Professor Philip Eames) on the Jordanstown campus where it now has a substantial research base consisting of numerous laboratories focussing on building energy systems, bio-energy, demand side management, energy storage, energy process modelling, energy market modelling, heat pumps, passive buildings, solar energy and thermal comfort. This breadth of expertise led to the development of distance learning Master Degree programmes in ‘energy management” and ‘renewable energy’ in 2001 and by 2015 the revised MSc in Renewable Energy and Energy Management by distance learning has over 80 students at different stages of the course.


However, research is very important to the centre. Current and recent research awards of £13 million from, for example, EU H2020, EU FP7, EU Interreg, EPSRC, SFI, DEL and INVESTNI show how highly these projects are regarded. These projects support the academics with dedicated researchers and PhD scholars. In recent years, these have generated patents, over 100 journal publications and numerous conference presentations to inform of the developments made.


Many of our researchers go on to work with local, national and international industries providing innovative energy products and approaches reflecting their quality training that enhanced their evidenced talents. Alternatively the centre can claim graduates with important academic positions both globally and nationally.


However in the 40th year of energy research at Ulster, the centre can boast two new degree programmes namely BSc (Hons) Energy and BEng (Hons) Architectural Engineering. With nearly 40 new entrants, the centre is entering an exciting time in energy education. This education is however not in isolation. Energy research at Ulster continues to develop its original themes as they merge into new areas of large scale renewable energy integration, decentralisation of energy supplies, demand side response and greater levels of energy efficiency. ‘Terrace Street’ which is Ulster’s housing retrofit family occupied demonstration facility is currently heated by a combination of Ulster’s spin-out Solaform solar energy ‘Solacatcher,’ heat pumps and thermal storage. Renewable energy integration is further illustrated through utilisation of energy pricing signals to facilitate optimal heat pump/storage operation. Thus our homes are becoming energy centres and give a glimpse of the future while providing an affordable, efficient decarbonisation pathway.


Professor Neil J Hewitt

Director, Centre for Sustainable Technologies

Ulster University

Newtownabbey, BT37 0QB

Tel: 028 9036 8566



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