Dr Evelyn Heylen is a Research Associate working on forecast models used in the control room of National Grid — the UK power transmission system operator. Her research is helping to incorporate more electricity from wind turbines and solar panels as we move away from fossil-fuelled power.
Powering the future
“Using electricity from wind turbines and solar PV panels does not boil down to just installing them. Transporting the electrical energy from the wind turbines to our houses in a reliable and affordable way is equally important.”
“My research helps the transmission system operators to transport electrical energy to our houses safely and reliably. Electricity production in wind turbines and solar PV panels strongly depends on uncertain weather conditions, so it is hard for s system operator to know how the system will behave in the future. I develop the tools to give system operators insight into the behaviour of their system the next 24 hours."
In the future Evelyn's research aims to make the smart grid even smarter. “Currently, ensuring a reliable supply of electrical energy relies a lot on human operators. My future research will focus on how we can relieve the task of the human operators by developing virtual operators that are able to autonomously operate power systems."
Becoming an engineer has allowed Evelyn to combine the different subjects she enjoyed.
It is really motivating to go through the whole cycle of getting a conceptual, novel idea towards something that will be applied in practice or has an impact on society."
"Engineering offers a lot of opportunities for multidisciplinary work. As an engineer you are a trained problem solver and you are able to apply these problem-solving skills in different fields and application contexts. During my BSc and MSc in engineering science, I combined fundamental mathematical courses, technical courses, courses in economics and law courses, which enriched my study experience."
Outside of research Evelyn describes herself as a “sports fanatic” — enjoying tennis, running and football. During her PhD studies, Evelyn was balancing her studies with playing football in the national second division in Belgium.
An important part of life in the research community, and somewhere else she can really aim to make a difference is in supervising and mentoring, which she really enjoys.
"Building an academic career can feel challenging to students because of the many uncertainties you are facing. Sometimes you need to work quite a long time on a part of your research without knowing whether it will be successful or not, without getting approval of your work along the way and facing rejections of papers or grant applications."
"At this stage, I believe that the supervisor or mentor has an important role to give students confidence and assist them where possible with the uncertainties they are facing. I enjoy seeing that students tackle the hurdles they are facing, and I find it very rewarding to have contributed a small part to this."
"I find it very useful when mentors give insight in their experiences or offer access to their network for further discussions. An important quality of a good mentor, is someone that puts the mentee in the centre rather than their own objectives."
If she were not an electrical engineer Evelyn says she would probably be a neuroscientist. “I have experienced in my family how a stupid accident can change people's lives. Even though you do not see much from the outside, a lot may have changed at the inside impacting people's behaviour and even personality. Although the functioning of our brain highly affects our daily life, the brain still has a lot of secrets.”