Environment & Engineering

Mike Collins Commercialisation Scholarship supports the growth of renewable energy projects

Published May 24, 2022

Soheil Mohseni is developing a tool to optimise how we use renewable energy. The idea comes at a time when we find ourselves amid a global energy crisis – where the cost of energy is increasing and how energy is produced globally is largely unsustainable. Soheil’s idea is to advance microgrids – local electricity grids with control capability. The microgrids will store renewable energy based on weather and power load forecasts, and supply power needs using an optimal mix of generation and storage technologies. It’s an initiative that could be adopted across the world. To develop his product and better understand how to take his tool to market, Soheil was recently awarded the Wellington UniVentures Mike Collins Commercialisation Scholarship.  

Soheil Mohseni is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Sustainable Energy Systems at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Through his PhD research, Soheil has developed a computational tool for use in optimising the size of the equipment needed for establishing a microgrid. Microgrids differ from traditional power grids as they generate and supply power for local consumption, compared to transmitting energy over long distances through transmission lines. Microgrids are more energy efficient, resilient, reliable and provide democracy benefits. They can also be more flexibly managed for non-dispatchable energy infrastructures and can more efficiently respond to future challenges, such as growth of electric vehicles. Grid-connected microgrids utilise optimisation algorithms to determine the most suitable times to draw power from the grid and when to disconnect and operate autonomously.

Optimising microgrid algorithms is Soheil’s area of focus as he aims to find the most suitable times to charge and discharge energy storage. SMOULDER (Stochastic Microgrid Optimisation under Uncertain Loads and Distributed Energy Resources), is Soheil’s idea to be used during the planning and designing phase of microgrid development. It optimises the size of each component (e.g. solar panels, wind turbines, battery packs and hydrogen storage amongst others) and the total generation and storage capacities of the system. This is achieved through AI-powered techniques which can forecast factors such as when and how much power would be required at certain times, pricing and customer actions based on historical data. Current industry-leading software is much more limiting, as it is only able to optimise the size of four renewable storage technologies at a time, whereas SMOULDER can provide closer-to-true optimisation – SMOULDER isn’t limited in terms of the number of components it can handle at a time, and it also utilises AI-based algorithms. This could result in saving hundreds of thousands in community-scale microgrid projects.

Soheil was seeking IP for his project when he was put in touch with Wellington UniVentures’ Commercialisation Manager, Mick Riley. This was Soheil’s first exposure to the commercialisation process and Mick has supported Soheil in better understanding commercialisation fundamentals. Mick recognised Soheil’s drive and suggested he applied for the Mike Collins Commercialisation Scholarship. “Soheil is dedicated to his area of research and wants to implement change in the way that we currently use energy. He has worked hard to design the tool and it has the potential to be used globally,” explained Mick. “I saw the programme as a great step for Soheil to upskill and develop his business acumen, and to use this knowledge to further develop his product to suit industry needs.”

The 12-week programme allowed Soheil to work both on software development and end-user experience. Following initial conversations with industry experts to clarify desirable features for the final product, Soheil converted his programming language from MATLAB to Python. Python has been recognised as one of the most important programming languages for anyone working outside academia. Converting the programming language has meant that the software can be more widely used and tested. From an end-user perspective, he was able to develop a graphical user interface (GUI), enabling end-users to test the software and compare it to existing solutions.

In addition to developing the tool, through better understanding of the pathway to market, Soheil created his own action plan for achieving commercial objectives. He was able to look more in depth at market validation, understanding industry and end-user needs. Soheil learned that the product needed to be more scalable to be used across a range of renewable energy platforms, for example, from nano-grids and electric vehicle charging stations to community energy systems.

The scholarship was vital for the progression of Soheil and his work. As the programme comes to an end for Soheil, he reflects on the experience and encourages other students to join. “From those very early stages, the support I received enabled me to make sound decisions about the direction of my project. I was able to learn about industry wants and needs before spending too much time developing an initiative that wouldn’t work in the market. This was a great experience and if you have an idea that you would like to grow, this scholarship and the support from Wellington UniVentures is invaluable.”