Monash Uni charges ahead with Australia’s biggest behind-the-meter battery system

By Sophie Vorrath for One Step Off The Grid

As Victoria heads to an election heavily focused on energy affordability and secturity, the state’s biggest university has quietly installed Australia’s largest commercial behind-the-meter battery storage system, on a path to becoming 100 per cent energy self-sufficient.

The system, installed by Monash University inside its new Bio-medical Learning and Teaching Building (pictured above) at the Clayton Campus, combines a 180kW/900kWh vanadium redox flow battery system and a 120kW/120kWh C1-rated lithium battery.

Installed by UK-based industrial energy storage specialists redT Energy, it is the award-winning centrepiece of Monash’s industry-leading $135 million shift to net-zero emissions and 100 per cent renewables by 2030.

These targets are no small task: Monash is Australia’s largest university, and – with more than 70,000 students and 150 buildings spread across four domestic campuses – a significant consumer of energy.

So far, however, a comprehensive strategy devised with the help of ClimateWorks, and overseen by Monash’s Net Zero Initiative program director Scott Ferraro, has achieved a great deal.

On top of energy efficiency and LED upgrades, building optimisation programs and a transition to all-electric energy sources, the university has installed a cumulative total of 2MW of PV on-campus, with plans for a further 2MW by 2020.

And in July, it signed a major power purchase agreement with the Murra Warra Wind Farm in Victoria.

That deal – which brought the university into the fold of a powerful consortium of corporate renewable energy buyers led by Telstra – is part of the 226MW first stage of the wind farm, which is expected to be fully operational in 2019, in time to get Monash’s domestic operations to 100 per cent renewables by the 2020 target.

But renewables and emissions targets aside, it is the $7.1 million Monash Smart Energy City project program being rolled out at the Clayton campus that could be the real game changer.

The goal of that project – which has won grant funding from both ARENA and the Victorian state government – is to connect 20 buildings across the Clayton campus and run them entirely on the University’s own smart embedded network of renewables and battery storage, using the Advanced Grid Management software platform of Indra Australia.

The idea, says Ferraro, is to make it like a small city – combining teaching buildings with student residences, commercial offices and even retail space – so it is replicable in the real world.

As ARENA CFO Ian Kay put it, last month, it will use Monash as a ‘living laboratory’ to help other universities form their own microgrids and take control of their energy usage.

But as Ferraro notes, it’s also about testing the broader network implications, as more and more major industrial groups install their own renewables and commit to net zero emissions.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can with our demand, to support greater integration of renewables into the grid,” Ferraro told One Step.

“We’re investigating how, at a city scale, you can have flexible loads that can respond to the market and the network, but also what value is there for the end use customers in doing so.”

And the battery – which the university has paid for (an undisclosed sum) itself – is a major part of that.

When One Step Off The Grid visited the Clayton campus two weeks ago, redT was putting the finishing touches to its smart energy storage masterpiece – including charging and discharging it – in preparation for handing the reins over to Ferraro and the team.

John Connell and Colin Gillam at the redT battery installation at Monash University

he battery system, as noted above, is installed at the University’s brand new biomedical building, neatly housed on the building’s rooftop, beneath a shading structure fitted with solar panels.

As it is, the system – including smart controls, inverters, and back-up generator – means the biomedical building can effectively run stand-alone.

But the aim of the first stage of the Monash microgrid, over the next 9 months, is to connect seven buildings, with five PV arrays and the battery.

This stage of the pilot program, says Ferraro, is about showing we can monitor the data from different assets and send commands.

After that, a second phase would connect another seven buildings, and would focus on “internal orchestration;” while a last milestone – set to somewhere around 2020 – will work with RedGrid on playing in the “transactive” energy market, exchanging value between different players.

Ferraro said the University has approached the energy storage element of the microgrid from a “demonstration point of view.”

“With the vanadium flow, we just wanted to demonstrate a different kind of battery technology and what its application might be,” he told One Step.

“And RedT were willing to come in as partners on the grid innovation hub, to help solve the questions. They were willing to participate in the research side of things.

As redT explains it, the hybrid battery system was designed to control both long- and short-duration energy storage – ultimately, for the whole campus.

The vanadium flow system – in this case, made up of four of redT’s proprietary containerised systems – is considered the ‘work horse,’ delivering 80 per cent of the demand/supply, and has the ability to store energy for more than four hours.

The inner workings of the one of the Monash vanadium flow systems

As the video below explains, VFR batteries are mostly made up of tanks of vanadium electrolyte fluid, which is pumped through battery stacks, which contain permeable membranes that filter the positive and negative half-cells to charge and discharge the battery.

The pros of the technology include that it is made of mostly cheap and abundant materials; the batteries can be discharged to zero; and they have a long shelf-life (25 years) and a high level of recyclability. The major con is size, but for industrial applications, that is not always a problem.

The lithium battery – which was supplied by German company Tesvolt, using Samsung cells – is for occasional bursts of short demand spikes and stores energy for 1-2 hours.

“It’s like a marriage,” explained redT installation engineer John Connell.”One’s a kick in the bum the other one does the work.”

Initially, it will be used mainly to maximise the university’s use of on-site generated solar power, but ultimately, the plan is to use it to provide balancing services to the network, bring in additional revenue for Monash, and take part in energy trading.

“So this whole building can effectively run stand-alone: it’s got a generator, it’s got the battery storage systems, it’s got solar panels up on the roof. So in theory it can do that,” said Colin Gillam, redT’s head of storage solutions in Australia.

“The lithium is 120kW/120kWh, so it’s a one for one (ratio). Whereas ours is five to one. Five kWh to one kW.

“And that gives it the flexibility. Because you can run it for one hour if you want, but you can run it for five hours if you want. You can run it for one hour and then charge it again and then discharge it for five, and you can do that all day.

“This is like the first stage of Monash, effectively, being 100 per cent self-sufficient,” Gillam added.

“They’ll be grid connected, but in fact what they are doing is trying to develop a model here where they can buy and sell power on the site to make sure that they are a) carbon neutral and b) profitable.

“But the long-term plan is for Monash University to be entirely self-sufficient, buy and sell power within itself.

“They have multiple choices,” Gillam added. “So it’s actually a really good demonstration of how you can use wind and solar-based systems to provide secure, reliable dispatchable power.

…Fair dinkum power? “Fair dinkum power, exactly. We can do that,” he said. “The government’s agenda about baseload power doesn’t stack up anymore.”

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