Mark O'Malley with TISED as James M. Flaherty Visiting Professor!

About Mark O'Malley

Mark O’Malley is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at University College Dublin (UCD) and founding Director of the Electricity Research Centre, a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, industry-supported research activity. He is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and has received two Fulbright Fellowships. Mark is recognized as a world authority on Energy Systems Integration and in particular Grid Integration of Renewable Energy. He is currently on sabbatical at McGill University as the James M. Flaherty Visiting Professor. He has active research collaborations in the United States (Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory) and China (Tsinghua University and State Grid China) and is Director and Co-founder of the International Institute for Energy Systems Integration and Coordinator of the European Energy Research Alliance Joint Programme in Energy Systems Integration.

See Mark's lecture on Energy Systems Integration: a multidisciplinary global imperative for a low carbon society | an ICUF James M. Flaherty Lecture 

"The convergence of energy" by Peter Farbridge

A world authority on integrating renewable energy in electrical grids, Dr. Mark O’Malley landed at McGill this April for a four-month research sojourn at TISED. The renowned expertise of this two-time Fulbright Scholar from University College Dublin is a high voltage addition to the institute’s ongoing research into Energy System Integration.

Last year Quebec achieved its goal of adding 4,000MW of wind energy to its electrical grid. That’s enough electricity to power three million homes, and some analysts project that Quebec could achieve as much as 8,000MW of wind energy by 2025. That’s good news for the province’s dream of becoming a low-carbon society, but it’s a challenge for today’s electrical power systems, whose technical, economic and regulatory infrastructure may lack the flexibility to fully integrate the decentralized, intermittent energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar.  

According to Mark O’Malley, a professor of Electrical Engineering from University College Dublin, the changes necessary to permit very large penetrations of renewables represent a “fundamental shift” for power systems. O’Malley, a recognized world authority in Energy System Integration (ESI), recently assumed a James M. Flaherty Visiting Professorship at the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED), made possible by the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF). His expertise, which has already informed ESI programs in Europe, the United States and China, will help Quebec’s energy sector make a smooth transition to renewable energies.

“The Irish and Quebec energy systems share many similarities, and they are both on a trajectory to low carbon,” explains O’Malley. “A fundamental enabler of this low carbon trajectory is a more integrated energy system. This requires a simultaneous increase in the penetration of variable renewable energy sources and an overall increase in the efficiency of the energy system. In order to maintain the supply-demand balance, an energy system needs to be flexible, and this flexibility needs to be planned for and managed.”

The difficulty of all this is that you can't simply take one power system and swap it out for another. Since grids have to provide reliable electricity for their consumers, O’Malley likens this upgrade of the world’s power systems to changing the engines on an Airbus A380 mid-flight over the Atlantic without crashing the plane. 

Plugging into the Macrogrid

In Quebec, the transition from the current ‘synchronous’ power of large centralized hydro or coal plants to an ‘asynchronous’ system of more distributed, variable renewable energy sources represents multiple challenges for our power systems. With more renewable energy coming to the grid from a local level, the characteristics of the timing and volumes of energy being moved between the local and centralized levels is rapidly changing.

In some extreme cases, renewable energy systems at the local level can become completely independent of the global level. The planning and management of these so-called “microgrids”—which are not connected to the main electrical “macrogrid”—is a very active niche research area. It has particularly important ramifications in Quebec’s northern communities, where incorporating renewable sources at the local level would increase energy security. 

Coupled with this expanding distribution of energy supply is the increase in energy consumers who are now generating their own electricity. This trend towards self-reliance amplifies the integrated nature of the energy system and makes understanding consumers and their behaviour another facet of multidisciplinary ESI research.

Electric Exchange

From April to September 2017, Mark O'Malley will be at McGill to research with TISED’s members, work in partnership with institutions from Canada and Quebec, as well as to deliver a public seminar, “Energy Systems Integration: A Multidisciplinary Global Imperative for a Low-Carbon Society,” at the ICUF James Flaherty Lecture on May 2nd, 2017.

O’Malley will compare his experiences around the world in order to guide Canadians through “the multidisciplinary maze” of establishing their own integrated energy systems.

During his time at McGill, O’Malley will collaborate closely with TISED’s Géza Joós and François Bouffard, two electrical engineers who are engaged in parallel and complementary research in the areas of power system flexibility, microgrids and electric vehicles. Specifically, O’Malley, Bouffard and Joós will address how to better plan integrated energy systems such as those in Quebec and Ireland. They will also develop comparative case studies to show how more appropriate planning processes should lead to better outcomes in terms of carbon footprint, social welfare, energy security, etc.

The three collaborators will co-author a technical publication highlighting the conclusions of the study, whose results and recommendations should be of interest to Quebec energy system decision makers as the province embarks on its new 2016-2030 energy policy. The study will also inspire Irish energy system decision makers to find learning opportunities from the Quebec experience, especially in the area of electrical transport. (More than half of electrical car sales in Canada take place in Quebec.)

This promising research collaboration between Ireland and Canada is made possible through the combined funding of TISED and the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF), whose mission is “to nurture the great friendship between these countries, through the support of scholarly exchange.”

TISED is a very attractive environment for my research,” says O’Malley of his opportunity to come to the Institute. “It is a supportive umbrella organisation linking multiple aspects of energy research in a world-renowned university, with world-class scholars as collaborators—what more could I want?”

This work has been made possible through TISED and through the awarding of a James M. Flaherty Visiting Professorship from the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF), with the assistance of the Irish Government