A smart solar and battery trial on an island off Tasmania is being touted as creating the forerunner for Australia’s energy future.
Lachlan Blackhall, head of the Australian National University’s battery storage and grid integration program said the trial, carried out with 40 households on Bruny Island off the coast of Tasmania, was designed to create a microcosm of a future Australian electricity grid.
Led by the Network Aware Coordination (NAC) platform – a series of smart algorithms that control multiple solar and battery installations to push power into the grid when it is needed – the trial allowed Australians to tap into the grid and become power producers themselves, earning money while the sun shone.
The battery project was not focused on replacing the main power sources, rather supplementing it and reducing the island’s reliance on diesel generation during summer and periods of peak demand.
The NAC for power
The NAC technology compiled data from all the household solar and battery storage systems, as well as energy consumption rates, through an internet connection and coordinated when the stored power should be pushed back into the network for the greatest benefit of the participants and the grid.
“In the same way that traffic lights coordinate the flow of cars and trucks on the road, the Network-Aware Coordination platform coordinates the flow of energy from residential solar and batteries to networks and markets to ensure the efficient and reliable operation of the electricity grid,” the ANU said.
Mr Blackhall said it differed from the virtual power plants that use also homeowners battery and solar power to provide power back into the grid – such as those in underway in South Australia or Canberra – as it “makes sure it is using all participants’ solar and battery installations in the most efficienct way by talking to all installations to decide when it needs to collaborate and provide power at the best price”.
He said the study also highlighted the increasingly important role of consumers and how they are shifting from simply using energy to become a ‘prosumer’, both a producer and consumer of energy.
“This has really underlined the important role that consumers will play in the future electricity system.”
The process also ensured all the participants’ data remained private while at the same time negotiating the best price for them when their energy was fed back into the grid.
A scalable solution
ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor Sylvie Thiébaux said the trial “has also demonstrated how the NAC approach can solve wider grid problems, in particular, those that can arise through the mass deployment of renewables and battery storage”.
“This paves the way for a more intelligent way to operate our grids reliably while collaborating with consumers to make the best use of the resources they are installing.”
The ANU added that it will help networks improve operations at normal times, reduce stress during times of peak demand, and remove the need for costly network upgrades over the long term.
ANU Research School of Engineering’s Dr Dan Gordon said the trials also demonstrated that it could be scaled up for a city, a state or all of Australia.
“One of the great things about NAC is that it is a distributed algorithm,” Dr Gordon said.
“Each customer’s system acts in their own best interest, and privacy is retained – yet we arrive at a solution which is better for everyone.
“Each customer’s system performs relatively easy calculations, which don’t get harder as more customers are added. The vision is that NAC could be scaled up to a large ecosystem of residential and distributed energy providers.”
The project was a joint venture between the University of Tasmania, which examined the social acceptance of the technology; the University of Sydney, which calculated the battery payment structures; the Australian National University, which deployed the network aware coordinating algorithms to bring together the battery network; TasNetworks, which controlled the distribution of energy; Reposit Power, which ran the energy trading and control system, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) which provided around $2.9 million in funding.
Mr Blackhall said UTAS’s investigation of social acceptance studied the perception of these kinds of programs and issues around uptake of the technology.
“When we talk about new technology we often assume people will adopt because it’s available or can help them, however, the key challenge is getting people interested in learning more about security and supply of energy,” he said.
“It’s fundamental for the future of this technology.”
The program will continue to run until mid-next year.