Monash Uni begins solar + battery storage microgrid, on road to 100% renewables

By Sophie Vorrath on October 9, 2017


Victoria’s Monash University has begun work on an innovative solar and battery storage-based renewable energy microgrid – a major step for the leading Australian university on its path to becoming 100 per cent renewable electricity powered, and carbon neutral, by 2030.

The project is underway at the University’s Clayton Campus, where 1MW of rooftop solar power has already been installed, as well as a 500kW solar thermal high temperature hot water system, that will eventually be extended to 1MW, to support the existing natural gas powered district heating system.

With another 3MW of rooftop solar PV to be added across the campus by the end of 2018, Monash’s manager of engineering and sustainability, Dr Rob Brimblecombe, says it is time for the University to start managing its renewable energy generation, and to respond to the broader network, as well as on-site demands.

The overarching goal of Monash’s $135 million Net Zero project – which has its beginnings back in 2005 – is to completely eliminate the university’s dependence on fossil fuels, while also blazing a trail for innovative renewable energy solutions at a commercial scale.

By the end of 2020, the university will complete its biggest solar roll out. By then, it will be generating 7GWh of energy, the equivalent of powering 1000 homes in Victoria for a year.

The first phase of the plan, says Brimblecombe, is to electrify all of the University’s buildings using renewable energy, and then to transition all of its energy demand to 100 per cent renewables by 2030.

Already, the University’s all-electric two-storey Building and Properties office sources 65 per cent solar of its total energy requirements from its rooftop solar array.

As part of the broader, 100 per cent renewable effort, Monash is currently at market working to try to secure renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs) – a process Dr Brimblecombe says has been relatively complicated.

“We have conducted an Expressions of Interest, and worked out how we think we can contract that,” he told One Step Off The Grid on Monday.

“In the first instance we’re looking to source 55GWh (a year),” he said. “In time, we’re looking to take that up to 100GWh.”

Dr Brimblecombe said the tender has had strong responses from both solar and wind energy generators, and has targeted Victorian-based renewables, to support the Victorian government target of 40 per cent renewables by 2030.

For its part, the Labor state government has provided Monash $100,000 in seed funding to prove up the microgrid concept, and has put another $15.8 million “on the table” for future microgrid projects across the state.

By the end of 2018, the Monash team hope to have taken its total installed rooftop solar to 4MW, and to have added a 1MWh battery.

The battery – a vanadium flow/lithium hybrid energy storage system from UK-based outfit and Monash alumnus redT energy – is expected to be installed by mid-2018, at the University’s new, cutting edge Biomedical Learning and Teaching Building.

It will be used, initially, to explore the role of batteries in providing stability in a campus network with high renewables penetration and the potential for load shifting.

Brimblecombe says the BLTB building was chosen as the site for the new battery, both to complement its high performance Passive House design, and to provide the key research building with the “extra resilience” that the battery offers.

According to redT, the battery system will demonstrate the use of “energy storage” flow machines integrated with “power storage” lithium batteries to meet the full range of customer requirements.

“Whilst lithium batteries are able to deliver high power requirements, they can only be used for short periods and their usage must be carefully managed, due to their short life span,” redT says on its website in an October 3 release on the Monash project.

“Flow machines, by comparison …have electrolyte that never degrades and are therefore well suited to high-energy applications over many hours, like ‘solar firming’, which involve heavy daily cycling.

“Combined, the flow machine can act as the ‘workhorse’, doing ~80 per cent of the work each day, whilst the lithium element can be used infrequently to provide the final ~20 per cent of the power requirements,” redT said.

“Energy storage is an integral part of the Monash Microgrid and also offers a vital opportunity for further understanding, as the Australian energy industry grapples with the trilemma of providing sustainable power whilst keeping costs low and maintaining energy security,” said Monash project director, Tony Fullelove.

“The hybrid solution offered by redT is particularly exciting as Monash will be using the energy component (flow machine) to shape the building load profile to minimise costs on a daily basis, whilst using the power component (lithium) to assist with the connection of the building to a highly intermittent and sustainable embedded generation network.”

Another cutting edge technology being used by Monash is the aforementioned solar thermal system, 500kW of which has been installed so far this year (see image below) by LCI Consultants using Greenland Systems technology.

This part of the project has been “exciting” and “innovative”, says Brimblecombe, in that the system uses a synthetic oil in the array, due to the high temperatures it generates. It is also a key part of the Net Zero project, considering about 50 per cent of the campus energy requirement is met with natural gas, including the two 8MW central boilers at the heart of its existing campus heating system.

“The hot water loop is a pressurised ring mains operating at 12 atmosphere of pressure, carrying water heated to ~150°C to service the campus buildings. So any renewable energy system needed to be capable of delivering those elevated temperatures in a safe, reliable and cost effective manner,” said Simon Witt, a principal engineer with LCI Consultants, who engineered the Monash solar thermal system.

“LCI incorporated a 1MW solar thermal field from Greenland Systems in order to cover the summer base heating load, which includes domestic water heating as well as the campus swimming pool,” Witt told One Step.

“This means that with the new system, the University can operate entirely off gas for most of the summer period.

“Greenland Systems Orange Series advanced evacuated tube modules were chosen due to ultra high efficiency at temperatures up to 200°C, well above the capability of most rooftop compatible solar thermal technologies.

“Given Melbourne’s often cloudy weather, this was an important consideration in order to optimise the system output. Additionally, it was critical for the facility management staff that maintenance was minimal, and easily undertaken when required. The Greenland Systems technology also satisfied these needs,” Witt said.

And it – along with the innovative redT battery technology – also supports the concept of Monash as a ‘living lab’, with research and teaching linked to operational sustainability.

“The Monash Microgrid will provide a real-world example demonstrating how communities can keep their energy system affordable and resilient, in particular during peak periods and extreme weather events,” said Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute director, Dr Jacek Jasieniak.

“We’re using our campuses and research to develop scalable clean energy solutions that can be tested here and deployed around the world,” he said.