The University of Queensland has opened a new facility to investigate and protect electricity networks through system analytics and cyber security research.

The Industry 4.0 Energy TestLab was established with Siemens with additional funding from the federal government to help electricity providers adopt new digital technologies.

It also seeks to prepare industry for an increasingly complex energy grid structure driven by a transition towards ‘microgrids’ powered by renewable energy and battery systems.

Siemens Australia chief executive Jeff Connolly said the UQ TestLab will have software tools to create a digital twin for power networks.

Digital twins are models of real-world assets and dataflows, which Connolly said would allow entire grid processes to “be carefully examined, simulated and tested virtually – from electricity generation, to transmission and distribution, and finally energy consumption and management”.

“In addition to research projects, UQ is utilising this software around campus to understand its own energy consumption patterns, with the ability to then adjust the power that its systems are running,” he said in a statement.

UQ vice-chancellor, Professor Deborah Terry, added that TestLab’s simulation capability will be “vital” as the nation moves towards decentralised energy systems that incorporate more sustainable options like household solar.

“It’ll serve as a point of engagement between industry, researchers and students – enabling knowledge transfer and collaboration around power and energy system analytics, microgrid control, energy management, and cyber-physical systems security,” Terry said.

“It will also create engaging and deeply realistic teaching and learning experiences for students.”

Research at the TestLab will be led by cyber security expert Professor Ryan Ko and power systems researcher Professor Tapan Saha, who said the new facility complements the university’s existing renewable energy lab.

“This is a lab built for teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate programs, industry training with hands on experience and multidisciplinary research,” Saha said.

The facility forms part of a national network of Industry 4.0 TestLabs backed by the federal government to prepare for the so-called “fourth industrial revolution,” where physical processes are connected with digital technologies such as sensors, machine learning and advanced robotics.

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