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World-leading project set to advance Australia’s electricity network

Project SHIELD set to advance Australia’s electricity network

Project SHIELD is developing world-first digital technology to boost the intelligence and reliability of Australia’s electricity network and eventually reduce power bills.

The smart grid research is currently being trialled in Queensland and New South Wales and will help networks adopt a data-driven approach to managing high penetrations of renewables and other energy resources on the grid.

The innovation will utilise data to simultaneously monitor electricity being taken from the grid and being fed back into it by the growing number of consumers with low-voltage solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, batteries and electric vehicles (EVs).

The project consortium includes clean-tech start-up Luceo, Queensland start-up GridQube, The University of Queensland’s Centre for Energy Data Innovation, Ergon and Energex (Energy Queensland) and NSW distributor Essential Energy.

The $5.7 million Project SHIELD, which is partly funded by the Commonwealth’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), stands for Synchronising Heterogeneous Information to Evaluate Limits for DNSP’s.

The project started in April last year to address the “lack of visibility” grid operators had around the growing impact of DER (Distributed Energy Resources) – solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles – on the operation and safety of the electricity networks.

Patrick Matweew, Luceo CEO

Luceo CEO Patrick Matweew, the lead applicant and a collaborator on the project, described it as the “internet of energy” which at its peak could be analysing more than half a billion data points every day.

“One of the most vital pieces of the puzzle is to build an electrical ecosystem that is reliable, safe and clean for the future,” Matweew said.

“Not only has it the potential to be an Australian innovation, but it could be a global application – so it has tremendous value”.

CEO of GridQube, Andrew Deme, labelled the project “one of the most important in energy connectivity, security and reliability”.

“The technology operates like a giant digital tap which can gradually increase the flow of electricity, and vice versa depending on supply and demand,” Deme explained.

“If the technology tells us the grid can support more power from solar exports, then we can immediately communicate that fact to solar customers, giving them the opportunity to feed in extra kilowatts.

“A very important flow on from that, is that the grid becomes more reliable, more efficient and ultimately more cost effective, with the savings generated from the technology flowing to all customers – not just those with solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles.”

The director of UQ’s Centre for Energy Data Innovation, Professor Neil Horrocks said the information data gap – or analytical black hole – was a key barrier to operators’ “confidently deviating from conservative or static network capacity limits”.

He said power demand fluctuations and bi-directional flow associated with the influx of renewable energy, storage and electric vehicles would continue to tax today’s grid.

“Network operators have two modes of response – they either invest in network upgrades or they restrict the installation of new systems on a specific part of the network based on static, calculated limits,” Horrocks said.

“However, both approaches have been criticised as they reduce the benefits to consumers and the amount of clean electricity that supports Australia’s emission reduction targets”.

Professor Horrocks said the two-stage Project SHIELD aimed to develop and test a third, low-cost, data-driven approach – by accessing existing data sources including consumer devices across the low voltage network.

“We needed to enter this brave new world of data and energy devices – no-one has done this before.”

Overall, Project SHIELD aims to:

  • Collect/harvest high-resolution electrical data being produced on IoT devices – like smart meters (which digitally measure energy use and sends the information back to energy retailers. The vast majority of data points comes from devices made by Luceo and installed by Energex and Ergon, with Essential Energy also providing some data)
  • Utilise a prototype Luceo software platform that transforms the data and sends it to GridQube.
  • Utilise an algorithm to transform the data into useful information (developed by GridQube).
  • Luceo provides the information back to the DNSP’s so they can utilise the data to determine how they can improve their network and identify new ways to better serve customers.

For the first stage of the project, Queensland’s DNSPs  – Energex and Ergon Energy Networks – and NSW’s Essential Energy provided data from some substations, and 2189 smart meters (1000 in south-east Qld; 1000 in Townsville area and 189 in Port Macquarie) and from Luceo network sensors.

Future network strategy manager at Energy Queensland Dr Daniel Eghbal said it was an “obvious decision” to be involved in any research to increase the “visibility of our distribution network”.

“Emerging technologies like solar, battery and electric vehicles become more accessible and empower our customers to take more control on how they meet their energy needs. Consequently, customers’ expectations are shifting and we need better network visibility and more data to serve our customers,” Dr Eghbal said.

“This ground-breaking project will help Energex and Ergon Energy deliver more for customers while reducing the network expenditure needed to manage impacts of high uptake of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar, improve power quality and help our transition to a decarbonised electricity system.

“One key outcome is expected to be the optimal amount of investment required to improve network visibility by leveraging multiple available data sources together with data analytics and digital platforms.”

Chief commercial officer at Essential Energy Justin Hillier said Project SHIELD was absolutely critical to allowing effective grid investment while ensuring customers have the flexibility to access renewable energy for their needs.

“Participating in Project SHIELD helps give us an effective business case around our decision-making to ensure any changes continue to give our customers access to that flexibility,” he said.

Hillier sais leveraging the right data – in the right place – could make a significant difference and lead to smarter energy efficiency, superior asset management and stronger system integrity.

“Having this data, and knowledge brings several benefits, like more efficient energy transmission, lower management costs, better energy security, reduced operations costs and better integration of renewable energy.”

Key findings from the first stage of the project reveal the accuracy of analytical results increased with the amount being harvested, and that the placement of the monitors within the different levels of the network hierarchy had a “significant impact”

Under the project’s second stage, which began in August, Energy Queensland and Essential Energy will invest in additional data sources to find the “sweet spot” of how much information is needed and how much money needs to be spent on any upgrades (a cost passed on to customers).

Professor Neil Horrocks, director, UQ Centre for Energy Data Innovation

Horrocks added, “Our research is showing that when we haven’t got a full data set at every single house, for example not every house has a smart meter, we can still do reasonable approximation of what is happening on the network.

“When the number of smart sensors being fitted increases, and the generated data is significantly larger, we hope to be doing street-by-street analysis.

“One street might have a few extra apartments to the street beside it, and people living there might buy five electric vehicles which may threaten to overwhelm the existing infrastructure, which might have had the same level of capacity for some time.

“By using the data, we will be able to determine that one street will need greater capacity than the other.

“We believe that increased demand for power, with more homes and buildings becoming net- generators as well as net-consumers, will be the force behind rapid evolution in the energy industry and increase the industry’s adoption of intelligent modern technologies”.

The second – and final – stage of the project is continuing, with the overall results expected to be published mid-2023.

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