Imagine a city 100% powered by renewables…

Imagine a city 100 per cent powered from renewable sources, controlled in real-time to orchestrate energy usage and facilitate interaction with the broader energy system.

This seemingly utopian vision is getting closer to reality with the development of a microgrid on the Monash University Clayton campus underway.

Started in October 2018 as part of the Smart Energy City project, a joint initiative by Monash University with industry partner Indra and co-funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the microgrid development has reached its first milestone.

We review here what has been achieved, what has been learnt and how the project is now transitioning towards the development of a Transactive Energy Market.

Aimed to be completed by late 2020, the Smart Energy City platform involves the installation of smart control technology to allow communication between the University’s microgrid assets, the Active Grid Management layer and the wider electricity market, as well as the development of a Transactive Energy Market (TEM) to help customers provide services and access the available revenue streams.

“The Smart Energy City project will turn the challenge of coordinating distributed renewable energy sources and storage into opportunities to create a platform to enable an optimised flexible demand side” says Ariel Liebman, Deputy Director of the Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute (MEMSI) and Director of the Monash Grid Innovation Hub.

When completed, the microgrid will host various renewable sources distributed across campus, including a minimum of 1 MW of solar PV and 1 MWh of energy storage. It will also incorporate 20 buildings which have been enabled to act as flexible distributed energy resources (DER) and electric vehicle charging points.

The first stage of the project involved the integration of these DERs into a unified platform to monitor and control electricity flows and power quality.

So far, 50 per cent of DERs (or microgrid “assets”) have been integrated into Indra’s Onesait Active Grid Management (AGM), an industrial Internet of things (IoT) software platform that optimises the coordinated utilisation of DERs and loads.

Rather than relying on the conventional centralisation of data storage and computing, Onesait uses edge-computing, a way to store and process data closer to the device that produced it (the “edge” of the network) to  enable real-time monitoring at the low voltage network while streamlining the amount of data to the central platform.

Each network asset is connected to the AGM via a smart gateway node to collect, monitor, analyse and manage the data. The data is processed at each node and selectively distributed through the middleware, an intermediary software that enables communication between the central platform and distributed assets, as well as data access by third party software.

Figure 1: Monash Smart Energy City

The Smart Energy City project is developing a microgrid at Monash University’s Clayton campus, including 20 buildings, 1 MW of solar PV, 1 MWh of storage and EV charging infrastructure.


The decentralisation of the energy supply chain creates operational challenges in staying within grid constraints (frequency, voltage, power flow direction, etc.), that demand the transition from centralised control systems (limited number of assets, one-way energy flows in the distribution grid) to distributed and hybrid systems (managing multiple assets and multi-directional energy flows).

Centralised system architectures cannot cope with the scale and response times required for grid monitoring and control under the new paradigm, thus creating the need for robust, reliable and scalable edge architectures combined with centralised components. Onesait AGM provides such a scalable edge architecture to integrate the DERs.

The integration is a process in which AGM connects with the DERs via modbus (standard industry communication protocol), bringing the data into the system and making it available in the real-time data bus, iSPEED. Once the data is captured, iSPEED will transform it to make it identifiable, secure and available for the rest of the systems in the microgrid ecosystem.

The data captured on the field flows through a secure 3G/4G mobile network, hooked up via router-to-router VPN to Monash’s cloud instances, where the centralised components of the platform are maintained. The data available in iSPEED can then be consumed by different systems centralised or on the edge.

Figure 2: Smart Energy Framework

The Smart Energy Framework consists of three distinct layers which will enable prosumers to provide additional value to the market and be rewarded for this; Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Integration, Active Grid Management and Transactive Energy Management.


”This setup makes the communications seamless, allows the use of standard communications networks, and avoids the setup of expensive proprietary networks”, says German Burbano, Indra’s Energy Solutions Manager.

Figure 3: Active Grid Management Architecture

Indra’s Active Grid Management layer monitors and rapidly processes power system operations across the network via intelligent nodes at the edge of the network, and a centralised analytics engine.

Thus far, 500kW of solar PV, 7 buildings and the 1MW battery have been integrated to the AGM platform. The remaining DERs (EV charging station, and remaining buildings and PV) will be integrated in the subsequent stages of the project.

As part of the project’s first milestone, a number of use cases will be undertaken to demonstrate the data flow between the DER and the AGM; the available data will be published as part of the project’s knowledge sharing commitments.

Towards a transactive energy market

The second stage of the Smart City Energy project has commenced with the development of the Smart Energy Management layer for deployment at Monash. The focus is on developing a Transactive Energy Market (TEM) to orchestrate the microgrid assets to respond to either internal or external market signals. The second stage will also involve the integration of the AGM to the TEM.

Each connected DER asset will be enabled to participate in the TEM by providing flexible energy use in real-time to respond to the market pricing signals, locally and from the wholesale market and grid.

For example, when grid electricity is in high demand, Monash University could respond to an external signal asking the university to reduce its demand. This demand reduction, or flexibility, can be provided for example, by a reduction in a building’s energy demand or a discharge from the battery.

Each customer will autonomously expose to the TEM the level of flexibility they are willing and able to provide, and the TEM will use a market mechanism (currently under development) to determine which customers dispatch their flexibility.

In return, Monash will receive a payment for providing this service to the external market and in turn reward each customer a ‘service fee’ for providing the flexibility, ( electricity bill discount or other incentive).

Flexibility from customers will never be forced, and a built-in power quality management system will prevent any risk of a customer’s flexibility bid interrupting the electricity supply.

Figure 4: Smart Energy Manager layer

Smart Energy Management uses the aggregation and orchestration of DER flexibility and forecasting to enact energy management strategies such as optimising DERs and transactive energy markets.

To enable the operation of the TEM, information about the current and forecasted availability of power generation and storage, and load of each DER will be shared across the network.

Forecasting algorithms will be developed by academics within Monash’s Faculty of IT and Faculty of Engineering, both at each network node and centrally. Work on an Alpha version of the TEM is to commence in July and a fully operative and interactive TEM is expected to be delivered by October 2020.

The path to commercialisation

In  parallel  to the Smart Energy City project, the Microgrid Electricity Market Operator (MEMO) project aims to establish an entity responsible for the commercial operation of the Monash Microgrid. The greater vision is to develop a scalable model for replication outside of the University environment.

“Monash University is establishing a new type of business to manage and optimise the energy generation, storage and two-way power flows in the Clayton campus microgrid”, says Net Zero Initiative Program Director Scott Ferraro.

Targeted insights from the Smart Energy City project will support the uptake of microgrids on appropriate sites around Australia as well as smart-grids and virtual power plants across all distribution networks, by shedding light on costs and benefits of the Clayton campus microgrid, and potential contractual or regulatory arrangements needed to make this type of system a reality.

“This project will help us identify and anticipate problems in industry that arise from the uptake of new technologies, such as large amounts of rooftop solar, storage and electric vehicles, and the ability for consumers to be more empowered and active participants in the retail electricity market”, says Associate Professor Ariel Liebman

At the local level, the Smart Energy City project will allow Monash University to optimise its energy usage by accommodating and/or modifying energy consumption patterns.

The microgrid will also help stabilise the local power grid and make it more resilient to fluctuations in energy production and use, extreme weather events, as well as being an active participant in the wholesale National Electricity Markets as regulator frameworks adjust to new technologies.

More broadly, the Smart Energy City project will demonstrate that a 100 per cent renewable electricity system can operate reliably and affordably while delivering value to customers and reducing strain on the energy network.

As Australia heads towards an increasingly distributed energy system, the project will provide a replicable and scalable model that can be deployed beyond the boundaries of Monash University’s main campus.

This Project received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program

Scott Ferraro is Program Director, Net Zero Initiative Buildings and Property Division, Monash University

German Burbano is from Indra Australia

Annabelle Pontvianne is from the Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute

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