Semini Wijekoon

OPERATIONAL FLEXIBILITY FOR A RELIABLE AND RENEWABLE GRID

Semini Wijekoon

3rd year PhD candidate, Optimisation, Faculty of IT, Monash University

Research interests: energy and power systems, generation and transmission expansion planning, optimization models, renewable energies, unit commitment

Semini Wijekoon

Semini Wijekoon is a 3rd year PhD candidate at Monash University supervised by Associate Professor Ariel Liebman (Monash University), Dr Simon Dunstall (Data 61, CSIRO) and Dr Aldeida Aleti (Monash University). She won the best student presentation at National Conference of the Australian Society of Operations Research 2018, for her talk “Incorporating Unit Commitment in Generation and Transmission Expansion Planning through Scenario Decomposition Approach” (ASOR 2018).

Semini gained experience in energy systems at Monash University Malaysia where she did a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Electrical and Computer Systems, First Class. “I always preferred subjects related to energy and power systems. Specially, 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”.

Semini’s PhD research focuses on Co-optimisation of Power Network and Renewable Investment. “Initially, I wanted to work as an electrical engineer focusing on renewable energy-based generators. It changed when I received the opportunity to do a PhD around power systems planning with renewable energy. I’m essentially looking at how can we change the existing grid with coal-gas based generation to wind-solar based generation. I used wind-solar because that’s the most common renewable if people want to install them at a large scale”.

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 focuses on developing algorithms to incorporate operational flexibility in capacity expansion problems. I’m looking at what features are compulsory and what to leave out and how to improve the existing methods or develop new methods to solve the problems with the compulsory features. We found that just by incorporating ramping constraints accuracy can be improved. And incorporating operational flexibility significantly changes the future generation mix, especially when a large share of existing generation comes from renewable energy”.

Semini feels privileged to be at Monash. The facilities, the human and financial resources, the sharing of expertise enhanced her PhD experience. “Our small team, focusing on power system related problems with optimisation and machine learning applications, addresses wide range of problems related to current issues. In our cohort, we have the perfect balance between meeting people and hiding behind a desk. Everyone has different expertise and strengths related to the field. Being part of this lab provide us good exposure and great networking opportunities”.

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Semini hopes for an increase of renewable energy to be generated in the existing grid “Australia’s key source of energy is still coal due to multiple factors. Although they are working towards 20% renewable generation by 2020, Australia has still got a long way to go. Monash showed the example with its Net Zero initiative. I feel proud to be part of Monash, pioneering in such an ambitious project. It supports the future I believe we should have in terms of energy. And 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 smart buildings that can control the temperature to reduce energy consumption). As these technologies are either market driven, or policy driven, my next aim is to direct my career path towards market analysis or policy making to promote renewable energy”.