Monash University trials Smart City microgrid

DER-intensive microgrids - what is their value in stabilising networks?

Are self-sufficient embedded microgrids the solution to reinforcing the grid edge? Australia’s NetZero project aims to find out.
Published: Wed 14 Feb 2018

When it comes to a live test case of integrating distributed energy resources into the grid, Australia is an excellent example.

Network operators have moved beyond theoretical models of how to incorporate vast volumes of rooftop solar into the grid to the reality of juggling distributed generation and service reliability.

To give an example of the complexity and challenges facing distribution utilities, on one day in September 2017, residential rooftop solar supplied 48% of all power in South Australia.

That same year, the state experienced blackouts, which the Federal Government attributed to South Australia setting ambitious renewable energy targets before the electricity grid was able to cope, according to local reports.

In a bid to test how a grid-connected DER-intensive microgrid can build resilience into an urban network, Monash University, the largest academic institution in Australia, is trialling a scalable edge computing architecture.

This is part of the NetZero initiative, Monash University’s commitment to lead the way to a fully renewable energy future and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Testing smart city demands on a campus scale

By 2020, the university will have implemented an on-site microgrid at the largest of their campuses. More than 24,000 students currently study at the eight faculties on Clayton campus and 1,600 live on-site.

Tony Fullelove, Programme Director of NetZero Initiative at Monash University, told Engerati how the project “is grid-connected, as we believe most urban microgrids will be, taking advantage of incumbent grids with significant existing investment.

He continues, “However, we will also investigate the ability to increase reliability through running the whole campus at reduced capacity during an extreme event, or even islanding certain buildings with high levels of photovoltaic systems.”

Smart cities and microgrid demand

The microgrid is deployed across a diverse set of buildings and loads on campus meaning it “resembles a full range of high density residential commercial and industrial profiles”.

By deploying metering and designing the technical platforms to treat all buildings as individual customers, the solution is not only applicable to campuses, but replicable to real precincts and cities.

Fullelove, who has a background in utilities working at AGL Energy, one of Australia’s leading integrated energy providers, explains: “Microgrids of the type we are delivering at Monash should not add stress on to networks but should be part of the solution.”

Monitoring distribution assets in real time

A key challenge faced by the project, which is mirrored by DER-intensive urban networks, was monitoring and controlling power flows of distributed generation.

This is where technology and consulting company Indra’s Active Grid Management system (Indra.AGM) came in. Combining interoperability and Internet of Things edge software with real-time data collection and monitoring platforms, Indra.AGM was a key enabler to manage aggregated assets.

According to Giovanni Polizzi, Energy Solution Manager and Business Development at Indra: “The platform monitors all network-connected assets and processes data to perform grid operations through a combination of intelligent processing nodes at the edge of the network and a combination of distributed and centralised network analytics.”

With the ability to share information and connect to a range of grid devices as well as third-party systems, the nodes are also able to use and publish data, creating a highly interoperable data platform.

Polizzi believes that the partnership between Indra’s technology and Monash University is “demonstrating how technology can transform the way the grid is managed, enabling the combined fast action of DERs with the direct result of greater capacity for integrating DERs and a much more decarbonised grid.”

Fullelove agrees that the Monash University pilot shows “the value that these systems can bring to an ageing, more distributed and potentially unreliable grid”.

Key microgrid learnings for utilities - webinar

For more information on the project, its progress and implementation, please join us in our Engerati immersive webinar "DER-intensive microgrids: How Monash University scaled edge computing"