Spotlight on a Student: Will Clarke

Hierarchical economic model predictive control of an isolated microgrid

Will Clarke

Will Clarke is in the final year of his PhD, undertaking research under the joint supervision of academic staff in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Electronic Engineering. We interviewed Will on his research, and plans for the future.

What is your research about?

The research I conducted during my PhD focused on the development of advanced control systems for isolated microgrids. Isolated microgrids are small power systems that are not connected to any major electricity network. They have existed for many decades in remote communities, mine sites, and island nations. Historically, fossil fuel generators - typically diesel - have been the primary source of power in these systems. However, in recent years, solar PV and wind, coupled with energy storage have been included in many isolated microgrid designs. Although the inclusion of these technologies significantly reduces both the cost of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions, advanced control systems are required to realise their full potential.

Economic model predictive control (EMPC) is an optimisation-based control technique that is well suited to microgrid control. In my research, I developed a new two-layer EMPC framework suitable for isolated microgrids which uses EMPC in two separate layers of the control hierarchy. I experimentally demonstrated the developed framework as a controller for an isolated microgrid with a peak demand of 4kW comprised of a solar PV system, an AC-coupled battery system, and a gasoline fuelled generator. The performance of the developed controller was experimentally compared to a conventional algorithm for both a 5 minute and a 10 hour period, while an experimentally validated model was used to compare performance over a full year.

The results of this investigation indicated that the developed two-layer EMPC algorithm can reduce operating costs and CO2 emissions by 5-10% relative to conventional, rule-based controllers, and by 10-15% if improved solar and demand forecasts are available.

Who are your supervisors?

Over the past four years, my research has been supervised by Prof. Michael Brear, Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute, and Prof. Chris Manzie, Head of the Electrical and Electronic Engineering department. My research spans both of their respective areas of expertise and consequently, their guidance was invaluable.

What do you want to do next?

Post PhD, I would like to apply the sorts of algorithms I developed in my research in a commercial setting. This may include developing control systems for isolated microgrids such as those installed at mine sites, grid-connected hydro-plants or utility-scale solar-battery hybrid systems.

Have you received any awards?

In 2016 I was awarded the Elizabeth and Vernon Puzey scholarship which provided financial support throughout my PhD.

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