Deakin Uni launches renewable microgrid, with Australia’s biggest on-campus solar farm

A $23 million renewable energy microgrid that includes a 2MWh battery storage system and Australia’s largest on-campus solar farm at 7MW, has been switched on in Victoria by Deakin University.

The microgrid was launched at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds campus in Geelong on Tuesday as the latest “bleeding edge” renewable energy development by a tertiary institution in Australia, following notable efforts by Monash University, also in Victoria, and the University of Queensland, as well as many others.

This particular system, however, does lay claim to the largest solar farm ever built on an Australian university campus, at 7MW, and one of the largest behind-the-meter PV generation assets in the country, too. According to the director of Deakin Energy, Dr Adrian Panow, the microrgid will ultimately supply more than half of the campus’ energy demand.

Panow says the solar component of the microgrid – which was designed and built in partnership with AusNet Services and Mondo Power – combines more than 23,000 PV ground-mounted panels and a further 833 on campus rooftops, including student residences.

“The scale of the … project is important in two ways: achieving our carbon neutral objectives and providing a platform for industry-relevant research,” he said.

“The research focus incorporated into the design of the infrastructure builds on consultation with universities around the world, including Princeton and the University of California at San Diego.”

Deakin says its energy platform has drawn on internationally recognised capabilities and facilities for sustainable energy development across the University, including the Institute for Frontier Materials, BatTRI-Hub, the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), and the Faculty of Business and Law.

Beyond its role in research – and, of course, the economic benefits of solar self-generation and consumption – Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin wants the university to “lead by example” with the microgrid, making a positive contribution in the collective fight against climate change and a big step to the University’s own goal to be carbon neutral by 2025.

“Australia is in a strong position to benefit from moving rapidly in this endeavour, and at Deakin, we believe we have a duty to use our capabilities and assets to demonstrate both ambition and leadership on the issue of renewables,” Professor Martin said in a speech at the microgrid launch.

“We want to be a working example – a ‘living lab’ – of how a large organisation can lead through its actions and fundamentally change its ways of doing. This includes the complete, systemic integration of sustainability across all our activities.

“To achieve a sustainable energy future in Australia, it will require a long-term, cross-sector, collective effort. We require a bi-partisan political commitment over the next few decades; the political and community leadership required will be significant.”

Deakin’s efforts have attracted the attention of the CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council, Luke Menzel, who visited the microgrid a few weeks ago and documented the visit on LinkedIn.

“2MWh battery, largest behind the meter solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere, and big plans to manage onsite loads to match supply. Impressive stuff,” Menzel wrote beneath a photo of the solar project.

“Monash and Deakin, two great EEC members doing bleeding edge work with microgrids, with very different opportunities and constraints,” he added.

Monash, as One Step Off The Grid has reported, has been chipping away at its own hybrid renewables and storage microgrid at its Clayton campus, which once claimed Australia’s biggest behind-the-meter battery system – a 180kW/900kWh vanadium redox flow battery and a 120kW/120kWh C1-rated lithium battery.

The $7.1 million Monash Smart Energy City project – which has won grant funding from both ARENA and the Victorian state government – aims to connect 20 buildings across the Clayton campus and run them entirely on the University’s own smart embedded network of renewables and battery storage, using the Advanced Grid Management software platform of Indra Australia.

The University of Queensland, meanwhile, has built a 64MW solar farm – although not on-campus – and in 2019 flicked the switch on its own 1.1MW/2.2MWh Tesla energy storage system as part of a goal to become 100 per cent renewably powered by onsite generation.

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