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UC receives more than $8 million in research funding

UC receives more than $8 million in energy and infrastructure research

August 23, 2012

University of Canterbury has received more than $8 million in trailblazing energy and infrastructure research funding projects.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment released details of the announcement today with the bulk of the money going to a project led by Dr Allan Miller, director of UC’s Electric Power Engineering Centre. Dr Miller’s project is looking at renewable energy and smart grids.

The other successful funding for research is for a project led by UC’s Dr Bernard Walker and Associate Professor Venkataraman Nilakant who are seeking key information on organisational structures and the impact of that on resilience of infrastructure.

Dr Miller’s project will contribute to a future NZ with greater renewable generation and improved energy security through development of a smarter, efficient, cost-effective and robust electricity generation system. He is also researching into electric cars.

``We will provide government and industry with methods for managing and balancing supply and demand variability and delivering a functional and safe distribution network in which intermittent renewable generation is a growing part of the energy supply.

``The Smart Grid will balance delivery of demand and supply and manage network function and safety, in an integrated and seamlessly automated fashion utilising new
technologies and methods.

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``It will provide an electricity network where power flows are managed responsively and according to the needs of the users.

``The result will be an efficient, cost-effective and robust electricity network meeting the ongoing and changing power supply and demand needs of New Zealanders.’’

Associate Professor Nilakant said his project would look at the ways in which infrastructure organisations could be more successful in learning, adapting, responding and recovering from a major disaster and continue to improve their performance in a radically changed environment that is unfamiliar and uncertain.

``We aim to study the processes by which organisations use information, access resources, involve people, and make rapid decisions. This research will be of great significance, and ground-breaking, given the scarcity of research in this area.’’

The earthquakes in Christchurch damaged 124km of water mains, 50,000 roads, 300km of sewer pipes and 205 major (11kV) power cables. The estimated cost of rebuilding the damaged infrastructure in Christchurch was around $2 billion, Nilakant said.

The scale of damage would have been many times greater had the events occurred in either Auckland or Wellington.

The devastation caused by the second-deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand was unprecedented and required a new level of major emergency response, Nilkant said

``Tragic as these events were in humanitarian terms, they also offer a vital opportunity to learn essential lessons to enhance New Zealand infrastructure organisations’ resilience in the face of future emergencies, crises and disasters.

``We broadly define resilience as the ability to survive crises/disasters and succeed in the subsequent uncertain environment.

``While attention has focused on technical and engineering issues associated with disasters, our research addresses the equally critical organisational aspects. The organisational dimensions of infrastructure services will play a vital role in future disasters, determining the speed and effectiveness of both initial emergency responses, and also the longer recovery and restoration of the wide range of infrastructure services.’’

Improving the resilience of infrastructure organisations has major implications for New Zealand. Their earlier research in Christchurch indicated that improved organisational resilience resulted in faster response times and more rapid restoration of services.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jarg Pettinga said the funding for the projects reflected the University of Canterbury’s ability to make a difference to cutting-edge research.

``We have some of the best researchers in the world and these projects will have significant benefit for New Zealand,’’ he said.

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