In this Researcher Spotlight, we chat to NexSys PhD researcher Alireza Etemad, based in UCD’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and find out more about his work on district heating systems.
What is your NexSys research about and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m exploring how modern district heating systems can be more efficient and integrated with urban infrastructures. My current focus? Tapping into the potential of data centers—transforming their waste heat into a sustainable energy source for heating our buildings. My PhD research project is entitled: Integration of Supply, Demand, and Policy for Development of 5th Generation District Heating Systems.
How did you first become interested in research?
During my tenure as a mechanical engineer in large thermal plants in my home country of Iran, I observed significant energy wastage in industrial setups. Also, as a tech enthusiast, I always followed the AI development news, and I always had this curiosity of using AI in energy systems operation and optimization. These ignited a passion to research and develop more efficient energy systems, leading me to the academic world.
What is one interesting fact about your research area people may not know about?
Many urban establishments, like data centers and supermarkets, are potential goldmines of sustainable energy. With the right systems, we can harness this energy to heat our cities.
What is the wider relevance of your research to the energy transition?
Smart district heating systems are not just a technological upgrade—they’re a pathway to a sustainable future. By optimizing energy use and reducing waste, these systems support global climate goals and sustainable urban development.
What is something people may find surprising about you?
I’m deeply fascinated by history. Exploring ancient civilizations and their innovations gives me a fresh perspective on today’s challenges. For me, understanding the past is a way to navigate the present and shape a better future.
To learn more about Alireza’s research, you can download a copy of his recent presentation at the EirGrid research forum which took place in Dublin in August 2023: