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Meet the sustainability expert with a green solution to the energy crisis

17 November 2022

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Each month, those working at the pioneering heart of Norwich Research Park tell us how their work is shaping the world we live in. Read their stories here. This time we chat to Professor Konstantinos Chalvatzis.

What does your role involve? 

I am a professor of sustainable energy business at Norwich Business School at UEA. This involves supervising new researchers, sourcing funding and conducting research projects. For example, research on technological and business model innovations for community energy systems that increase resilience and energy supply security.

The ClimateUEA initiative brings together climate change researchers from all disciplines, natural sciences, social sciences, medicine and humanities. It plays on UEA’s strength in interdisciplinarity and allows us to speak to external partners, funders, industry and government with a stronger voice. As ClimateUEA’s academic director, I work with colleagues to ensure we fulfil our vision for a strong presence in international and regional climate change discussions and that our world-leading research is as impactful as it can be.

I am also associate dean for innovation in the social sciences faculty, which entails managing internal and external partnerships and looking at opportunities for commercialisation while ensuring our projects deliver real-world impact.

Why is ClimateUEA’s work important? 

UEA has pioneered climate research for 50 years. We have an established trajectory grounded in local expertise that has grown dramatically – so much so that climate change has become a gravitational point for almost every other part of the university.

ClimateUEA brings together researchers to study climate change from a number of different angles. Besides natural scientists, we have colleagues in humanities, social sciences and medicine working within their own disciplines on climate research. That’s extremely important when talking about the real-world issues and challenges of climate change that affect us all. We provide guidance and policy advice by collaborating with local and central government, as well as the European Commission and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to deliver solutions to these problems.

How does climate change affect the energy crisis? 

Climate change in the UK hasn’t yet been felt as harshly as it has in poorer countries with less developed infrastructure, but the vulnerability of our energy systems is felt during the current crisis.

The best way to reduce the impact of the gas price crisis is to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels. We need to grow our portfolio of renewable energy sources massively. A significant step forward is in building investor confidence in renewable energy and adjacent technologies like large-scale energy storage and electrification of transport. Investing in more renewable energy solutions like offshore wind and solar farms is a worthwhile investment, as is reducing energy demand by insulating houses.

The most important thing, other than voting for political parties that have a genuine commitment to climate action, is discussing climate change. It permeates everything we do – so we need to talk about it. This leads to collective action and eventually might lead to changes in power structures and policy.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in science? 

I grew up in Athens, Greece, and was always curious about how things worked. I took devices and appliances apart to see how they operated. Aged 12, I became interested in software engineering. My father supervised a portfolio of energy engineering projects at factories across Europe, so I joined him during the summer holidays. I learned a lot from the engineers who inspired me to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

I continued working in the industry during my studies, but lost interest in the work and even signed a contract to become a musician at a theatre company while on holiday in Berlin. But when I came back to Athens, I had a class on renewable energy and fell in love with it. In 2007, I started a PhD in energy policy at UEA and decided to stay in Norwich ever since.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Norwich Research Park? 

We have an enormous diversity of academics researching different areas – and it’s a very friendly crowd. Some of the most prominent and authoritative researchers in the world work here. But climate change is something that no individual institution will solve by itself. We need to work together to have any chance of resolving the risks of climate change and collaboration is at the heart of everything we do.

If I want to understand a particular niche that I don’t know anything about it, it’s easy to start a conversation. And if you’re looking for partners to work on a specific idea, people on Norwich Research Park are ready to jump on opportunities and work together towards a shared goal. It’s a really fruitful place.

What do you get up to when you’re not working? 

I can play the guitar, flute and clarinet, although it has been a while so I might make some strange noises! I love to spend as much time as I can with my five-year-old daughter. We like to read and go on walks together around Whitlingham Broad or the coastal paths of North Norfolk. But the Lake District is my favourite place in the UK.

Professor Konstantinos Chalvatzis is academic director of ClimateUEA at Norwich Research Park. You can follow him on Twitter @KJChalvatzis 

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