Announcing My ARENA Project: Real-time Operational PV Simulations for Distribution Network Service Providers

ARENA Project Launch - 13 April 2016

Members of the successful ARENA projects - who is that handsome guy front right? ;-)

Members of the successful ARENA projects - who is that handsome guy front right? ;-)

This has been a truly incredible week.  I have just returned from Perth, Australia where the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced the outcomes of their Industry-Researcher development funding round.  All up, 9 projects were funded, totaling over $17M in funding, comprising a very impressive array of projects.  Proudly, the ANU is leading 3 projects and pulled in $4.7M from the scheme!  And looking across the remaining 6 projects, I can't help but feel incredibly proud of the innovative work Australian researchers are doing, as well as be excited about the future of renewable energy Down Under!

What's great about this funding round, is that it required industry and researchers to work together, and put up projects which have clear commercialisation potential.  That means projects which are "real-world relevant" were required, which, if you know me, meant that I was pretty darn excited!  This funding round is exactly where my passions and interest lie, and it lines up very well with the government's desired outcomes from universities in Australia, and is well aligned with the big push for innovation across the higher education sector

So, Why was I there?

Why do this? Lemme explain..

Why do this? Lemme explain..

To answer that question, we need some background.

I have spent the last few years working on another ARENA project which has focused on distributed small scale solar forecasting via machine learning and computer vision techniques.  This was an ANU-NICTA collaboration, which will wrap up mid-2016, (just before NICTA is subsumed into Data61/CSIRO - cue the doomsday music!).  One of the outcomes of this project, was my PhD work on the Regional PV Simulations System (RPSS).

RPSS v1 during a positive collective ramp event

RPSS v1 during a positive collective ramp event

Version 1 of the RPSS was developed within my thesis, and produced a modelling environment which simulated 12,000+ small-scale solar PV systems in Canberra (based on December 2012 installation data from ActewAGL).  This used data from PV systems that reported their power output on PVOutput.org, which through the magic of KPV, I was able to upscale into city-wide simulations

In my thesis, I used several critical collective ramping events to demonstrate how quickly the power output from 12,000+ PV systems can change across an entire region.  This was a fun tool, but only worked with historical data and at surburb-level.  Read between the lines here: it was cool, but ultimately not directly useful. This is the type of science that would stay 'on-the-shelf'.

Enter RPSS Version 2

After I submitted my PhD, I continued to work on the RPSS, developing it up to version 2, which I launched at the Solar World Congress in Daegu, Korea in November 2015. This version featured two major upgrades:

  1. It worked with near real-time data from the PVOutput.org live solar API, updating every 5 minutes (check out the beta at http://rpss.info).
  2. It mapped the simulated PV systems to the transformer nodes on ActewAGL's distribution network (now it's actually useful!)
RPSS v2, live data and mapped to ActewAGL's network

RPSS v2, live data and mapped to ActewAGL's network

These significant advancements demonstrated my ability to take the science off the shelf, get it out of the lab, and into relevance.  Working with live data is not easy (which is why the current version is merely a clunky beta!), nor is convincing an electrical utility to give you detailed data about their distribution network, but it teaches you about the many things required to advance a science to a technology.  And if you're like me, you'll fall in love with the challenge.

It was this second version of the RPSS that I took forward to ARENA, requesting funding to deploy it to distribution networks around Australia in order to address the challenges with integrating high-penetrations of solar PV into Australian electricity networks.  Does that sound like fun to you? Because it sure as hell does to me!

The Challenge: High penetration solar PV

High penetration solar in a neighbourhood in Canberra - solar PV on every roof!

High penetration solar in a neighbourhood in Canberra - solar PV on every roof!

With more than 1.5 million solar PV systems installed to date, totaling more than 4.5GW of capacity, the maximum penetration levels of solar PV are being reached in some areas of Australia. (e.g. Ergon 3.5 kW per system limits, Horizon Power PV limits on radial style networks). 

This 'maximum penetration' level refers to the maximum allowable amount of solar PV a utility will allow on a given part of their network.  The key word here is 'allow'.  For the most part, Distribution Network Service Providers (DNSPs) are taking preventative approaches to distributed PV intermittency, imposing maximum penetration levels that are significantly lower than are technically achievable.

Ergon is limiting the size of individual solar PV systems on parts of their distribution network

Ergon is limiting the size of individual solar PV systems on parts of their distribution network

The Key issue: solar PV = ?

There is one key item that is holding DNSPs back from being more liberal with their maximum PV penetration levels: most Australian DNSPs have no active feedback quantifying how much electricity their embedded PV generators are currently producing at any given time.  On that note, they also don't know how much PV variability will occur in the near future, nor what has occurred in the past.  So how could they possibly manage the inevitable solar future where everyone has solar PV on their roof if they have no idea how much power they are generating at any given time?

This is the key knowledge gap my project will address:  quantifying the current and expected distributed PV power production across distribution networks in near real-time.  That means quantifying distributed PV power output with enough lead-time to do something about PV-induced voltage fluctuations.  In other words, using technology to enable proactive, rather than reactive, grid management. 

What We'll do in response to the Challenge

The solar knowledge gap: how much solar & when/where?

The solar knowledge gap: how much solar & when/where?

This project will take the Regional PV Simulation System (RPSS v2) and develop and deploy it as an operational software that provides distribution network service providers (DNSPs) with real-time distributed photovoltaic (PV) simulations that are mapped to their distribution network.  The output of these simulations will be directly aimed at the knowledge gap that exists between distributed PV integration challenges and their solutions (e.g. energy storage technologies and/or remote demand/supply management). 

HOW we'll do it: Key PArtnerships

Distributed solar PV simulations are not totally unique to my research, and are used by many other researchers in Australia and the rest of the world.  They are integrated into the APVI Solar Map, they are used in Clean Power Research's PV FleetView product, as well as in many related projects around the world.  Where this project sets itself apart from all others is in the consortium I pulled together to accomplish the task and the unique data that they will provide.

This project will be led by myself (Chief Investigator), with the ANU being the sole research partner. Everyone else is an industry partner, and I'm excited to tell you about them.  They fall into a few key categories:

1. Distribution Network Service Providers (DNSP)

DNSP partners ARENA

This project includes active participation from 6 DNSPs, who will provide information about the solar PV systems installed on their networks, so that we can deploy the RPSS to their service region. I am hopeful that more DNSPs will join this project in the near future.

Photo taken in lobby of Western Power's Head Office in Perth CBD

Photo taken in lobby of Western Power's Head Office in Perth CBD

Photo taken in Horizon Power's Head Office in Bentley, WA

Photo taken in Horizon Power's Head Office in Bentley, WA

2. TWo Inverter companies, an inverter wholesaler & a solar installer

One of the primary inputs to the RPSS is monitored solar PV data, which we currently get from PVOutput.org in the online beta version.  This isn't quite good enough, as this data is slow and unreliable, mostly because it comes from non-professional sources. 

This project will work with two inverter companies, SMA Australia and Fronius, to develop real-time, rapid update monitored PV data inputs to the RPSS.  The number of internet connected PV inverters is sky-rocketing, with Fronius installing 50/week at present.  This is an excellent and rapidly growing source of data.

Key project supporter & CTO/Owner of Si Clean Energy, Peter Bulanyi

Key project supporter & CTO/Owner of Si Clean Energy, Peter Bulanyi

This project is receiving significant support from inverter wholesaler, Si Clean Energy, with its involvement led by Owner/CTO Peter Bulanyi.  Peter has been the project's number one supporter from day one, and I would like publicly thank him for his adamant, steadfast support!  Si Clean Energy will also grant access to the AllSolus monitoring network of 1000+ irradiance sensors and PV sites across Australia. 

 

Benn Masters, Director of SolarHub & key project supporter

Benn Masters, Director of SolarHub & key project supporter

We will also be working with solar & battery installer SolarHub, who are a progressive, high-quality company based in Canberra.  SolarHub has been connecting a large number of monitoring systems to PV installations across Canberra, and will grant access to these data over the course of the project.  They have also been a key supporter of the project from its very beginnings, and I would like to also publicly thank Benn Masters, Director at SolarHub for his significant & strategic contributions to the project.

3. ADvisory support

Patrick Dale, Director, Aeris Capital

Patrick Dale, Director, Aeris Capital

Jesse Warburg, Associate Director Aeris Capital

Jesse Warburg, Associate Director Aeris Capital

We have two companies providing in-kind support to the project.  The first is Aeris Capital, whose Director Pat Dale and Associate Director Jesse Warburg are both very excited about the consortium in place and the technology we plan to develop.  Their role in the project is to help drive it toward valuable outcomes for industry and guide us through the commercialisation of the technology. 

Second, we'll have some input from local solar installer and owner of a solar PV monitoring device called the 'esquid', Soly Ltd., whom will provide technical advice into the project.

4. outreach support: Australian Photovoltaic Institute

Finally, we have negotiated a partnership with the Australian Photovoltaic Institute (APVI) to work simulations from the RPSS into the APVI Live Solar Map, which will expand upon the incredible work being done by this progressive and very important voice for solar in Australia.  This is a great place to insert kudos to Dr. Anna Bruce at UNSW for her excellent work on this APVI Live Solar Map, which is an invaluable contribution to solar PV science outreach.  I am very excited to help build upon their Live Solar Map tool, and contribute to improving on this impressive work out of UNSW. 

What we'll do: merging datasets, Deploying RPSS

RPSS modeled ramp events across 3 transformer nodes in ActewAGL's network.

RPSS modeled ramp events across 3 transformer nodes in ActewAGL's network.

Using our unique consortium of partners, we'll be deploying increasingly advanced versions of the RPSS to the distribution networks of each DNSP.  In the first year of the project (2016-2017), we'll deploy the RPSS v2, based on currently available PV monitoring data-streams like PVOutput.org or the AllSolus network.  This version will be about 10 minutes behind 'real-time' and will be based heavily off the existing work that I've done during my PhD.

In 2017-2018, we will advanced the RPSS to include real-time input data from the Himawari 8 satellite as well as rapid-update PV monitoring input from SMA Australia and Fronius, closing the gap between 'near real-time' and 'real-time' operations.  This version will include updates from the latest in PV simulation and solar radiation radiation research.

A selfie from my April 2016 visit with Western Power

A selfie from my April 2016 visit with Western Power

Then finally, in 2018-2019, we'll have all the kinks worked out of the simulation system, having advanced it to true real-time status across all participating DNSP networks.  This version will then be used in the control rooms of these DNSPs to appropriately manage intermittent, distributed PV power production. 

It is highly likely that they will be pairing distributed PV modelling data with technologies like energy storage, to raise the maximum penetration levels of PV across their electricity network.  After all, that is the entire goal!  I look forward to updating this blog throughout the course of the project.

Up Next: Putting together an enthusiastic talented Team!

This project will kick off from July 2016, so I am now looking to put together a team of creative and inspired Originals, who are ready to dedicate their energy to pulling off a fantastic, influential and real-world driven project.  At this time the team I envision looks something like this:

Are you a unique, passionate person with awesome ideas? Then I want YOU participating on this project!

Are you a unique, passionate person with awesome ideas? Then I want YOU participating on this project!

  • A project manager/power systems engineer
  • 1-2 software engineers
  • 2 postdoctoral researchers
  • 6-8 ANU PhD candidates
  • 6-8 International PhD candidate visiting students
  • 8-10 ANU Masters research students
  • 20-30 ANU undergraduate research students

The core team consists of the engineer, programmers & postdoctoral researchers. Each of this persons will be fully funded by the project. Each of these positions will be advertised via the ANU over the next few months.

The secondary team will consist of promising PhD candidates, masters students and undergraduates.  The project has limited funds for scholarships, so I am searching for students who can self-fund themselves.  This would mean an APA scholarship for domestic PhD students, or country of origin funding sources for international PhD students.  Masters and undergraduate students who are enrolled at The ANU can participate in the project through coursework credit. 

I will be putting together a "How to Work with Me" webpage for all ranges of students in the next few days! Stay tuned!

I am very excited to see what our team will look like in the near future and sincerely hope that anyone who wants to participate will get in contact with me.

That's enough for now!

Thanks for reading about this exciting project, and looking into my latest research update.  I am excited to share more information with you, as this project moves forward, and plan to ensure our experiences from this project are shared with research scientists Australia-wide.  Stay tuned!

See ya next time!

See ya next time!



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