The University of Sydney (USyd) has established Australia’s pre-eminent Centre of study in future energy networks (CFEN) including research and advanced training in three major areas, all oriented to an era of constrained-carbon systems:

  • Grid operations and planning for resilient electrical networks;
  • Distributed control for intelligent electrical networks (or smarter grids), and
  • Grid Integration or interfaces for new technologies such as renewable power, electric vehicles, storage and new low-voltage electronic devices.

The work is led by Professors Zhaoyang (Joe) Dong and David Hill, who are both leading researchers in the power grids area. Drs Dylan Lu, Jin Ma, Gregor Verbic and several Research Fellows also supervise numerous projects. Professor Hill is a FIEEE and the only power engineering academic in Australia with academy level recognition (in fact, both FTSE, FAA in Australia and the Royal Swedish Academy). Professor Dong had quickly established a leading role in work for Australian, US and Chinese power industries before coming to Sydney. The team has extensive international experience in research, industry work and consulting including in Australia, USA, China, Hong Kong and Europe (Slovenia, Sweden). There are strong links to professional bodies (IEEE, CIGRE, SGA, ENA), and all sectors of the Australian electricity industry (AEMO, TNSPs, DNSPs). International research collaboration is carried out with groups in the USA, Sweden, China, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore at many universities and research institutes including EPRI (USA), USA National Laboratories (PNNL, LANL), State Grid (China).

The structure of future energy grids are a major theme in the Centre. These need to be re-developed in parallel with planning the changing energy mix from national level down to households. Also the interactions with associated networks, i.e. water, gas, transport, must be included. Most of the broader scientific discussion has been towards energy supply and implicitly assumes that incremental additions to the current grid will be adequate. We believe that the grid is equally important. Firstly, infrastructure in grids and energy costs are comparably important to customer bills. Thus, investment efficiency is of vital importance in the former. Secondly, there are questions, which demand serious scientific investigation of future grids. The practice used until now of ‘transmission following generation’ appears unsustainable long-term. The grid must now be resilient in several respects while optimal in a market context and remain stable all on a time-scale of decades. The Centre works on a range of problems related to future energy grids including the impact of renewables, demand response and energy storage and their impact on grid stability. Research is currently funded by the ARC, the CSIRO, as part of its Future Grid University Cluster (led by USyd), TransGrid and AEMO. The CSIRO project, with researchers from UNewcastle, UQ and UNSW, also ties in the interaction between gas and electricity grids and energy storage, the latter in collaboration with professor Tony Vassallo at The University of Sydney. We study scenarios out to 2050 driven by fuel prices, policy, market and grid planning paradigms. Analytical techniques are being developed for: 1) grid performance assessment and 2) optimal design in terms of reliability, cost and carbon emission limits.

System Operations and Planning projects are an established research strength at Sydney. The CFEN team has written seminal papers on power system stability analysis and planning under market forces. Following this work, combined with new ideas in stability analysis, algorithms in constrained optimization, we can provide options for the national grid given scenarios for the energy mix trajectory over decades ahead. This work focuses on the physical power systems and ensuring secure system operations and promoting efficient system expansion planning in industrial practices. Together with industrial partners nationally and internationally, CFEN has extensive experience in areas such as generic constraints for electricity market operations and planning, power system load modeling, power system Var control and prediction, power system forecasting and predictive control, fast simulation techniques for system dynamic analysis, electricity market simulation and system vulnerability and stability assessment techniques. Project deliverables have been used by the power industry in Australia, China mainland, Hong Kong and USA.

Work on distributed control was started with the USyd connection to Ausgrid, who won the Government’s Smart Grid Smart City (SGSC) project. This led to the view that smarter grids go beyond providing enhanced observability of the grid, and should be more about how to operate and control the whole system for new capabilities. For future systems, control will inevitably be more distributed as the demand side plays a larger role. New delivery systems for electricity must allow more diverse energy sources and usage via demand response, revised automation and protection structures and new economic structures. In particular, to achieve the required performance from any future grid, the control system will need to take account of diverse data, process this data in a timely and distributed manner, optimise across different voltage levels and send appropriate control instructions for the optimum operation of all system components. The fundamental building blocks for advanced smart grids are well established in CFEN and partners, namely power networks and markets, telecommunications, data mining and learning, constrained optimization, and distributed control. The research work is exploring demand response mechanisms, scaling solutions, reducing peak demand, enhancing reliability and then enabling new capabilities for future grids, particularly substantially decreasing levels of carbon emissions.

Grid integration projects are also well-established in CFEN, involving power electronics, energy storage and systems researchers. Many projects involved novel designs for power electronic converters. A theme is how to ensure distributed generation and demand response can also participate in system services. Projects with vendors, including ABB for solar energy management systems, have begun or are being set up. This work informs the modeling needed for the planning and smart grids research.

The Centre is also positioning itself as a prime national electricity training and educational provider. In addition to delivering courses within the University curriculum, the Centre also provides intensive mode industrial training sessions (with hands on practical sessions) in its expertise areas. Currently, the Centre has well developed modules in power system dynamics and stability, power system load modeling, electricity market and emission trading, smart grid and renewable energy, and power system planning.

Z-Y. (Joe) Dong and David J. Hill
Updated 29th July 2013