Spotlight on a Student: Mathieu Pichault

Characterisation, Detection and Forecasting of Intra-hourly Wind Power Ramps Under Complex Topography

PhD student Mathieu Pichault

Mathieu Pichault is a PhD student undertaking research under the joint supervision of academic staff in Earth Sciences and Mechanical Engineering. His passion for sustainability and climate change led him to his PhD. His research looks at characterising, detecting and forecasting wind power ramps at the wind farm scale to optimise the integration of wind farms into the grid.

What is your research about?

One of the main challenges preventing greater integration of wind energy into the power grids is the occurrence of large changes in wind power generation over a short amount of time, also called 'ramp events'. These large power fluctuations are often associated with sudden changes in wind speed and wind direction. With an ever-growing presence of wind power into electrical networks, wind power ramps are a risk to electric system security and their bad management can have dramatic consequences such as power blackouts. Accurate and timely short-term forecasts are crucial to predict these ramps and hence facilitate power grid balancing, storage management and load dispatch planning.

My research aims at characterising, detecting and forecasting these wind power ramps at the wind farm scale to optimise the integration of wind farms into the grid. One objective is to contribute to increased knowledge of engineering and meteorological processes under which wind power ramps occur, with a view to improving predictability. Another major contribution of my research is the development of a short-term wind power forecasting model based on LiDAR technology (remote sensing instruments measuring wind conditions ahead of the wind farm, with high spatial resolution). Accurate short-term forecasting would support market operators and wind farm owners in maintaining grid reliability as well as reducing costs associated with energy production. Overall, my research is part of a broader initiative aiming at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by making wind energy a more controllable resource.

How did you become interested in your area of research?

I have always been passionate about sustainability and climate change issues. My keen interest in these topics led me to undertake a master's degree in environmental engineering at Liege University (Belgium), along with a 6-month exchange program at Lund University (Sweden) focused on atmospheric science and greenhouse gases.

How have your studies and research into renewable energy in Belgium and Sweden influenced your research in Australia?

Owing to the prominence of wind power in Belgium, I have been exposed to challenges and debates around wind energy for many years. During my studies at Lund University, I also had the opportunity to witness first-hand the alarming rate at which the permafrost is melting. I remember this experience as the trigger of my deep desire to pursue a career geared towards building a more sustainable future.

What brought you to Melbourne?

I first moved to Melbourne for personal reasons (one can travel long distances in the name of love!). After having worked for three years as an environmental engineer in the contaminated land space, I was looking for a career move to the renewable energy sector. Undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne in my area of interest was for me an exceptional opportunity to bring my modest contribution to the energy transition.

Anything you would like to add?

As I am still at the early stages of my PhD, my career path post-completion is yet to be defined. However, I will undoubtedly remain within the renewable energy industry, whether it is wind, solar, hydro, or other emerging technologies.

Mathieu is jointly supervised by Dr Claire Vincent of the Department of Earth Sciences and Professor Jason Monty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His work is part of the University’s collaboration with Meridian Energy Australia on short term wind farm forecasting.

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