OPERATIONAL FLEXIBILITY FOR A RELIABLE AND RENEWABLE GRID
By Ms Nancy Van Nieuwenhove | 5th May 2019 (updated 09/03/2021)
Dr Semini Wijekoon
Research Fellow, Optimisation, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University
Research interests: energy and power systems optimisation, optimisation models, renewable energies, renewable energies, national electricity grid planning systems, Data61
Dr Semini Wijekoon is a research fellow at Monash University working with Professor Ariel Liebman, Professor Peter Stuckey and Professor Mark Wallace on a Data61 CSIRO project. “Our small team, focusing on power system related problems with optimisation and machine learning applications, addresses wide range of problems related to current issues. Everyone has different expertise and strengths related to the field”.
Semini has a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Electrical and Computer Systems, First Class (Monash University Malaysia). “After my graduation, I wanted to work towards renewable energy. With global warming and extreme weather conditions, I wanted to play my part to reduce carbon emissions by helping the switch to a 100% renewable grid”.
She did a PhD with Professor Ariel Liebman, Dr Simon Dunstall (Data 61, CSIRO) and Dr Aldeida Aleti (Monash University). Semini’s PhD research focused on Co-optimisation of Power Network and Renewable Investment. "During my PhD, I looked at optimisation methods to solve power system planning problems with increased model details, to enable the transition from coal-gas based generation to wind-solar based generation".
Fossil fuel and renewable energy differ in the stability of energy generation, with renewable sources being more variable, requiring more operational flexibility to ensure a reliable grid. “When the renewable energy shared in the system increases, due to high variability in renewable sources, it is likely to require more investment in flexibility measures, such as flexible generators (generators with high ramping capabilities) and battery storage to maintain supply demand balance at all time. But the current practices lack tools to capture this operational flexibility with actual cost factors, chronological data and accurate representation of the operational model. Therefore, my research focused on developing algorithms to incorporate operational flexibility in capacity expansion problems. I looked at how to improve the existing methods or develop new methods to solve the problems with the compulsory features. We found that incorporating operational flexibility significantly changes the future generation mix, especially when a large share of existing generation comes from renewable energy”.
The current project she is working on is an extension from her PhD project. "I look at how the developed algorithms perform with the Australian grid. More specifically, the project aims to investigate impact of incorporating flexibility in Australian NEM and how that would change the investment decisions. Hopefully, this will aid to make robust investment decisions and to make sure a grid with 100% renewable energy is reliable and secure".
Semini hopes for an increase of renewable energy to be generated in the existing grid “Australia’s key source of energy is still coal. Although, Australia is working towards more renewable generation by 2030, Australia has still got a long way to go. Monash showed the example with its ambitious Net Zero initiative. Net Zero is not just about producing sustainable energy, but also about reducing consumption and improving efficiency (such, as LED lighting, all electric appliances and sthe mart buildings that can control the temperature to reduce energy consumption).