The Future Grid Research Program

The Future Grid Research Program is a $13 million research collaboration between CSIRO and four leading Australian universities - the University of Sydney, University of Newcastle, University of Queensland and University of New South Wales - to develop the nation's capacity to plan and design the most efficient, low emission electricity grid for Australia. It will deliver the first analytical framework of its kind for Australian electricity and natural gas networks.

This framework will allow systematic investigation of the most economically efficient energy network configurations, enabling the electricity sector to make the key decisions required to successfully develop and evolve the nation's future grid over the next two decades.

Led by the University of Sydney, the program involves each participating university managing a major research project and working with CSIRO to develop a new suite of tools to understand, develop and optimise energy grids of the future. These tools will help decision makers to make better informed choices about future grid development.

Existing Grid: The Challenge

Existing Australian power grids - in particular the National Electricity Market (NEM) grid - have evolved over the last 60 years as systems where a small number of large, remote generators have provided power at high voltage through a transmission system connected to customers through a lower voltage distribution grid. Power flow is one-way and distribution networks are designed to divide power from large generators into small quantities for customers.

However, the future grid will need to evolve and operate under a potentially very different environment. In 2050, CSIRO predicts that our homes and businesses could be powered by more than 20 different energy sources and technologies.

Moving away from a system that has used technologies and energy sources that are predictable and controllable will require a great deal of effort and capacity building. Australia's electricity sector will need to prepare for the monumental make-over required to undergo this transformation.

Future Grid: Meeting the Challenge

The transition from the existing grid to the future grid will involve a period of major and potentially disruptive change. Factors such as renewable generation, demand side technologies, climate change and social / political imperatives will drive changes in power generation, transmission and end use that will severely test the current infrastructure.

The program will conduct research that draws together engineering, economic and policy aspects of grid development and optimisation and focuses on four major areas:

  • Improved understanding of impacts of different loads, generation sources and energy storage on system security, led by the University of Sydney
  • Grid planning and co-optimisation of electricity and gas networks, led by University of Newcastle
  • Economics of alternative network development paths and estimates of total cost and price impacts, led by University of Queensland
  • Policy measures and regulatory changes to facilitate a smooth transition to a decarbonised future grid, led by University of New South Wales.

The outcomes of the research will provide the framework to guide the electricity sector in making the key decisions about future grid development over the coming decades.

Models and tools developed by the program will help identify lowest cost pathways to successfully integrating large and small scale renewables into the electricity grid. This will also pave the way for significant emissions reductions in Australia's most carbon intensive economic sector.

The project builds on CSIRO's broad electricity sector and energy management work, including the industry-led Future Grid Forum that began in 2012.

Support

The project is supported by $10 million worth of in-kind contribution from university partners and a $3.2 million grant from the CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund - established to enable the skills of the wider Australian and global research community to be applied to the major national challenges targeted by CSIRO's Flagship research program.