Decarbonising industry: direct electrical heating and thermal storage of heat generated using behind-the-meter PV

Picture of Joe Coventry

8 Mar 2024


A fully funded PhD scholarship is being offered at the ANU School of Engineering, supported by the ARENA project Low-Cost Integration of On-Site Solar PV for Large-Scale Industrial Heat Supply . We are seeking someone who can start as soon as possible. The research project aims to accelerate the uptake of large-scale PV in the industrial heating context through the development of direct electrical heating (DEH) components and simplified power electronics that enable cost reduction through reduced system complexity. The proposed technology is based on DEH, where DC current from a PV system is passed directly through a resistive device, without a conventional inverter leading to major savings in the power electronics downstream of the solar PV. Critically, behind-the-meter PV-DEH enables use of low-cost thermal energy storage. The PhD project has a strong experimental focus, supported by component level modelling. The candidate will work on development of the DEH system and an integrated Thermal Energy Storage (TES) system. Aspects of the work include, for the DEH system, concept design, modelling and development including investigation of feasible/practical current, resistance, voltage and heat dissipation, electrical and heat transfer analysis, and geometric design of components; and for the TES system, the particular TES technologies of interest in this project are a system based on storage of energy in solid graphite (developed by partner Graphite Energy), and a system based on use of the heat transfer fluid in direct contact with magnesia bricks (under development at ANU). Laboratory-scale testing and associated numerical modelling will examine thermal performance, and practical aspects relating to materials compatibility and stability. Testing will take place in our high-temperature laboratories. Modelling aspects will include both detailed TES component models and reduced-order system level models, taking advantage of ANU’s Modelica-based system simulation tool SolarTherm for annual simulations of integrated PV, DEH, thermal storage, with focus on how best to integrate thermal storage with industrial processes. Stand-alone benchtop-scale DEH devices designed for operation at >200°C will be tested, including direct coupling a PV-emulating electricity supply. Subsequently, a fully integrated system test at laboratory-scale will be developed and tested, including with a PV array, maximum-power-point-tracking/power electronics, and the DEH system. Modelling aspects will include detailed component models (electrical/thermal multiphysics and/or computational fluid dynamics simulations).

The School of Engineering

The Australian National University (ANU) is one of the top universities in Australia and is ranked amongst the top 50 in the QS World University Rankings in terms of research quality. The School of Engineering (SoEN) in the College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics has an extremely strong research culture with outstanding performance in a wide range of fields including renewable energy, energy storage and systems engineering. This project will be supervised by Dr Joe Coventry, Dr John Pye and two other members of an expert panel. The project involves strong collaboration with RMIT university, and the opportunity to work closely with industry partners.


Applications are open to domestic and international students. Applicants must hold a first class Honours degree or Master’s degree in Engineering, Physics or a related field, and/or have relevant research experience. As per the project description, the PhD project involves both electrical and mechanical engineering fields, so aptitude in both areas would be an advantage. Practical experience running experiments and numerical modelling ability would be valued. Applicants are advised to undertake a self assessment before applying. To express interest in applying, please send a 1 page cover letter and CV (including results for relevant degrees) to A/Prof. Joe Coventry and A/Prof. John Pye. The scholarship has the same stipend and other conditions as a standard ANU PhD scholarship, but is available for commencement in 2024 as soon as possible.

Background literature

  • Keith Lovegrove, Dani Alexander, Roman Bader, Stephen Edwards, Michael Lord, Ahmad Mojiri, Jay Rutovitz, Hugh Saddler, Cameron Stanley, Kali Urkalan, Muriel Watt, Renewable Energy Options for Industrial Process Heat, 2019,
  • Paul Denholm, Josh Eichman, and Robert Margolis, “Evaluating the Technical and Economic Performance of PV Plus Storage Power Plants”, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017, Jeffrey M. Gordon, Thomas Fasquelle, Elie Nadal, Alexis Vossier, “Providing large-scale electricity demand with photovoltaics and molten-salt storage”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 135, 2021,
  • Tomas Matuska, Borivoj Sourek, “Performance Analysis of Photovoltaic Water Heating System”, International Journal of Photoenergy, Vol. 2017,2017.
  • Raghavendra, K.V.G.; Zeb, K.; Muthusamy, A.; Krishna, T.N.V.; Kumar, S.V.S.V.P.; Kim, D.-H.; Kim, M.-S.; Cho, H.-G.; Kim, H.-J. “A Comprehensive Review of DC–DC Converter Topologies and Modulation Strategies with Recent Advances in Solar Photovoltaic Systems”. Electronics 2020, 9, 31.
  • Kamran Zeb, Waqar Uddin, Muhammad Adil Khan, Zunaib Ali, Muhammad Umair Ali, Nicholas Christofides, H.J. Kim, “A comprehensive review on inverter topologies and control strategies for grid connected photovoltaic system”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 94, 2018,
  • Raveendhra Dogga, M.K. Pathak, Recent trends in solar PV inverter topologies, Solar Energy, Vol. 183, 2019,
  • Ignacio Calderón-Vásquez, Eduardo Cortés, Jesús García, Valentina Segovia, Alejandro Caroca, Cristóbal Sarmiento, Rodrigo Barraza, José M. Cardemil, “Review on modeling approaches for packed-bed thermal storage systems”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 143, 2021,
  • Harmeet Singh, R.P. Saini, J.S. Saini, A review on packed bed solar energy storage systems, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 14, Issue 3, 2010,
  • Zebedee Kee, Joe Coventry, John Pye, “Boiling sodium and melting salt: Evaluation and optimisation of a novel solar–thermal system concept”, Applied Thermal Engineering, Vol. 218, 2023,
  • J. Coventry, J.F. Torres, Z. Kee, M. V. Bozorg, M. Taheri, A. Mojiri, J. Pye, S. Bell, G. Will, T. Steinberg, Packed bed thermal energy storage with sodium as the heat transfer fluid, Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference, Sydney, Dec 2021,

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