Smartening up the grid  

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ECOS Magazine has a primer on smart grids - Smartening up the grid.

Experts are calling for an energy sector makeover – a ‘smart’ upgrade of our ageing electricity grid to create a network that can better respond to changing supply and demand, and bring our electricity system securely into the future. It will require an integrated response involving researchers, industry, government and consumers.

Dr Lilley is involved in CSIRO’s Future Grid project, which is developing a modelling framework that will help determine the most efficient and least-cost design of the grid. The framework is due to be finalised in the next one to two years.

‘The project aims to deliver economic modelling, power systems modelling and social analysis, to ensure that we make the most out of our centralised and decentralised assets,’ explains Dr Lilley. ‘Within this, smart grid technology is an enabling technology to both make the grid more efficient, and allow the integration of existing and new technologies, including renewable generators.’

Smart grids don’t necessarily require a reinvention of the wheel. Dr David Cornforth, is Project Leader at CSIRO’s Renewable Energy Integration Facility (REIF) at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales. He there is a lot of potential to apply new and existing technologies to the current electricity grid. These are not necessarily quick fix solutions, he adds: the development of smarter grids is likely to continue over the next 20 years.

Smart Grid Smart Cities

What will the smart grid look like? Dr Glenn Platt, CSIRO’s Energy Technology Research Group Leader, says families will see the change through increased information, enabling them to ‘understand and make much more informed decisions on energy use’.

Behind the scenes, however, significant changes to electricity infrastructure are already occurring. To determine how a smart grid might work in practice, the federal government initiated Smart Grid Smart Cities (SGSC), a commercial?scale project being rolled out across five sites in Sydney and the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. With $100 million in federal funding, the project is being led by Ausgrid, a NSW-government owned energy infrastructure maintenance company, and involves a consortium of businesses ranging from IBM Australia to Newcastle City Council.

SGSC is not the only smart grid trial happening in Australia. But, as Mr Popple explains, this particular trial is important because it is a commercial?scale ‘community trial’, which will investigate regulatory and consumer uptake factors, as well as new technology solutions.

CSIRO has been heavily involved in the development phase of the trial. Dr Platt explains that while the organisation’s exact role in the next stage rollout is still being determined, it is likely to involve new control techniques that sit on top of the smart grid infrastructure Ausgrid is implementing, to deliver ‘even greater benefits’.

The breadth of CSIRO’s research into more intelligent energy systems reflects both the complexity and scale of these systems, as well as the recognised potential to develop least-cost smart grids, and more generally, a smarter electricity system.

Integrating renewables

The increase in renewable energy being fed into the network is one factor currently causing problems for network providers. In response, Dr Cornforth’s team at the REIF is researching the challenge of how to best couple the intermittence or variability of renewable energy into the grid without disturbing the ‘finely balanced’ grid system.

The team is looking at three main techniques in response to problems caused by power surges through the grid from renewable generation. These are: mixing intermittent renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaics, with more controllable sources, such as gas; different types of energy storage; and load control, which involves controlling the consumption of electricity.

‘It’s difficult to say what mix of these three [techniques] we will have, but it’s almost certain that all three will be part of the future solution – part of the smart grid of the future,’ says Dr Cornforth.

To facilitate wide research, the REIF is connected to solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, natural gas?powered combined heat and power cogeneration units, a load bank, inverters and three different types of battery storage. In relation to storage, the facility is looking at ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions. These include how to determine the ideal amount of renewable energy for the network given the additional cost of battery storage, and how to control that storage in terms of the best time to charge or discharge batteries. ...

More information

Smart Grid Australia:

CSIRO Energy Technology:


CSIRO Intelligent Energy:

CSIRO Renewable Energy Integration Facility:


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