Energy Academy
An international centre of excellence and a gateway to Heriot-Watt's energy research and training activities

The Energy Academy 2015-2018 how did we do?

The Scottish Secretary of State, Alistair Darling, officially opened the new Energy Academy at the Institute of Petroleum Engineering at Heriot-Watt on Friday 20 January 2006. Since then, the Energy Academy has been an important component of the University’s Strategic Energy Theme and has enabled leading researchers to tackle some of the major energy issues of the 21st century.The Energy Academy also played a influential role in the development of the Energy Joint Research Institute under the Edinburgh Research Partnership with Edinburgh University and the Energy Technology Partnership ( ) across Scotland. 

Energy research is a core activity at Heriot-Watt University with established expertise in oil and gas that spans exploration to conservation. The perspective of energy research at the University has however, changed in recent years. We still work on oil and gas but our interaction with the international agenda of climate change, sustainability and security of supply has informed a 'big picture' vision of how best to match our skills-base to the emerging research challenges and theere is now more research in the generation, deployment and use of renewable energy.  

Since its resurrection in 2015, the HWU Energy Academy has been a pan-university initiative supported by all Schools at the Edinburgh, Orkney and Borders campuses. At its conception, It had two principal objectives. Firstly, to consolidate energy research activities and facilitate interdisciplinary programmes, both within the university and with other HEIs. Secondly to ensure external parties could easily gain an appreciation of our vision, skills-base and active research projects. Whilst these objectives endured, new objectives were added under the leadership of Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Robert Buchan Chair of Sustainable Energy Engineering who was central to the launch of a three-year business plan which term has only now come to an end.

The new ‘Plan’ was influenced by researchers across all of the then, five Schools, predominantly, Upadhyaya (EPS), Couples, MacKay, Kerr and Winton (IPE), Banfill, Jenkins and Owens (SBE), Turner and Schaffer (SML), Mair (SLS) and Lord (MACS)

The University's Research and Enterprise Services team were asked to implement the Plan and cement Heriot-Watt University’s potential for leadership in energy in Scotland and increase research turnover and outputs. Intended to be entirely complimentary to the activities carried out at Schools/Institutes level, the ambition of the new Energy Academy was to stimulate and lead the creation and exchange of knowledge through inter-disciplinarity and cross-sectorial working and to underline the importance of energy and energy-related research in Heriot-Watt.

 To celebrate what we achieved, we've prepared a Report Card. You can view an abridged version of it here, and follow the narrative on this page. Contact for the full version

"The 'Report Card' detais some of the Energy Academy's many successes. We will use the report card to present the continued value of a coordinated approach to energy research across Heriot Watt". Professor Eddie Owens, Director

A Framework for the Support of World-Class Research upon which Long-Term Collaborations could be Forged and Mechanisms Implemented to Compete Globally for Wider Energy Opportunities


The Energy Academy set two objectives that it hoped would allow Heriot-Watt researchers working on energy generation and use to successfully compete globally for wider energy opportunities, and to create a sustainable community of energy researchers. They were:

  • To provide a focus to build long-term collaborations in energy across the University; and
  • To develop a research infrastructure in order to (i) strengthen the cohesion of the University’s energy researchers; (ii) facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations; (iii) serve as a focus to attract external collaborators and consultancies; and (iv) identify new and growing energy teams

Fledge’ became a cornerstone of this first objective and proved to be effective at augmenting more traditional methods of networks building to create inter- and extra-University links in pursuit of research funding.

Over a three-year period, the Energy Academy made grants totalling about £137K to support 18-projects led by Heriot-Watt researchers. The recipients of these grants told us that in excess of £1.32 million was leveraged either directly or indirectly as a result of pump-priming these new collaborations and areas of work. Other non-financial outputs included publications and presentations, press articles and the formation of industry and other networks that have built on knowledge developed.

Some examples include:

On the basis of his work with Dr John Andresen, to develop microbial fuel cells as a source of energy for future space missions Dr Nick Bennett was able to convince the European Space Agency to enter into a subsequent collaboration funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop silicon-based technologies for harvesting energy as a power source for electric devices such as phones and tablets. As an alternative to generators, the same thin-film technology can also be used in reverse for small-scale heating/cooling applications, with thin-film modules already used for chip-cooling in high-performance electronics (space, military and aerospace applications).The Energy Academy with the support of the now defunct Textiles Future Forum, used this concept to work with a local business to develop a new heated glove for cyclists.

A small project awarded to ICIT researchers in order to characterise the nature of invertebrate species that colonise offshore renewable assets led to the formation of a consortium of companies interested in this field and subsequent grants (NERC and EU) to Drs Jo Porter and Andrew Want to develop forensic strategies to minimise energy loss and damage to sub-sea structures caused by bio-fouling. Indirectly, the project led to a further Fledge grant to Jo to work with Orkney Sustainable Fisheries and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) to study offshore renewables as a possible micro-habitat for lobsters.

A small grant to Professor David Corne  and colleagues led to partnerships with two Scottish SMEs, a partnership with a large Chinese environmental sciences consultancy and subsequently leveraged industry funding from the Huanyu company in China to develop algorithms to forecast the risk of pollution and thus minimise time lost due to closure of production facilities.

Based on expertise in sensor technology at Heriot-Watt, a small Fledge grant underpinned a successful application to Innovate UK (KTP) by Professor David Flynn to allow the University and Newarc Ltd to create an embedded intelligence design cycle that delivers robust and smart power electronics that can adapt to their given application

Community-scale Energy Demand Reduction in India (CEDRI) is a consortium of experts that work in the areas of sustainable buildings, power electronics, demand modelling and energy behaviours across Heriot-Watt University, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, the IIT Bombay and the Tiruchirappalli National Institute of Technology. Through the application of demand synthesis models to Indian case-studies, our researchers were able to guide demand reduction/management of energy use in local households to ensure future-resilient provision of electricity in the affected communities. The methodology that CEDRI will used benefited from developments arising from the work done at Heriot-Watt through a small Fledge grant to Dr Sandhya Patidar and David Jenkins to model energy demand using advanced statistical techniques. The methodology has also been applied as part of the wider research tool box used by Heriot-Watt researchers as part of the EPSRC-funded Centre for Energy Systems Integration.

In 2018, the Energy Academy made its first grant outside of the Edinburgh campus to researchers working at our Malaysia campus. This group working with other academic institutions in Malaysia and industry has modelled the potential for large-scale solar power in the region.

Also in 2018, Dr Mehreen Gul was successful in her application for funding to the Energy Technology Partnership that will allow her to work on developing strategies to alleviate soiling of solar arays. It builds on introductions made by the Energy Academy to the Wood Group and pump-priming through a Fledge funded collaboration with the company centred on the new solar test site in Dubai and that in Edinburgh and managed by Dr Tadhg O’Donovan.

Other Research and Grants

Beyond Fledge, the Energy Academy set itself some demanding targets for research grant and consultancy income. These were generally met or exceeded although we could have done better in some areas.  Whilst stimulating consultancy was never a focus for the Energy Academy, we did create a significant relationship with Jacobs the engineering consultancy who, with Heriot-Watt as a core team member were elected as one of six members of a Framework recognized as providing support to Scottish SMEs considering investment from Zero Waste Scotland Circular Economy Investment Fund.

Since the new plan was launched, grant funding for renewable energy and energy-related research has generally reflected the main research strengths in this Field at Heriot-Watt with some areas being particularly successful. One of these areas was Carbon Capture Storage and Use where the research groups working in this Field have consistently won large grants. The four year period has seen a fall off in grants awarded for energy generation per se, particularly in the areas of marine renewable energy and wind or solar materials development but perhaps this will change with the re-energised focus on the Blue Economy and Heriot-Watt Year of the Sea. Conversely, there has been a growth in grants awarded for energy systems research, for bio-energy, energy storage and energy consumption. This may reflect the changing interests of ‘our’ researchers but is certainly aligned with the Scottish and UK Government strategies for renewable energy and decarbonisation. The large amount of grant funding our energy economists have won reflects the success of the Centre for Energy Economics Research and Policy in continuing its collaboration with BP. Our broad-based expertise in energy systems was reflected in 2016 in the award by the EPSRC of a large collaborative grant to a consortium led by Newcastle but involving Heriot-Watt to develop a national Centre for Energy Systems Integration.

Cooling’ and cold-chain is an obvious growth area and there have been some notable grant successes including an Innovate UK grant to develop the ‘Next Generation (of) Green Data Centres For Environmental And Business Sustainability’ involving Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Dr. John Andresen and Toby Peters. A project led by Mercedes Maroto-Valer and colleagues called ‘Building Institutional Links To Deliver Sustainable Cooling Energy Demand’ will try to build sustainable institutional links between Heriot-Watt University (HWU) and Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and allow both to work collaboratively to accelerate game-changing innovation in clean cooling to market. This new institutional collaboration will evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of capturing waste cold from two LNG terminals in Malaysia for its subsequent use for district cooling (DC).

In general. those Heriot-Watt researchers that engaged with the Energy Academy or actively participated in the events and activities of the Energy Academy such as networking events we organised, often benefited from the work of the Energy Academy, some significantly. The benefits they saw included new collaborations across traditional University boundaries that might not have easily or otherwise formed and new contacts that led to research grant successes and, we hope, enduring new partnerships. The following are examples of high-value grants that were won by these new partnerships.

The Development of Low-Carbon Jet Fuel through the Integration of Novel Technologies for Co-Valorisation of CO2 and Biomass

Through an introduction at an Energy Academy event, Mercedes Maroto-Valer brought Bing Xu, an Assistant Professor in Energy Economics into her new team. The Team was subsequently successful in winning EPSRC funding to consider the production of low carbon synthetic aviation jet fuel using renewable energy from waste agricultural and forestry biomass and captured CO2. The collaboration also involved Professor Phil Greening (Centre for Sustainable Road Freight) and Professor Eddie Owens.

The Community-scale Energy Demand Reduction in India (CEDRI) project already mentioned, is a collaboration across the School of Energy Geosciences Infrastructure and Society and includes Professor Eddie Owens, and Drs Sandhya Patidar, Sarah Payne and David Jenkins plus Professor David Flynn and Dr Valentin Robu from the Institute of Sensors, Systems and Signals, and reflects the complementarity that exists across Schools that the Energy Academy has sort to promote.  

The award winning ‘Smart Control of Rural Renewable Energy and Storage (SCORRES) project is a collaboration involving three of the university's four Schools and arose according to Professor Eddie Owens from the Energy Academy ‘s role in encouraging cross-disciplinary collaborative research. In 2018, the SCORRES project was shortlisted for International Collaboration of the Year in the Times Higher Awards 2018. Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal at Heriot-Watt has commented: "The SCORRES project demonstrates how Heriot-Watt delivers international research and collaborations that find solutions at the core of global sustainability goals. "

In February, the SCORRES project won two awards: the Resource Innovation and Water Management awards given at Rushlight. Now in their 11th year, the Rushlight Awards are a celebration and a promotion of new technology, innovation and best practice across the whole environment spectrum for organisations throughout UK, Ireland and internationally. the Awards are designed to highlight innovation, initiatives and the holistic environmental benefit of technologies that are most likely to or are already creating a real impact in the market.

Energy Impact: Developing an Outward Facing Brand both Nationally and Internationally.

In order to raise awareness of energy research at Heriot-Watt, the Energy Academy set out to develop a gateway for Heriot-Watt University energy research by:

  • Developing an outward facing brand through its website and social media;
  • Engaging and developing key partnerships through the meetings, workshops and seminars we organised.

 The Energy Academy has been particularly successful in doing this and it’s reasonable to say that its existence has helped raise the profile of Heriot-Watt’s renewable energy research by the links we've built or helped develop with for example,  the Scottish Government, the Knowledge Transfer Network and Innovate UK. Our continuing championing of the Energy Technology Partnership and by working with other universities in Scotland and with Scottish SMEs has brought in significant grant income upon which our researchers might build.

To create an outward facing ‘brand’ that reflected the work we undertake at Heriot-Watt and to provide a portal to replace the newsletter the publication of which had become sporadic, a new Energy Academy web-site was developed in 2016 with the support of Emma Williams who served as Energy Academy Outreach Manager from 2016-17. Our Twitter account now has nearly 800 followers. Both have been successful in building a community of interest within and outside of Heriot-Watt.

The Next Generation of Researchers

To provide support/community focus to our energy students/learners, in 2015 we invited our younger colleagues to submit ideas to an energy photography competition which was won by Andrew Want at ICIT. Presentations to post-graduate groups followed in 2016 and 2017 and to early career researchers.  

In 2018, we were honoured to be invited to work with Upside Energy Ltd to develop an initiative to encourage early-career researchers and post-graduate students to come together in Lancaster, Cumbria in a project called Upside Energy Futures where students were encouraged to debate dystopian and utopian energy systems of the future. Seven of the 12 young researchers selected to take part by Upside came from Heriot-Watt.

Also in 2018 we worked with the Durham Energy Institute to encourage Heriot-Watt researchers to present their research at the University of Durham’s 4th Annual Research Symposium.

Conferences and Events

To provide coherence in promoting energy topics and to strengthen Heriot-Watt’s presence, both nationally and internationally, the Energy Academy took a leadership role in organizing events that serve as an attractor to make the Energy Academy a desirable group to belong to/be associated with. This included seminar/webinars, young careers events, as well as large, focused events, such as annual conferences in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

In 2015, to acknowledge excellence within Heriot-Watt but also to reflect the work we are doing to an external audience, we organised the Energy Academy Researcher of the Year Awards with Scottish Energy News and held them at the Green Investment Bank. Awards were made in six categories and were awarded by the then Minister for Energy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing.

Events we organized towards this end included:

  • The Scotland-Hong Kong, Low-Carbon Energy International Workshop in September 2015
  • Annual conferences in 2015-16 and 2016-17. The 2015-16 Annual Conference included a showcase of research across the main areas of energy research at Heriot-Watt (including oil and gas) and featured an industry led panel discussion facilitated by Eddie Owens on the subject of fuel poverty in Scotland. The 2016-17 annual conference featured a presentation from Kat White, Scottish Government and on the work being done around our Dubai campus on the Solar Decathlon project and in the Sustainable City.
  • An event to build on the existing Edinburgh Research Partnership in Engineering to bring together Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh researchers with Innovate UK and the Scottish Government to build links in anticipation of future REF submissions.
  • A series of talks by external speakers to attract an external audience to Heriot-Watt. A series of invited lectures were given by external speakers including Dr Keith MacLean, Industry Chair, Energy Research Partnership. Jonathan Radcliffe Fellow of the Institute for Global Innovation, Resilient Cities theme lead and Ian Marchant, Dunelm Energy.

In 2016 the Energy Academy took a group of twelve researchers from Edinburgh to meet with Orcadian businesses and local government over two-days at ICIT, Orkney and from the contacts built, a number of broader collaborations have ensued that build on expertise beyond that available in our International Centre for Island Technology.

 In 2017 and 2018, we brought Innovate UK to Heriot-watt to deliver a masterclass to businesses and our academic colleagues on how to win Innovate grants and investments.

We worked with the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association with whom we held seminars and workshhops on innovation in fuel cells and on the applications of graphene in energy and prompted by the SHFCA we took a delegation to Guardbridge and St Andrews to explore synergies and our respective work on geothermal energy.

Developing Key partnerships to Support Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Influence

The Energy Academy’s most significant impact has probably been the creation of links with industry for the University. These have been created through outreach activities such as through our work with Innovate UK and the KTN to target SMEs seeking to partner and attract academic collaborators for research partnerships; our membership of and attendance at events held by organisations such as Scottish Renewables and the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association by maximising opportunities introduced by sign-posting agencies such as Interface and the Scottish innovation Centres for collaborative research and olf fashioned business development

These links have allowed the Energy Academy to give invaluable support to core University initiatives such as the recent application to the EPSRC to continue the Centre for Doctoral Training in Critical Catalysis (CRITICAT) led by Professor Stuart MacGregor  and the Erasmus Mundus European Training Network on Smart Cities and Communities led by Dr Gudrun Kocher.

Whilst many of the new relationships are with micro- and SMEs, perhaps reflecting the composition of private companies in Scotland, some are with companies of scale. We have a good relationship with Scottish and Southern Energy and are discussinga Strategic Partnership with Scottish Power Energy Networks for research and training. The new partnership between two of our Schools and the UK civil engineering consultancy Carey's that was brokered by the Energy Academy this year, suggests opportunities for business growth and training in construction if the opportunity can be followed up. The important link with Upside Energy that we brokered for Dr Valentin Robu suggests an opportunity for building a collaboration with one of the UK’s fastest growing SMEs. An introduction to Denchi Power for Dr Robu and Professor David Flynn led to a collaborative project (hyFES) to further improve the benefits (lower fuel costs, reduced emissions) marine vessels gain from switching to a hybrid propulsion systems. SLICE® MARINE was developed from the HyFES project and joins Denchi Group’s portfolio of energy storage products for the marine sector. “The assistance of the Heriot-Watt team was instrumental to the success of HyFES project, demonstrating the power that a data driven approach has on determining the prognostics and asset integrity of any platform.” John Perry, Technical Director.

Some researchers through themselves into the work of the Energy cademy and embraced the Energy Academy and what it could offer. One particular area where the Energy Academy has been successful is our support for Dr Tadhg O’Donovan’s  work on solar PV and solar thermal energy. This confidence in the business development we did has led to a broad portfolio of R&D projects supported by Innovate UK, including Knowledge Transfer Partnership's (KTPs) research funding and local funding (Energy Technology Partnership and Interface). and larger grants. 

As a result of Energy Academy activity over the four-year period of accounting, we have brokered the award of £2.3 million in KTP grants for Tadhg and his colleagues helping Heriot-Watt retain its position as #2 most successful Scottish university in winning KTP awards and #11 in the UK with 16 active KTP projects in all areas of r&d.

In 2016, Tadhg was awarded the Interface award for ‘Best Sustained Partnership between a University and Business in Scotland’ (Soltropy). Founded in 2012, Soltropy is a pioneer in simplified Solar Thermal technology for water heating applications. It’s patented technology has been developed with Tadhg in response to an increasing demand for domestic and commercial markets to bring about cost effective access to Solar Thermal technology.

Since 2015, we have brokered over £1.1 million in funding from the Scottish Government mainly to work with Scottish SMEs. Heriot-Watt University is ranked second behind the University of Strathclyde in the number and value of awards made through the Energy Technology Partnership’s Knowledge Exchange Network (£137K) and Heriot-Watt has won 3 of the 14 ETP Industry studentship awards made by the ETP in 2017 and 2018 meaning that since the initiative was started in 2011, we have won nearly £500K in ETP grant funding for PhD research and with this, matched funding from industry..

At the end of 2017, it became clear that the University was not in a position to continue to support the Energy Academy business plan.  From November, the focussed energy business development and with it, a lot of the activity described in this Report will cease. It was a lot of fun at times and we hope you agree, not a bad project to be associated with?

 Patrick McCarthy - Business Development Energy 2014 - 2018


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