What’s NUW in energy? An alliance of three NSW universities concentrates clean-energy expertise


The NUW Energy Alliance, announced on Saturday, will coalesce gigawatts of energy nous, combining the research capabilities and specialist expertise of the University of Newcastle, UNSW Sydney and University of Wollongong, in a collaboration that sets the transmission wires humming and generates “new solutions that sustain our economic prosperity and ensure the health of the environment,” said Matt Kean, New South Wales Minister for Energy and Environment.

Kean has given the green light to the group’s overarching ambitions which include ensuring that NSW is at the forefront of advanced energy solutions; developing integrated network technology to address future energy demands; undertaking further high-quality research in response to the needs of the energy sector to drive global best practice; and providing opportunities for a world-leading workforce from the universities’ combined cohort of students.

The strategy of NUW Energy is to embed a “collaboration first” culture across the coalition, NUW Alliance CEO, Matt Gijselman, told pv magazine today. 

The joint venture between the three universities was signed in 2018, and Gijselman has been working with University Vice Chancellors to establish the new way of working together — which differs from the norm of hunkering down with research and development and sharing findings along the line.

First proof of concept of the Alliance will be launched tonight in the form of a new model for education pioneered by the triumvirate, which will be put into practice in the precinct of Sydney’s new Aerotropolis, currently under development in Western Sydney.

NUW Energy is a progression of this concept, which will jointly focus world-leading energy research towards potential commercial development but also towards government policy setting, so that solutions come to the attention of legislators and policy makers in a timely way — putting policy more in step with available technology.

Says Gijselman, “It’s about how we connect the critical research to decision makers as they are setting the framework, setting the field over the next few years.” 

A whole-of-system approach

The Advanced Energy Integration Initiative (AEII) is one example of how the three institutions are combining their strengths and critical mass of knowledge to solve one of the most significant challenges impacting the Australian economy — the stability of the country’s energy mix as it evolves toward a greater concentration of widely distributed, variable renewable generation.

Of the 200 discrete areas of energy research capability and the 30 distinct centres of energy research embodied in the Alliance, the AEII brings together seven groups including the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation; UNSW’s Digital Grid Futures Institute and its ARC Research Hub for Integrated Energy Storage Solutions; and the University of Wollongong’s (UoW) Australian Power Quality and Reliability Centre.

“As individual institutions, we are centres of excellence,” said Professor Alan Broadfoot, the Executive Director of the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, which is another lynchpin of the AEII. “When we act together,” he continued, “we can deliver competitive advantage in advanced energy integration.”

Professor Valerie Linton, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at University of Wollongong said, the collaboration is unlike anything previously seen in Australian higher education.

“There is nothing you could throw at,” the combined force of NUW Energy Alliance, “that we couldn’t grapple with because of our depth and breadth of experience in all aspects of energy,” Linton said. 

Gijselman names hydrogen storage and transport, and end-of-lifecycle treatment of solar infrastructure as other major collaborative themes that NUW Energy will tackle.

Justine Jarvinen, CEO of the participating UNSW Energy Institute said in a statement, “We see hydrogen as part of a whole energy ecosystem.” 

She looks forward to bringing the unique capabilities of her team and those of their Newcastle and Wollongong colleagues, to “combine them in ways that can amplify our impact.”

Energising industry

Existing and new industry partners will also benefit from NUW Energy providing more streamlined and direct access to world-class research expertise.

“UNSW invented the IP that’s in more than 80% of the solar panels being produced around the world at the moment,” says Jarvinen in a video accompanying announcement of the Alliance’s new platform of engagement. She outlines the industry partnerships, UNSW’s mini production lines that have allowed technology to be tested in the manufacturing context, the ecosystem of researchers bringing up promising new talent, people who in many cases go on to apply their knowledge within industries…

“Knowing what we know now,” says Jarvinen, means we can create that set of ingredients with ambition and scale and cut to the chase much more quickly than we did for solar PV. We can do that for hydrogen, we can do that for power conversion, we can do that for big-scale batteries.”

The biggest Renewable Energy Zone

Participants in NUW Energy are committed to its long-term, systemic approach to broadening the impacts of their research on the challenges of energy transition.

Although the Alliance is centred in New South Wales — and aims to drive regional economic growth and job opportunities — solutions and commercial services and products are expected to radiate throughout the National Electricity Market and internationally, leveraging the many overseas connections and partnerships independently established by each university and associated institutes.

“There have never been bigger challenges facing our state,” said Kean, who has recently outlined increasingly integrated and Government-supported approaches to New South Wales’s energy transition. 

“These extraordinary times lend new urgency to the purpose of NUW Energy to explore the challenges of climate energy and the environment,” he said. “There has never been a more important time for this alliance to come together.”

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