CSIRO to monitor grid impact during solar challenge

Australia’s top science agency will perform a set of experiments to monitor grid load in regional locations during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

While the CSIRO’s energy systems research team will be contributing to the scoring process for the event’s ‘Cruiser’ class – a category of solar-powered passenger vehicles that will draw charge from the grid at control points along the 3,000km journey from Darwin to Adelaide – it will also monitor the way these vehicles interact with the grid.

Cruiser cars emulate road-going passenger vehicles and their journey is less a race than a road trip.

Without the battery controls of the racer-type ‘Challenger’ class, Cruiser teams can strategise their design: do they go for a smaller power pack for a lighter, faster car, or go for a big battery that will take the car the distance?

Children wave a cruiser car by as it passes through katherine in the northern territory in 2019.
Children wave a Cruiser car by as it passes through Katherine in the Northern Territory in 2019. Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty Images for SATC

In this way, the Cruiser class emulates real-world EVs. To that end, teams are able to take an optional grid charge at checkpoints in Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy. Those that do will have their grid charge measured and considered as part of their final score.

Assisting them will be Dr Sam Behrens and Charlotte Farnworth from the CSIRO’s energy systems division. At each checkpoint, they will unbox 18 EV chargers for teams to use, data from which will be monitored as part of the competition’s scoring system.

But the CSIRO will also be paying close attention to how the charging events – where about a dozen solar cars will be rejuicing at once – interact with the local grid. Given both Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy are microgrids, the impact of vehicle charging on these systems is of particular interest. Largely, these communities are powered by diesel and solar generators and quite small compared to the massive demands of larger towns and cities.

“That’s good for us because we can see what happens when those electric vehicles actually connect to those small microgrids,” says Behrens.

“We can get a lot of information from that and then scale it up to the larger grid for the east coast or the NEM [National Electricity Market].”

Previously, the CSIRO had collected charging data for the event in these communities, but now that impact will be extended to actually moderating vehicle charging.

Behrens day-to-day job at the CSIRO in Newcastle is as a senior research engineer. Understanding how electric vehicle charging can support electricity grids and network load is among his focus areas.

“We’re actually going to be doing some small experiments on the side to work out controlling the different phases of the network and seeing if we can balance the different phases on the network to provide grid support.”

The display of the wallbox chargers that will be used by the csiro during the bridgestone world solar challenge.
The display of the Wallbox chargers that will be used by the CSIRO during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Credit: Matthew Ward Agius/Cosmos

To do that, Farnworth has developed software to monitor and record the energy drawn by the cars from the local grid, which will be displayed to the event’s judges and logged as part of the CSIRO’s experiments.

Her software will not simply detail consumption for car evaluation as part of the event. While it’s part of the CSIRO’s role as scientific partner for the challenge, it will also be packaged up and scaled up for Behrens’ work on larger-scale systems.

“If you want to know more about how you can assist the grid, you want to see information on the power quality, you want to see information on the frequency of the grid,” says Farnworth.

Csiro energy project
Dr Sam Behrens and Charlotte Farnworth from the CSIRO. Credit: Matthew Ward Agius/Cosmos

Being able to control solar vehicles as they connect to the grid, is important to maintain a stable and efficient system. Farnworth, who recently joined the CSIRO as an engineer after graduating from the University of Newcastle, works on Open Charge Point Protocol Projects – a protocol for electric vehicles to communicate with EV chargers and their management systems.

But her role during the event will be to gather the data on the small-scale vehicle-to-grid interactions along the Stuart Highway.

“The frequency of the grid is something we want to keep stable, we want to keep it at 50Hz, so having that data we can see when a negative impact is happening so that we can change things, control things so it doesn’t happen in future.”

Challenger class entrants are not permitted to draw energy from the grid as part of their competition.

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge gets underway on October 22.

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