At TUMCREATE, as we prepare to conclude our research in Phase Two – Towards the Ultimate Public Transport System, we would like to highlight our researchers who continue to make significant contributions to the programme. Through our interview series, People behind the Science, we talk to our researchers to discover more about them and their stories.
We talk to Sebastian Troitzsch from the Electrification Suite & Test Lab (ESTL) team.
Sebastian grew up in north-eastern Germany and completed his bachelor and masters degree at RWTH Aachen University, a route not as conventional as most of the researchers in TUMCREATE had taken. As someone who likes to take up many hobbies, he shares that he played the accordion when he was young and started to take up rock climbing and bouldering when he came to Singapore. He is also an avid fan of indie movies and enjoys showcases being held at the Projector, where he highly recommends the recent film, Tiong Bahru Social Club.
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do…
I am a PhD student with the ESTL team, that focuses on energy research in TUMCREATE, and my work revolves around ‘smart grid’ topics. For example, I am now investigating whether the charging of electric vehicles (EVs), especially when there is a large adoption for them, will cause any challenges to the electric grid in Singapore and what are the mitigation strategies that are best suited to address the issues. By doing so, we can ensure a smoother transition for electric vehicles and prevent any impacts that may be disruptive. Currently, I am mainly involved in developing the Flexible Distribution Grid Demonstrator (FLEDGE) tool that helps to investigate this area with the rest of my team.
Q: What made you come to Singapore, and how has it been like living here?
I first came to Singapore as an exchange student with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2014. I had always wanted to explore Asia and Singapore, with its multi-cultural setting, seemed like a great starting point. I really enjoyed living here and I got a variety of experiences and opportunities to meet people from all around the world. I ended up extending my stay here and I’ve been here ever since! Some of the key takeaways from my time in Singapore are my newfound appreciation for KTV and the fact that food that are worth queuing for aren’t necessarily associated with fancy restaurants.
Q: Who or what inspired you to be in your field of research?
Originally, I wanted to become an aerospace engineer and started studying mechanical engineering. However, in 2011, as many might still remember, the Fukushima nuclear accident happened and caused many countries, especially Germany, to reconsider future energy supplies. Some countries took the accident as a warning and declared grand goals for the deployment of renewable energy. This really sparked my interest in the challenges behind transitioning from conventional energy resources to intermittent renewables. I even became involved in setting up a local ‘energy club’ in school to facilitate discussions on this topic! Eventually, knowing where my interest lies, I switched my specialisation to energy engineering and I can confidently say that I have not regretted my choice ever since.
Q: What are some of the challenges for you in your field of research?
One of the core themes of my research is demand-side flexibility, which is the ability of electric loads to be rescheduled according to the availability of energy supply. For example, the power demand of an air-conditioned system can be scheduled in such a way that it maximises the use of available solar energy generation. As such, a key challenge lies in translating the theoretical flexibility potentials on the demand side into economic benefits for the consumers.
Air-conditioning systems in buildings are often operated on a fixed schedule with no means for intervention and the ‘smart controllers’, which would enable the flexibility from our theoretical studies, have not yet been demonstrated on a large scale and are met with resistance from practitioners. There is also a big question mark on consumers’ acceptance as the flexible operation may impact their thermal comfort. To this end, I think there is an opportunity here for social scientists and engineers to come together and explore what incentive mechanisms can help to promote these applications. I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the future.
Q: Tell us about your work and journey in TUMCREATE…
My endeavour at TUMCREATE started in 2016 as a research assistant looking to complete my master’s thesis. In 2017, I became a research associate and started my PhD. Initially, I worked on the demand-side flexibility of air-conditioned buildings and it evolved into various research topics around the participation of flexible loads in the energy sector. For example, in the project Connecting District Energy and Power Systems in Future Singaporean New Towns (CONCEPT), I worked with the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) to demonstrate how demand-side flexibility can help reduce investment costs in the planning stage of urban development projects.
More recently, my work has been focused on developing FLEDGE, a software tool for district-scale energy systems modelling and optimization. The idea is to develop a tool that is more application-oriented, based on the various theoretical methodologies which had already been developed in the team. FLEDGE is made available as an open-source project and has prompted several collaborations with researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) as well as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
Q: What are some of your plans in the future?
Well, just like any doctoral student, I hope to complete my PhD thesis sooner rather than later! Once that it is done, I will focus on further developing and promoting FLEDGE to government agencies, research institutions, and other stakeholders in Singapore that will benefit from such a tool, especially now that Singapore is moving towards the adoption of electric vehicles. It will be interesting to learn how FLEDGE can be supported for a larger-scale adoption.
(Researchers are always working on research publications, but what if they got the time to write something else?)
Q: If you could write a book, instead of research publications, what genre would it be and why?
I would probably write a science fiction book about humans settling on some far-away planet. Since young, I have always been attracted to stories with the creations of perfect utopian worlds being set up from scratch and I would not mind dreaming up one on my own. More recently, I have also been fascinated with the persistence that some space entrepreneurs demonstrate in advancing technology to put people on Mars.
Seems like Sebastian has got his hands full on the various research! Just like him, we are excited to see how the FLEDGE tool will develop and support the initiation of electric vehicles. Also, a sci-fi book definitely sounds like something Sebastian would excel in writing!