Happy 2021 from the Monash Energy Institute!

As we start 2021, let’s reflect on what we achieved together across the Monash Energy Institute community in 2020.

Having stepped into a new role as Director of the Monash Energy Institute in August, in the middle of the Australian bushfire crisis and Melbourne lockdown, I reflected on how interconnected we are with the natural, social and built environments. The bushfire season in Australia has raised questions about fire management and fires’ impacts on essential services such as electricity and water. At the same time, the pandemic has forced us to think carefully about energy access and energy justice.

We have inherited an extremely organised Institute from former Director, Professor Jacek Jasieniak, who has moved into the Associate Dean of Research role in the Faculty of Engineering. Together with my Deputy Director Dr Roger Dargaville, we have a critical job to facilitate and coordinate Monash University’s contribution to address significant societal challenges.

With climate scientists telling us that the 1.5-degree trajectory demands that global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 50% between 2020 and 2030, we will continue to apply our research and student community’s capabilities to accelerate the transition towards a low carbon economy. I feel it’s one of the most important contributions we, as researchers, can make to Australia and the world the coming years.

Figure ES.5. Global GHG emissions under different scenarios and the emissions gap in 2030 (from the Emissions Gap Report 2020, by UNEP, UNEP DTU Partnership).

We need to change the way we produce and use energy to mitigate climate change while eradicating energy poverty. We have all the building blocks for accelerated decarbonisation of the electricity sector. Wind and solar technologies are increasingly replacing coal and gas-fuelled energy generation, because they are cheaper than fossil generation’s operating costs, and storage technologies are close to becoming market competitive. Moreover, hydrogen and ammonia show significant promise for long-range energy transportation (e.g. green ammonia exports) and the transport and manufacturing sectors.

However, variable renewable generation relies on new technologies to efficiently and reliably integrate energy supply into the electric network. Researchers from Monash Energy Institute's Grid Innovation Hub (GIH) are undertaking studies into how additional renewable energy can be connected to our electric grid. The project co-funded by the GIH and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) supports AusNet Services, AEMO and Hitachi-ABB to develop ways to use “Grid Forming Inverters” to integrate more wind and solar farms into weak grids.

In March 2020, Monash University and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) launched the Zema Energy Studies Scholarship, a world-class PhD program for the nation’s future energy leaders. The program honours the legacy of former CEO of AEMO and Monash alumnus, the late Mr Matt Zema. We welcomed our inaugural AEMO Zema scholar Lakshan Bernard, who is working on combining novel Machine Learning and AI techniques with traditional power system analysis tools to improve grid operation in the presence of renewables.

Last year, Monash University, in partnership with seven other collaborating universities and over 80 industry partners, received a commonwealth government funding to tackle challenges in the Australian energy, manufacturing and services sectors. This funding was granted to set up the industry, and public interest-focused Cooperative Research Centre named Reliable Affordable Clean Energy for 2030 or RACE for 2030. Monash is leading one of the four key research programs: RACE for Networks. Our Monash researchers have an opportunity to work on energy-driven challenges to help drive the energy transition through development and deployment of cleaner and smarter energy technologies. In 2020, several pilot projects started the RACE journey with many more collaborations, projects and exciting work to come in the upcoming years to fulfil RACE’s vision of the customer-centred clean energy transition.

The development and deployment of current and future solutions require a multidisciplinary lens, and many of our researchers will find they can contribute in ways that don’t seem obvious. We will continue to support more energy researchers in identifying ways to tackle these challenges jointly with our stakeholder community; that includes our industry partners, state governments and the global research partners.

Looking back over 2020, it is remarkable how much we achieved given the challenging year. I sincerely wish to thank and acknowledge our Monash Energy Community, many of whom have helped us keep the Institute’s activities vibrant and significant initiatives on track and even accelerating. In particular, our Monash Energy Institute team: General Manager Shreejan Pandey, Marketing and Communications Manager Nancy Van Nieuwenhove, and Web and Graphic Designer Mara Jorgovic, for leading many significant accomplishments around our five themes with the help of our Associate Directors: Professor Sarah Pink and Associate Professor Yolande Strengers (Consumers), Dr Roger Dargaville (Energy resources), Professor Mainak Majumder (Materials and devices), Scott Ferraro (Monash Net Zero Initiative), Associate Professor Guillaume Roger (Markets and policy), and of course our Executive Council and Industry Advisory Council.

Last year, we hosted the Energy Research Institutes Council for Australia (ERICA) and ran a webinar series enabling research-based findings to shape the Australian energy discussion. This year, I will Chair ERICA and host the ERICA State-of-Energy-Research Conference, a flagship national event to exchange knowledge, influence policy and shape Australia’s energy research direction. This conference first ran in 2019.

Monash University, together with industry partner Indra and ARENA, continues to play a leading role in transforming Australia’s electricity system, with the Monash Smart Energy City project aiming to modernise Australia’s energy system and reach net zero emissions by 2030.

The collaborative network of researchers and industry members contributed to the energy sector through seminars, webinars and events. The Monash Energy Institute’s engagement with our Energy Community resulted in webinars across our major initiatives with over 50 experts exploring various cross-disciplinary solutions to energy challenges. We also inaugurated our Monash Energy YouTube Channel that enabled us to reach a growing national and international audience and resulted in new collaborations. A big thank you to our researchers and international experts who took part in the series.

We’re looking forward to a very active 2021 agenda focused on interdisciplinary projects in the energy sector across all of Monash. We will be running events to build the Monash Energy Research community through a range of forums, seminars and workshops throughout the year together with our industry partners. We will continue to encourage more Monash researchers to join our Monash Energy Community and help us transition to a greener future. We can do it together!

Professor Ariel Liebman

Department of Data Science and AI, Faculty of Information Technology
Director, Monash Energy Institute
Chair, Energy Research Institute’s Council for Australia
Program Leader, RACE for Networks Program, RACE for 2030 CRC