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Cleaner, cheaper, more efficient: the future of energy

10 November 2020
How energy is going digital
The world is on the precipice of a cleaner, cheaper and more efficient energy future. Here's how Australia can capitalise on digital technologies and emerge as an energy leader.

Australia could capitalise on digital technologies and emerge as an energy leader. Credit: University of Sydney

The digitalisation of electricity through the implementation of virtual power plants using Internet-of-Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence technology will lead to reliable and cheaper energy for Australians and more stable electricity networks.

This is according to a group of engineers from the University of Sydney, Nokia and AGL speaking at “The world of digital energy: A focus on virtual power plants”.

Virtual power plants (VPPs) act as energy aggregators, managers and brokers – a one stop shop for the power market.

They work by integrating electricity from multiple power sources and distributing it more reliably: ironing out peak loads and providing energy at short notice.

Power is managed through thousands of connected devices and is enhanced using AI and machine learning technology, which work to monitor and regulate the flow of power from power sources and storage through to household, businesses and devices.

Devices and sources connected to a VPP are remotely monitored and managed by a central control system.

Hosted by The Warren Centre and the Centre for Future Energy Networks within the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering, the seminar focused on the comprehensive digitisation of electricity through enhanced generation processes, renewable energy sources, consumers and even appliances.

Speaking at the event, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Willy Zwaenepoel, said the university’s R&D programme was focused on the development of a digital grid and would be working with telecommunications and information company and event sponsor, Nokia, the sponsor of this event, on the implementation of the digital grid.

"The world is moving away from the traditional one-way power flow model for electricity distribution to a new two-way power flow model with millions of potential control points that can be monitored and managed,” said Professor Zwaenepoel.

“Australia has an abundance of natural energy resources, such as wind and solar.

"However, to truly succeed and harness this significant global shift, our country’s power revolution also demands great investment in advanced digital skills – in computing, electrical engineering, advanced manufacturing and IoT technology."

IoT and AI to enable digital power revolution

A large-scale rollout of IoT technology – which would see to the management and connection of millions of devices and sources of information – would be central to the digital power revolution, according to Head of School of Electrical and Information Engineering, Professor Jian Guo Zhu.

“The digital transformation is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to the large-scale adoption of renewable energy,” said Professor Zhu.

"Digitising the energy market through IoT and AI technologies is central to building a secure, clean and efficient future."

“Prosumers”, the electricity network and the market

Martin Hauske, Asia Pacific, Energy Leader for Energy at Nokia, said the movement towards virtual power plants had led to a large shift in behaviour, turning energy consumers into “prosumers”, who both generate and sell energy.

“The deployment of remote edge computing can enable millisecond reaction to control of distributed energy sources, imbuing greater stability to the electricity grid – which is currently impossible with central controls,” said Mr Hauske.

Virtual power plants leading transition to renewables, passing on cost benefits to consumers

AGL Virtual Power Plant leader, Dr Greg Abramowitz, said AGL’s virtual power plant in South Australia – which coordinates energy from 1,000 batteries that store solar-generated energy – is a successful example of virtual power plant technology that supports further renewables penetration by providing grid stabilising services.

“Using the advanced capability of the energy storage systems and sophisticated control algorithms, the fleet was able to provide a number of wholesale and network services, such as peak demand management and frequency control," said Dr Abramowitz.

“It showed that additional value can be created by a fleet of coordinated energy storage systems, while still providing significant energy bill reductions for consumers."

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