UNSW powers world’s largest lab

The Australian Energy Research Institute (AERI) at UNSW is opening the largest real-time digital simulation energy systems laboratory in Australia. In fact, it’s the largest laboratory of its type at any research institution in the world.

Professor Vassilios Agelidis.

The most advanced lab to research the future energy and electricity infrastructure before it is built will be operational in March.

The new system-integration laboratory was created in partnership with The University of Queensland (UQ) and built in the UNSW Power Systems Interface Research Laboratory at the Tyree Energy Technologies Building. UNSW has received $19 million in funding from the  Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF) to support the creation of sustainable energy infrastructure for centuries under the Solar Flagships program.

“It is one of the most significant, largest-ever investments in the power-engineering research sector in Australia,” says Professor Vassilios Agelidis, who is the Director of the AERI and Professor of Power Engineering at the UNSW School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. “You have to go back to the 1960s when governments and universities were making large investments of this scale for the power engineering field. Its size and cost cannot be replicated by another university or research organisation in Australia.”

The UNSW Power Systems Interface Research Laboratory is located at the Tyree Energy Technologies building.

The Real Time Digital Simulator (RTDS), which is a fully digital electromagnetic transient power system simulator, allows the industry to refine its research of energy converters, weather-station controllers and protective devices. Researchers will be able to calculate electrical power generation in a test environment under real conditions, which means they can think bigger and measure results more accurately while taking risks.

“This brings real testing capability and innovation to UNSW, allowing the interface of the behaviour of real equipment in the actual grid to interact with test conditions,” says Vassilios.

For the first time in Australia, the RTDS provides the capability to process and analyse real data for renewable sources of power generation to design solutions.  The grid can test large-scale continuous integration of intermittent renewable photovoltaics and wind-energy deployment and find the technical and economic limits. “Using, for example, a model of a solar farm in Bourke that is validated by models in the field can be copied and multiplied into the grid software to find when the grid may collapse,” says Vassilios.

The laboratory will allow UNSW researchers to work closely with the manufacturing and utility sectors, and bridge the gap between the research community who develop the technology and the end user. “User feedback can help us solve problems better,” says Vassilios. “It will help us bridge the gap between blue-sky research and applied research and commercialisation for next-generation electricity gird designs.”

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