Solar energy going to waste will be a thing of the past with new software from ANU that aims to identify excess solar production and finesse its feed-in to the energy grid.
Software developed for the evolve project, an initiative of the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, aims to revolutionise the industry’s approach to solar power and battery storage by increasing market efficiency and fostering collaboration between industry partners across the grid network.
According to Ben Weise, CTO of the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, the project is crafting the “building blocks” of the energy transition.
“There’s a lot being done in terms of the uptake of renewables and solar,” he told create. “This requires holistic changes in the way the system is managed and operated.
“The technical management of the system is important – you need to keep the lights on if the network starts failing – and obviously you want to make the transition in the most economically viable way. But there’s also an important social aspect: it’s all about the people at the other end.”
The thinking around evolve, which was a national finalist in the 2022 Engineers Australia Project awards, is future-focused, looking ahead to tomorrow’s problems to determine how best to prepare for them today.
“The distribution networks are dealing with increasing amounts of solar generation,” Ben said. “The increase in solar penetration is great for consumers’ self-sufficiency and self-determination around energy choices. But often there’s more solar power being produced on a given piece of the network than is being consumed.”
The evolve project, he says, takes in data on the configuration of the system, identifies capabilities to shift or reduce demand or generation, and demonstrates ways that the system can be managed to support safe network operation.
The evolve team aims to achieve traction by engaging network partners.
“We work with aggregators such as Reposit Power, Evergen, Redback Technologies – companies that manage smart home energy management systems for customers – across Queensland and New South Wales to understand where they might have challenges, enrol them in the program and use their data to identify and understand where there might be constraints,” Ben explained.
“It’s interesting to work with network partners. Their mandate is to ensure that electricity flows when and where it’s required, but they’re increasingly looking to support distributed solar rather than simply treat it as something they need to manage.
“It’s interesting to see that change in perspective from the industry.”
The end goal is one of social, economic and energy benefit.
“We imagine a future where, rather than people being allowed to install a five kilowatt solar system, there’s actually enough capacity to install a 10 kilowatt solar system, and 98 per cent of the time they can use it to its full capacity.”
In practice, introducing change into the way that something has been done for decades requires collaboration.
“One of the relatively simple challenges is around the communications pathway,” Ben explained. “Historically, aggregators and networks have never needed to talk to each other. So we formed a working group – a collection of industry partners and other organisations who are interested in standardising those communications.”
The evolve team has been heavily involved in the creation of a handbook for Standards Australia outlining what standards need to be applied in this space and how implementation can stay consistent.
The pre-existing data held by network partners has also proved challenging.
“Different partners, particularly in low voltage networks, have different levels of maturity in terms of their understanding of their own network,” Ben said. “They built their networks according to the present and future requirements they needed to meet at the time.”
“So to manage it in the way we envision with evolve, partners have needed to learn more about their own networks than they have historically required. There’s a certain amount of data uplift needed.”
Ben admits this points to clear and immense scope for future project directions.
“A solar system installed five years ago might not be connected to the internet and probably doesn’t have the functionality we need to integrate it – but there is an increasingly large number of smart systems out there,” he said.
“For evolve to be a viable network management technique, we need a certain amount of scale to these controllable smart systems.”
The new and improved Engineers Australia Excellence Awards are now open for nomination. Learn more about the awards program and how to nominate here.