Monash Microgrid - AIE YEP Tours

Colin Gillam showing the key components of the battery, part of the Monash Microgrid Initiative.
Credits: Mr Peter Lusis, Monash PhD candidate, Chair of the Young Energy Professionals network (YEP).

MONASH UNIVERSITY AS LIVING LABORATORY

The Young Energy Professionals Melbourne Network, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Energy, facilitated a discovery tour of Australia’s largest behind-the-meter hybrid energy storage at Monash Clayton Campus on the 3rd and 31st May 2019.

For Mr Peter Lusis, Monash PhD candidate at Monash University, Chair of YEP, the Monash Microgrid bridges the gap between academic research and industry. In May, two tours of the battery were organised. Peter comments “A tour of the Monash Microgrid was an opportunity to present some of the research done at Monash to people from the industry. We will probably repeat the tour later this year as there is a strong interest from industry to learn about future technologies”.

Across all campuses and off-campus sites, Monash University, consumes about 100GWh of electricity per year. Monash has already made an important step forward by committing to be powered by 100% renewable energy through the University’s Net Zero Initiative. Mr Tim Hoban led the Microgrid Tours seminar, outlining the elements which make up the innovative program, from energy efficiency measures, shifting away from gas (~350 TJ of gas in 2018) to full campus electrification. “I discussed the various projects that sit under the Net Zero initiative and range from energy efficiency projects, such as LED lighting upgrades, to upgrading our mechanical assets and campus electrification. What we are trying to do with our grid-connected Microgrid project is to treat our Clayton campus as a living laboratory. Leveraging our infrastructure investment to demonstrate and model how future cities might look like. We are trying to have all the technologies in place and test out how they interact with each other. For us it’s not about committing to a single technology, it’s about keeping technology agnostic and including them all in the mix, because that’s how the future energy market is going to work, as new technology comes in. We want to be flexible and open to accept new technologies.”

Tim summarised “A Microgrid is like a small version of the network, it includes generation, load and potentially forms of storage. If you think about the energy grid as it is, it’s like big centralised generators and the users are all spread out. A microgrid is just a shrunk version of that with generation and users in the same place. A typical application of this is an island, if you think that an island it’s not connected to anything else, it needs to have enough generation to serve all its loads. The major difference for our campus microgrid is that we want to remain grid-connected and help support the grid when it needs it and help manage our energy and cost of electricity. We have a strong and reliable supply of electricity and the cost of installing enough generation on site to meet our all our demand isn’t worth it. At the moment, we are piloting the microgrid across 1/3 of our Clayton Campus. In the future, once we have proved up the technology, it would be great to apply this to the other campuses as well. “

Energy storage is at the core of a renewable energy future and is a key part of the Monash Microgrid. The hybrid battery is located on the roof of the Monash Biomedical Learning and Teaching Building, which boasts a high-performance passive house design. Peter mention that for most participants, it was the first time they saw a flow battery, since so few are deployed today. But the idea of having the battery on top of a building raised the idea that “every building could be energy self-sufficient”.

Most questions from the audience were related to the technical and economic feasibility of the battery. "The Monash Microgrid will be able to receive and store various renewable energies; including solar energy from rooftop solar power (1.5MW of solar arrays). The microgrid’s 1MWh storage system is hybrid solution between two complementary technologies – 120kW/ 120kWh C1-rated lithium battery (short duration energy system) and a 180kW/900kWh vanadium flow battery (long duration energy system) and can better meet the full range of customer energy requirements. Lithium ion batteries can deliver high power requirements quickly but only for short periods (short life span – every time it is used it wears out), whilst flow batteries are suited to heavy-energy applications over many hours and have electrolyte that never degrades (long life span – so could provide 80% of the power required at low cost)” summarises Mr Colin Gillam.

For Tim, having these two systems allows Monash to have more flexibility and a longer life-span storage system. “At the moment, on a per kW basis, Lithium-ion is cheaper, but, like your mobile phone, the more you use it, the quicker it degrades. With flow, it doesn’t degrade. So, looking at it over a long period of time, if you were running your Lithium ion as you were running your Vanadium redox-flow, you would need to replace it roughly every 8-10 years depending on the application. Whereas Vanadium redox-flow has a 20-25 years life span. Also, if you have to replace big units like that it could be quite disruptive to the operation of the building, we needed cranes to get them into the building during construction so to take them out will require the same. So, the longer life-span battery is a stronger asset to the building itself".

If you didn't get the chance to go on one of those Tours, please explore by yourself via the Virtual walk-through of the Battery. Building and Property Division and redT worked with Monash Tech School to create this teaching resource for Year 8 Super Powers Program.

THE INTERDISCIPLINARY BUSINESS OF ENERGY

The system is likely to be switched on for use very soon and will be a key platform of Monash’s Smart Energy City project. The grid-connected Microgrid will treat individual buildings as separate ‘customers’ to ensure replicability to different energy markets.

Tim stresses the interdisciplinary aspect of the business of energy. “You need to manage the physics of the grid, the market that sits on top, you must think about the users themselves, and how they interact with the grid, how they envisage energy and the ways they use it. Then, you have the legal protections to make sure vulnerable customers are not taken advantage of. So, the entire project is incredibly interdisciplinary, and we want to model this with our campus. Once you have all these systems in place, how do you use these different buildings as separate customers and trade energy between them. We have postdocs developing different algorithms for Transactive Energy Market, one in the Faculty of Engineering (Electrical Engineer) and another one, in the Faculty of IT. There is also research happening in battery chemistry, redT provided some funding to the School of Chemistry to research the electrolyte they are using. Commodity prices for Vanadium can fluctuate wildly, so it’s a large variable in the cost of building the batteries and they are looking for ways to limit the amount of Vanadium required or increase the efficiency of their batteries.

Tour participant Associate Professor Ariel Liebman adds “The microgrid market operator platform will build on the optimisation platform developed under the Smart Energy City project. The idea is to develop new market paradigms that allow "behind-the-meter" energy consumers to be rewarded for providing demand balancing services to the wholesale energy market operator to help integrate more renewable energy. Another example of where IT and AI will play a big role”.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF ENERGY LOOK LIKE IN TERMS OF RESOURCES AND TECHNOLOGIES?

Scott Ferraro

Scott mentions that what Monash is trying to do with the Microgrid is to try to develop solution to integrate 100% renewable in the broader grid, and to show how a grid-interactive precinct could help the broader network cope with the increased intermittent power generation. If Monash can show that there is a viable business model to do this, the future might be made of many of these grid-interactive microgrids around the country, supporting the grid. “The microgrid fits into the broader Net Zero strategy where we are treating our campuses as Living Laboratories to develop and test technologies, business models and new regulatory and market frameworks. I couldn’t find a better place to test those new technologies and approaches than a university. You have got the combination of a large group of assets you can leverage in a real city environment, plus leading thinkers in this space to develop and translate these solutions. We are not only doing things for ourselves as a commercial entity, but also to share the learnings to accelerate decarbonisation of the global economy. There is a massive opportunity for Australia to be a leader in decarbonisation and take advantage of the economic opportunities this brings, and we want to play a role in accelerating this.”

Colin Gillam

For Colin, the focus needs to be on research to create cost effectively flexible storage. “4 or 5 years ago it was the boom of solar and wind energies despite government policies and action to stop projects. The costs and returns eventually made projects viable without subsidies. We are at a stage where there is too much intermittent energy all generating at the same time, causing constraints on the network and low energy prices at these times. There is a “Momentum for Renewable”. Now, we need to figure out how to cost effectively create flexible storage. The need for those hybrid batteries will build, and prices will drop just like solar. I developed and built several Solar farms but moved away to focus on storage issue because of the stalling of future projects due to poor returns from low prices. What customers want is zero problems and reliable energy on demand. That’s why it’s important to work with researchers all over the world trying to find the best ways to do storage.”

Tim Hoban

Tim want to see more policy direction for the future of energy and he imagines a decentralised system made of microgrids inter-connected sharing energy between themselves “Rather than having one big centralised generation system that pumps the electricity from one area to the rest of the state, what we will see is a lot of small district type of systems, where you have got local generation, you have got local load, local storage and they will interact with different districts next door to them. There will be a bunch of little grids, inter-connected and sharing energy between themselves. There will be much more value for these types of technologies and it will help lower the return on investment which will further encourage people to invest and you will get that happening in different areas. Right now, the uncertainty of policy makes people hesitant to make investments. When there is policy certainty, people are much more confident to make long term investments which is what these technologies need. Solar has really kicked off for different areas of Australia and at the Household-level. Batteries are following a similar reduction in price as we saw in solar years ago.”

Peter Lusis

For Peter, the use of a microgrid depends on the location “After Australia has invested so much in building a resilient electricity network, we should take advantage of the assets we have. After all, the grid is your best battery. However, in the rural and remote areas, microgrids could be a better solution. An example is Western Australia’s Horizon Power who is taking communities in the Pilbara region off the grid and providing a microgrid setup instead, as a more reliable and cost-effective option to supply power". For Peter, there will not be one winning solution. “As presented at the first Australian State of Energy Research Conference 2019, there are many battery storage technologies that will compete with lithium-ion storage in the future. And this is great; let the market decide what storage technology is more appropriate for each business case. Also, Solar PV alone won't be able to economically provide all the power we need. Concentrated solar power (CSP), wind and hydro should be complementary (not competing) technologies”.


Mr Scott Ferraro is Program Director of the Net Zero Initiative which aim to transit Monash University Australian operations to net zero emissions by 2030, Net Zero emissions required under the Paris Agreement. Scott holds a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering and a Masters in Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management. Scott is a leader in net zero emission strategy development and implementation, with a deep understanding of the opportunities to reduce emissions across the energy, transport and buildings sectors.

Mr Colin Gillam leads redT’s activities in Australia and South East Asia, working closely with customers to advise them on how to deploy energy storage most effectively to achieve their commercial goals. He is the Australasian Manager, Energy Storage Solutions at redT Energy Australia. Colin is an experienced Managing Director, CEO, General Manager and Project Director with over 20 years’ experience working in the renewable energy sector (focussed on solar thermal, solar PV, storage and EV chargers) and sustainability industries. In his roles, he supports commercial and utility scale renewable energy developers with heavy duty cycling, large scale, long life storage solutions to enable greater penetration of solar, wind and clean power systems.

Mr Tim Hoban is the Project Engineer for Monash University’s Net Zero Initiative. Working with the University’s Building and Property Division, to develop and implement the strategy to transition the University to operate on 100% renewable energy. Tim's experience lies in energy efficiency programs, energy audits, renewable energy implementation, business case development and detailed energy modelling. He is now focused on the development of innovative technologies and solutions to manage building controls and energy demands through the Monash Smart Energy City project and the  Cognitive Building & Smart campus programs.

Mr Peter Lusis learned about the Monash microgrid project as an exchange student in 2016, what made him consider undertaking a PhD. He is designing the most cost-effective solution on how to accommodate more solar PV in residential areas while providing a safe network operation. “Understand the network physical and operational limits, bring all this information into an optimisation model, consider relevant energy policies, electricity tariffs, as well as investment and maintenance costs”.