Delivering Power in a Modern WorldHumanities

Professor David Dorrell (centre) with colleagues on the occasion of his inaugural lecture.Professor David Dorrell (centre) with colleagues on the occasion of his inaugural lecture.

‘We tend to take electrical power for granted in developed countries.  In South Africa, load shedding focused our attention on power!’

So said Professor David Dorrell on the occasion of his inaugural lecture at the UNITE Building on UKZN’s Howard College campus.

Dorrell, who is the newly appointed Acting Director of the Eskom Centre of Excellence in HVDC Engineering, situated within UKZN’s School of Engineering, tackled the topic of delivering power in a modern world. 

In his address, he outlined the building blocks of an electrical power system and gave a brief tour through its development, from the battles between Edison’s DC system and Tesla’s AC system, to modern AC systems with embedded AC generation and reactive power control.

The development of modern power systems via distributed alternative generation and new high voltage DC systems were also discussed.

Dorrell said that in South Africa (2012 figures), about 241 398 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy were generated annually, the majority coming from coal (218 212 GWh).

Dorrell covered the subject of power use and described how new technologies, such as hybrid and electric vehicles were being developed, and new materials such as rare earth magnets used for high efficiency electro-mechanical energy conversion.  ‘New battery technologies are encouraging the better storage of energy,’ he said.

‘Many recent technology developments use power electronics, which has led to a revolution in the generation, transmission, distribution and utilisation of electric power,’ said Dorrell.

Dorrell concluded his lecture with a discussion about the road ahead in terms of delivering power in a modern world.  ‘Even though power systems have been around for over a century, new developments are still taking place,’ he explained.  ‘Power electronics is revolutionising power systems and power conversion.  Renewable energy will move power generation to local settings and power will be generated in a distributed manner.

‘The way we use and are billed for electricity in the home will also change,’ said Dorrell. ‘However, we will still need embedded power and the base load.’

Dorrell, who obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge, has held academic, research and managerial posts with British universities such as the Robert Gordon University, the University of Reading and the University of Glasgow, as well as the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.   In December 2015 he took up the post of Professor of Electrical Machines at UKZN and in June 2016 also assumed the position as Acting Director of the Eskom Centre of Excellence in HVDC at UKZN.

He has carried out many consultancies with industry and has published about 100 journal papers and 250 conference papers. He is also the co-author on a book on magnetic bearings and bearingless machines.

Dorrell is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in the United Kingdom, and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), USA.

In his welcome address, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Deo Jaganyi, congratulated Dorrell on his inauguration to the professoriate and explained that an inaugural lecture was an important occasion in the life of every professor.  ‘It is a debt he needs to pay to his university, through the articulation of his research focus areas, before he embarks upon his professorship,’ said Jaganyi.

Sally Frost