University of New South Wales Partners with Chinese Torch Program

Australia and China are embarking on a decade-long collaboration effort to spark international energy and environmental innovation.

In a meeting on March 1, 2016, a leadership delegation from University of New South Wales met with representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology’s Torch Program in Beijing. The two organizations aim to establish long-term research and development partnerships between UNSW and Chinese businesses through the development of an Innovation Precinct at the university. The meeting also included representatives from Chinese businesses in the fields of energy and environment, new materials, and biotechnology.

The Torch Program, established in 1988, strives to promote technology transfer and the commercialization of innovative technologies by developing international partnerships and high-tech industrial parks in China and around the world.

The Chinese program dovetails with UNSW’s recently announced 2025 Strategic Plan, which includes among its initiatives the development of a A$50 million Innovation Precinct. According to UNSW’s innovation statement released last year, the precinct “will bring together industry, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers from around the world.”

As part of the proposed collaboration, the university is offering special services to international companies in exchange for industry investment in the university, according to Laurie Pearcey, director of international strategy for Greater China and India at UNSW.

The university is offering rent-free office space for international companies on the university's campus, as well as access to a team of business development advisers to help support the companies in their bids to enter the Australian and New Zealand markets.

At the heart of the program is the opportunity for collaborative research between UNSW experts and industry researchers. This collaboration is undergirded by the university’s commitment to provide full-ride scholarships for PhD students selected by industry partners, opportunities for permanent residency visas, and an innovative IP sharing scheme.

The IP sharing mechanism, called Easy Access IP, is designed to hasten commercialization of university-developed technologies via partnerships with industry. UNSW offers free IP licensing to select companies that invest in the university’s research efforts. As long as the companies allow continued university research, acknowledge UNSW as the inventor, and put the technology into use within three years, the university grants these companies permanent licensing to university IP.

Pearcey emphasized that UNSW is internationally recognized as a research leader in renewable energy, having set numerous world records in solar cell efficiency. The university also has top-tier facilities used to simulate solar cell manufacturing, and boasts its status as a national leader in providing research grant funding for collaborative research projects.

The formal partnership between the Torch Program and UNSW is expected to be signed in April, and the first round of industry partners will be announced in the third quarter of 2016.

China's Grid and the Electric Car

Courtesy: BYD

Courtesy: BYD

Thanks to generous subsidies and incentive programs, electric vehicle sales in China are booming. Chinese EV drivers enjoy a number of perks, including tax incentives when purchasing a vehicle and exemptions from restrictions designed to reduce traffic congestion.

In part due to these measures, sales of plug-in electric vehicles have soared. In the first nine months of 2015, automakers sold 136,733 units – twice the amount sold in the same period last year, according to Wards Auto.

These policies are part of a drive to put 5 million new energy vehicles (NEVs) on Chinese roads by 2020. Although it’s unclear whether or not this target will be met, it is certain that the grid will be faced with new challenges and opportunities as more plug-in electric vehicles hit the road.

In particular, Chinese regulators will need to begin examining how electric vehicle demand response can help address grid instability and support China’s transition to a low-carbon power system.

Electric vehicles and demand response

As the transportation sector electrifies, electricity consumption patterns will change. In order to meet demand, utilities need capacity and incentive mechanisms to address potential spikes in consumption. A study commissioned by the Regulatory Assistance Project and the International Council for Clean Transportation compared the expected impact on peak load in various countries as the number of plug-in electric vehicles rises. The report found that China’s grid was particularly susceptible to disruption in cases of high EV penetration.

To avoid power shortages, Chinese regulators will need to adopt measures to minimize the impact of electric vehicle charging on the grid. Policymakers have several options on the demand side to do this.

Programmable charging

Programmed charging allows grid operators to control EV load. In this model, EVs receive signals from the grid to optimize efficiency and reduce grid impact, while also factoring in battery constraints and the user's charging requirements.              

EV programmable charging can be regarded as a flexible demand response resource, providing a certain amount of peak shaving functionality. Via smart grid signals and time-of-use pricing incentives, EV owners can be encouraged to charge their vehicles when wholesale electricity prices are low. Entities like charging facility operators and vehicle companies can act as load aggregators, earning subsidies and lowering EV lifetime ownership costs via participation in such demand response programs.

Large scale implementation of programmable charging faces several problems: chargers and charging stations do not all support remotely programmed control, there are issues with ITC standards and data compatibility issues, and there is a lack of attractive pricing mechanisms and business models.

Vehicle-grid integration (V2G)

Vehicle-to-grid integration (V2G) takes the role of EVs a step further by using the vehicle battery to provide grid services, including peak shaving, frequency regulation, renewables smoothing, and non-power supporting functions. An NRDC study, Electric Vehicles, Demand Response and Renewable Energy – Jointly Advancing Low Carbon Development, estimated that vehicle-to-grid integration could yield billions of yuan in cost savings each year by using electric vehicles for flexible capacity.

But V2G, while technologically feasible, still requires a great deal of standardization and business model development. Most EVs and charging infrastructure do not support output to the grid, ancillary service markets are not open to such participants, and the extra wear and tear on vehicle batteries will be a disincentive unless proper compensation is provided to vehicle owners. These challenges are compounded in China due to a regulatory framework that makes market-driven demand response particularly challenging.

Demand Response with Chinese Characteristics

China’s current load management mechanisms are, to a large degree, vestiges of the planned economy era. Chinese grid operators typically rely on administrative rationing during electricity shortages, rather than market-based demand response.

Nonetheless, China is implementing a small number of demand response pilot programs, including one in Beijing, which are helping set the stage for policy reforms expected to be released soon. In March 2015, the government introduced power sector reforms addressing issues that will affect demand response: pricing reforms, ancillary services markets, and the opening up of wholesale electricity markets. Those reforms will be followed by more specific policy measures later this year.

In the meantime, more demonstration projects integrating electric vehicles and grid operations are needed. Internationally, there are a number of demonstration projects which may serve as good models. 

At the time of writing, we are unaware of any electric vehicle demand response programs in mainland China. But with record-breaking electric vehicle sales unlikely to slow down, we fully expect to see these programs coming soon.

Original article by Daixin Li, translation by Matt Stein, editing by Charlie Vest.

Dispatches from San Diego

This is part one in a four-part series on CNESA's trip to San Diego for the Energy Storage North America conference and expo. See parts two, three, and four.

We're happy to be here in San Diego. We're at the center of an energy revolution, and top industry leaders, academics and policymakers are here to show us what they've learned so far.

On the Ground in California’s Energy Revolution

Energy Storage North America 2015 began with site visits to San Diego’s most innovative energy storage projects. Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego, showed us how his university is leading the way in microgrids and  energy storage.

Byron Washom at the UCSD Microgrid.

Byron Washom at the UCSD Microgrid.

UC San Diego is operating a campus microgrid containing a diverse array of technologies, including solar PV-powered EV charging stations, fuel cell storage, thermal storage for cooling, diesel backup generators, and a number of interesting experimental projects that reflect the university’s commitment to exploring the next wave of energy storage technologies.

The first thing that strikes you about UC San Diego is its size. Washom commented that serving the electrical needs of the campus is akin to serving a city of 90,000 people. This has provided both challenges and opportunities for the school.

Maxwell's 30kW solar-smoothing system 

Maxwell's 30kW solar-smoothing system 

Washom has pioneered what he terms a “Motel 6” model for testing new energy storage systems. By laying the groundwork for a container-sized system in various locations on campus, he can carry out testing on whatever systems come his way. We saw a 30kW, 5-minute ultracapacitor installation by Maxwell, being used to smooth out fluctuations due to clouds in a solar PV array built on top of a university theatre. This system will be tested in conjunction with the university's solar forecasting system -- among the most advanced in the world.

BYD has also partnered with UC San Diego to provide a 2.5 MW / 5 MWh energy storage system located on campus. This is a big investment for a campus as large as a small city.

The school's microgrid not only serves the university, but has also helped the community of San Diego through a demand response partnership with the city’s utility, San Diego Gas & Electric. In a recent load event, the university activated its automation systems to adjust thermostats and other non-critical loads to transform the microgrid from an electricity importer into a 3 MW exporter. This 3 MW, Washom said, happened to be just enough to keep the grid up, clearly demonstrating how the right combination of technologies and practices are revolutionizing how utilities and consumers interact.

Keynote Addresses

In the evening, conference attendees met to listen to opening remarks from Janice Lin, conference organizer and founder of Strategen Consulting. She introduced James Avery, chief development officer of San Diego Gas & Electric, who argued that energy storage is the next big opportunity for cleantech players.

Taking a question from the audience about whether utilities had a role to play in the new world of distributed energy, Avery responded by pointing out that for California to reach its carbon emissions targets, the state will need to decarbonize – and thereby electrify – the entire transportation sector. With millions of electric vehicles needing to charge up, there will be a huge demand for electricity – both on a distributed and utility scale.

John Zaruhancik, the president of AES Energy Storage, spoke next. He announced a 20 MW storage project to be built in Dallas, in partnership with Oncor, a Texas utility.

He also talked about the broader meaning and importance of energy as a matter of human livelihood. AES Corporation, which operates the world’s largest fleet of grid-connected batteries, is active in countries which face energy insecurity and instability, such as the Philippines and the Dominican Republic. In his perspective, energy storage is another tool to make people’s lives better, by providing light to read, refrigeration for medicine, and the foundation for a modern economy.

“Clean, unbreakable power,” Zaruhancik said. “That’s what we really want.”

Our trip blog continues in part two for the first full day of presentations and coverage from the expo floor.