School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

University of Queensland researchers are combatting forecast electricity price hikes by developing a system to enable more households and businesses to produce renewable energy, while also making it cheaper to feed that energy back into the grid.

UQ researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology, led by Dr Olav Krause, are working with industry and government partners to develop a tool that will help electricity distribution companies improve approaches to assessing customer solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to feed into their networks.

Solar Enablement Initiative Project Director Professor Simon Bartlett said the $2.9 million project would benefit energy consumers, the Australian energy industry and the environment.

“Around two million homes in Australia already have a solar PV system, and this development will enable the energy industry to support its customers as this number continues to grow,” Professor Bartlett said.

He said the system under development would monitor the impacts of rooftop solar PV on electricity distribution networks via a new analysis technique.

The development and trial of the new and innovative network analysis tool aims to give distribution network service providers (DNSP) increased visibility of their medium voltage networks.

The project involves adapting and trialling a new state estimation algorithm (SEA) that estimates the network's’ operational conditions. Seven medium voltage distribution feeders located in South-east Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania will be trialled.

A new semi-automated network analysis computer program will also be developed and trialled with the aim of improving their current PV connection assessment process.

The SEA will also be trialled in real-time mode for monitoring the operating conditions on a local low voltage distribution line, exploring whether customers could supply useful data to the SEA and enable customer PV export restrictions to be lifted and improve the safety and efficiency of the network.

“Researchers are filling a critical knowledge gap for how renewable energy generation should be integrated into grids, and this will have a lasting impact on the energy industry,” he said.

The two-year project is funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) – an Australian government scheme that supports the development of advanced renewable energy technologies – and industry and academic partners.

“The award of a $1.19 million ARENA grant together with $1.5 million of industry support demonstrates UQ’s outstanding relationship with Australia’s energy industry and the industry’s confidence in UQ’s abilities to develop and trial innovative energy technologies,” Professor Bartlett said.

The funding helps network projects ranged between 15kW to 5MW to improve the solar connection process to the grid and can include residential, commercial and industrial behind-the-meter and grid connected systems.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said UQ’s research was vital in improving energy productivity.

“The University of Queensland’s project offers a real breakthrough in providing medium voltage installations to not only allow for a greater percentage of Solar PV to enter the network, but also in increasing the renewable energy makeup of the NEM and aligning with ARENA’s key investment priorities,”  Mr Frischknecht said.

Project partners include the Australian Power Institute, Energy Networks Australia, Energex, TasNetworks, United Energy, Aurecon Australasia, Redback Technologies, Queensland University of Technology and Springfield City Group.

For further information about this project, please visit arena.gov.au/projects/increasing-visibility-of-distribution-networks 

Media: SEI Project Director Professor Simon Bartlett, simon.bartlett@uq.edu.au, +61 0411 600 584.