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Deakin University high voltage lab
How Australia leads the high voltage charge

When you think of Australian man-made wonders that draw global attention, sights like the Sydney Opera House, Hobart’s MONA and Melbourne’s Eureka Tower spring to mind. South Australia, despite its charming wine regions and historic towns, tends to sit further down the must-see list, but thanks to Elon Musk, South Australia’s about to find fresh fame as the home of the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery.

After a statewide blackout in 2016, entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, owner of software firm Atlassian struck a deal with Elon Musk via Twitter, stating that he would provide the funding if Musk brought the know-how to solve the state’s power problems. Musk’s response:

‘Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?’

It was indeed serious. Working in conjunction with the South Australian government, and French renewables company Neoen, Musk’s battery will be developed at the Hornsdale Windfarm. If Musk pulls it off, it’ll be operational by December 2017 and South Australians can survive summer in air-conditioned comfort without fear of more blackouts.

A battery powered future

Battery storage is the future of our national energy market, and the eyes of the world will be following our leadership in this space,’ South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said in a statement about the ambitious project.

Deakin University Associate Professor Aman Maung Than Oo says there are many developments occurring in the high voltage industry. As the Deputy Head of School in Deakin’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, he sees many opportunities for those who’d like to work in this space. Deakin has invested half a million dollars in the university’s high voltage (HV) facilities in addition to another $1 million spent on setting up a HV laboratory. ‘In the Australasian region this is the second biggest high voltage lab. Not many people do it because it’s expensive,’ he says and adds that a number of industries have approached Deakin regarding opportunities to research and develop products.

Future power supply will be very distinct as there will be small distributed generation units integrating with the grid. A single way of transmitting energy from a particular power plant will no longer be the case as more and more distributed renewable energy farms will contribute to the overall energy needs.

There are still many questions that researchers are trying to find answers to. ‘If you look at a wind farm for example, there is a challenge transmitting energy from a large-scale wind farm through to the high voltage cable and the grid. There are instances of high voltages cables failing especially when energy is transmitted through a wind farm. Deakin has undertaken a project in understanding the characteristics of those cables and identified the limitation of the cables with an objective to develop a solution.’ he points out.

Assoc. Prof Maung Than Oo adds that there is still much work to be done to improve battery power and its efficiency and says large scale energy storage systems will be an essential factor in future global energy supplies. ‘We need to identify various large-scale energy storage systems as energy storage systems are utilised not only for storage energy but also to balance the network.’

Learn more about Deakin’s high voltage lab and other cutting-edge tech innovations.

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Aman Maung Than Oo
Aman Maung Than Oo

Asssociate Professor, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University
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