University of Wollongong researchers will pilot a “mixed-use” residential and commercial microgrid to demonstrate how solar, storage and demand management can help power communities in the future – in some cases offering a more reliable and lower cost energy supply than the traditional network.
The microgrid project, led by UoW’s Australian Power Quality Research Centre (APQRC), has received $1.1 million from the NSW government to operate as a “living laboratory” to explore the viability of using on-site clean energy generation to power communities.
The so-called Clean Energy Living Laboratory, or CELL, will use electricity generated by 468 solar panels on the roof of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) – roughly 300kW – to power that building as well as a net-zero house and on-campus student accommodation.
The microgrid will also have battery storage, which APQRC research coordinator Sean Elphick says will be rated to almost the entire load, but one of the key focuses of the project will be on demand management.
“So what we would do if we knew that we were going to go to an island situation [and isolate the microgrid from the local network] is to reduce our demand as much as we possibly could,” Elphick told One Step Off The Grid.
“So that a we can keep the battery size down… in terms of kilowatts, but also to make the kilowatt-hours go as far as they can.”
To that end, Siemens is a partner in the project, and will be helping the UoW team with the microgrid control systems that will combine with existing building management systems that have been put in place at the university.
“Siemens’ … overall control system would be talking to those BMS systems and you know, turning off non-essential load or potentially throttling back air conditioning, all that sort of thing, to bring demand down as much as we can [when the microgrid is islanded],” Elphick says.
Essentially, the CELL microgrid aims to give researchers a better idea of the viability of using on-site energy systems to power whole communities looking to reduce their reliance on the grid.
“Microgrids will become critical components of the distributed and low-emission electricity systems of the future, facilitating decentralised, resilient and low-carbon electricity supply,” Elphick says.
“This project will deliver a flagship mixed-use, precinct-based microgrid highlighting both the benefits and challenges of deploying such a system within the National Electricity Market.
“It will also provide comprehensive and open data on real-world usage, and enable critical research as a unique living laboratory for best practices in microgrid design, deployment and operation.”
Elphick says that while the main sources of energy demand across the CELL will come from heat pump air conditioning and heating and hot water, there are a lot of small loads to manage, too.
“So in our building here, obviously, it’s a commercial building – you’re looking at computers and lighting and all that sort of stuff that you’d see in a normal office space.
“And over the other side, you’ve got the, you know, the standard residential loads. Again, there’s a lot of lighting over there, but televisions and computers … and kettles.”
Once the microgrid is up and running, it will be made available to the general public to to observe clean energy technology solutions at work. Not unlike the award-winning net-zero Illawarra Flame House, which was built on campus to demonstrate net-zero energy retrofitted home, and will form part of the microgrid.
“A lot of what we’re installing here is pretty mature technology,” says Elphick. “So, you know, we’re installing some more solar generation, it’s a mature technology, the battery technology is fairly mature.
“The demand-side aspect of things is potentially less mature. But again, we’ve got … multiple inverters, a building management system, microgrid control.
“If the whole system is going to work the way that we intend all of those things needs to talk to each other and that’s not straightforward, necessarily – and it’s certainly not standardised. So that’s one key aspect [of the project].
“The other aspect of this is … to make this infrastructure available to people so they can come here and actually see it in operation and and get some assurance that, you know, they can do this in their own home and it works. And it’s, you know, demystifying the whole thing.
“And the third aspect of it is the infrastructure will be available as a laboratory platform for technology developers to come and actually prototype and develop their equipment here.
“So the difference there is …we have a lab here that can do that sort of thing at the moment, but it’s limited to about 30kW. With this new infrastructure, we’ll be able to supply a facility that can evaluate equipment up to maybe a couple of hundred kilowatts… which is quite large.”