Outback town teams with CDU to research renewable energy future


Researchers from the Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University (CDU) will use a microgrid simulator to investigate how the Central Australian town of Alice Springs can integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy, including solar PV and battery energy storage, into its iso­lat­ed grid.

CDU has announced it will partner with the Alice Springs Future Grid project – a whole-of-sys­tems project con­sid­er­ing how the remote community can achieve 50% renew­able ener­gy by 2030 – to help iden­ti­fy and over­come bar­ri­ers to fur­ther renew­able ener­gy pen­e­tra­tion in the Alice Springs elec­tric­i­ty system.

Future Grid will investigate how distributed energy resources, including  household batteries and rooftop solar, and existing infrastructure can work together to create a clean, reliable and affordable energy supply.

CDU researchers will test individual components, including solar PV, hybrid and battery inverters for their suitability for real-world application at the university’s Renewable Energy Microgrid Hub for Applied Research and Training (REMHART) in Darwin.

CDU’s Energy and Resources Institute director Professor Suresh Thennadil said it was exactly why the microgrid simulator was constructed, allowing scenario testing without transporting potentially unsuitable equipment to remote locations.

“In the coming years, not decades, we will need a revolution in power generation and distribution that has not been seen since the initial rollout of a national power grid,” he said.

“The testing facility is a vital tool in making this power revolution happen in the NT, with research and testing of new renewable systems, and training provided to build industry capacity.”

CDU’s Suresh Thennadil, left, with team members in the microgrid hub.

Image: CDU

Individual solar, hybrid and battery inverters have now been installed at the microgrid hub and will be tested for Essential System Services response characteristics including delay time, ramp time and maximum charge and discharge power outputs under different load and generation scenarios.

“This is a great opportunity for our researchers to apply their skills to challenges relevant to industry and our communities while, at same time, developing their connections with our Future Grid partners,” Thennadil said.

“The inverter testing, via the Future Grid project, will demonstrate REMHART’s ability to bring together industry and academic researchers. Additionally, we expect the results from this study to inform our future research direction.”

Alice Springs already has about 10% renewable energy generation but faces unique challenges in overcoming system strength issues to serve approximately 30,000 people, with communities as far as 130 kilometres from the town.

The Future Grid project will cul­mi­nate in the devel­op­ment of a roadmap iden­ti­fy­ing how the Alice Springs electricity grid could operate with 50% renewables by the end of the decade. The goal aligns with the Territory government’s target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.

Future Grid project director Lyndon Frearson, from Alice Springs engineering firm Ekistica, said CDU’s ability to facilitate the testing underscored how new opportunities, trials and partnerships can be developed in the Northern Territory.

“The people involved with the facility at CDU have been working alongside the Alice Springs Future Grid project since its inception,” he said.

“This partnership demonstrates how research and industry can collaborate, drive innovation, and build local capacity.”

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