Researcher Focus: Dr Atakan Sahin

Wednesday 12th June 2024

Get to know our Net Zero Operations Research Fellow, Dr Atakan Sahin. Originally from Turkey, he has been part of the Net Zero Operations team at the NSC since January 2023. Prior to joining the NSC, Atakan received his PhD in Pure and Applied Chemistry from the University of Strathclyde as part of the European Union Horizon 2020 Innovative Training Network Project, ModLife.   

What is your research all about? 

At the NSC, I work on the Energy Hub Planning Tool, a key component of the Data for Net Zero (D4NZ) project. The project is funded by the Scottish Government to transform the North Sea energy system.  The tool aims to facilitate the creation of a Smart Energy Basin - a digital twin of the energy basin that integrates data science, visualisation and modelling tools. This digital twin will enable advanced cross-sectoral decision-making to support energy integration and the transition to a net-zero energy system by 2045. 

Initially, the Energy Hub Planning Tool will focus on a specific group of offshore energy assets and energy grids. These assets share geographic proximity and operational connectivity, making them ideal for initial implementation. The insights gained will then be expanded across the entire basin, enabling a comprehensive approach to energy system transformation. 

At the moment, the NSC excels in simulating and optimising energy grids to achieve multiple objectives, including balancing energy from diverse sources, reducing carbon intensity and optimising costs, both CAPEX (Capital Expenditures) and OPEX (Operational Expenditures). On a microgrid scale, the NSC has the capability to optimise turbine layout and cabling layout for offshore wind farm designs. 

What or who first sparked your interest in your research subject? 

Interestingly, the project was already underway when I joined the NSC, so I didn't need a spark to get started initially. However, my role has since evolved to involve improving and expanding our model tree by integrating new branches. With my background in control and automation and my expertise in fuzzy modelling, I bring a unique perspective to the group, contributing to the project's development and enhancing its capabilities. 

What impact is your research having outside of academia? 

Our research has a significant real-world impact beyond academia. Our simulations and optimisations help energy companies and policymakers balance diverse energy sources, reduce carbon emissions and minimise costs, improving the efficiency and sustainability of energy grids. 

We enhance renewable energy projects by tackling various optimisation problems, particularly in offshore wind farm designs. This work guides policymakers and investors in making informed decisions about new technology investments, ensuring sustainable integration into existing infrastructures. 

Our comprehensive models aid stakeholders in enhancing energy resilience, sustainability and economic efficiency, benefiting communities and industries dependent on stable energy supplies. We also collaborate with industry partners and government agencies to integrate new technologies such as hydrogen energy hubs, gathering data and developing practical energy planning tools that drive innovation in the energy sector, especially in topology optimisation. The NSC has exciting development ideas in the pipeline and is always open to stakeholder contributions 

Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way? 

Absolutely! Every person we meet or work with leaves an impression, for better or worse. But if I were handing out Oscars, they would go to my supervisor back in Turkey, Dr Tufan Kumbasar, now a freshly-minted Professor at the Control and Automation Engineering Department at Istanbul Technical University and Dr Engin Yesil, now the CBO of Getron. Sometimes you just need people who believe in you and cheer you on. These two were the first to do that for me in an academic setting. They pushed me out of my comfort zone, leading to some pretty cool achievements. My first publication, first project, first job, first book chapter - all of them happened with their encouragement and help. Forever a Kumbasar & Yesil fan! I’m eternally grateful to both of them! 

What advice do you have for somebody embarking on a research career? 

Before I dive into how delightful researching is, let me give a heads-up to anyone considering a research or academic career - it’s like climbing a pyramid. With each step up, it gets slipperier, and there’s less room to plant your feet - just like the dwindling number of job openings you’re eyeing. So, strap on your best climbing shoes and get ready for a thrilling, precarious ascent! If you love diving into topics that fascinate you, combining different materials and tools to solve problems, then this is the perfect job for you. But be prepared to write A LOT. P.S. Not with ChatGPT, maybe just a wee bit.  

Favourite thing about the NSC? 

Let's get one thing straight, the range of hot beverages provided at the NSC is amazing. It's a paradise for caffeine enthusiasts - not yet full-blown addicts! Until I develop a caffeine tolerance, this will be my absolute favourite perk. 

Now, on to the serious stuff. The NSC is a relatively new research centre with the potential to become the university's hallmark of excellence. We're building strong expertise and know-how in every research group here. Some are already well-established, while others are branching out with exciting new projects. Being involved in the early stages of the centre is incredibly motivating and feels like being part of something big right from the start. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

I love discovering new music, from classical symphonies to indie jams, and I'm quite proud of my Spotify playlists. Contact me if you want to sample some of my curated gems. Recently, I've embarked on the thrilling journey of long-distance running. Currently, I'm training for half-marathon distances, which ranks just above the excitement of writing my PhD thesis. Don’t get me wrong, this is the second most boring thing I’ve ever done. To keep things lively, I dive into CrossFit most weekdays and occasionally compete in CrossFit competitions. Because, you know, who doesn't enjoy a bit of friendly torture?