The ambition for Smart Energy Cities and the modern role of Universities in getting there

What is a smart energy city?

Many of us now have at least one “smart” device in our homes. An increasingly pervasive example is to control a light switch via the internet. Sometimes the “smart” enables control by a person by touch on their phone. Sometimes the “smart” is knowing a weather station has said sunset has occurred. In these cases, you are the household owner. You are in control and responsible for all the devices and all smarts. Similarly, organisations increasingly have microgrids or virtual power plants connecting many electrical devices producing, storing and consuming energy across many buildings. In this case, the organisation is in control and responsible for all the devices and smarts. 

In all these cases, the availability of “smarts” is still in its infancy. A Smart Energy City is “many smarts” across a microgrid with many owners. The social, technological and governance constructs for this are genuinely underdeveloped.

The Monash Smart Energy City project

The Monash University Net Zero Initiative and its partners sought to establish a future-enabling energy grid for the Clayton campus as part of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funded Smart Energy City project. The aim was to formulate strategies for energy efficiencies, campus electrification and deploying on-site and off-site renewable Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) such as solar photovoltaic cells (PVs), battery energy storage systems (BESS), electric vehicles (EVs), etc. Smarts are needed to maintain power quality whilst optimising our financial position given market-driven responses and ensuring efficient or green energy usage across the campus. Luckily for us, the Clayton campus has an energy profile similar to a small city, liberating our focus from the modernisation of building management to how we change society.

We completed the 3yr ARENA project at the end of 2021. This series of blogs aims to share our learnings on the ambidextrous (or dual-speed) role Universities can play in society’s transition to modern energy.

Our approach

We amassed a cross-functional team including talent from the University’s Net Zero Initiative team, numerous research groups within the Monash Energy Institute, our industry partners, enterprise IT (eSolutions), three Monash-wide Research Technology Platforms in Helix (governance and analysis of sensitive data), the Data Science & AI technology platform (now within the Data Future’s Institute) and the Research Cloud Digital Cooperatives team within the Monash eResearch Center (MeRC, us). Our work focused on developing a precinct-level smart grid platform versatile enough to receive and store energy from various DERs to enable when and how we use energy. We sought to reduce demand and strain on the network and optimise energy usage during peak times. Our approach was ambidextrous – with Indra technology, the operational-grade fabric, and MeRC leading the research infrastructure fabric. Noting that where appropriate, our team developed both fabrics. We also needed to refresh all source systems’ data governance and quality. 

What you’ll find in this blog series

For the operational-grade fabric Indra’s OneSait Active Grid Management (InGRID AGM) platform provided real-time monitoring and control over the connected electrical/smart devices (whether they are producers, storers or consumers of energy). It is a platform where “smarts” (algorithms and AI) can safely communicate. The system derives from a balance of commercial experience in delivering regional power grids and contemporary edge-computing software architecture. It provides comprehensive visibility to monitor and direct control of medium- and low-voltage grids. This balance at the platform level is essential. It provides an environment of opportunity for meandering between the 100-year-old robust processes that the electricity and buildings sector operates by, towards the sub-daily iteration cycle of the tech industry. 

Figure 1 shows a high-level orchestration of the SEC project involving multiple stakeholders and market leaders. Creating a microgrid at one of Australia’s largest universities  offers an opportunity to demonstrate: emerging technologies, address regulatory and behavioural challenges to optimise success, generate and share knowledge with others, and develop new business models for the changing energy market.

Figure 1: Smart Energy City High-Level Architecture

We also have a research-grade, wholly open-source ecosystem for research labs (introduced in our next post, keep a look out  for our next blog entry!).

Dr Steve Quenette, Deputy Director, Monash eResearch Centre
Dr Ayesha Sadiq, Research Software Specialist, Monash eResearch Centre
Ai-Lin Soo, Senior Project Officer, Monash eResearch Centre
Sharnelle Lai, Marketing Officer, Monash eResearch Centre

Last update: 14/07/2022