Canb2016: Part 2 – ANU & the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference

The main reason for heading all the way down to Canberra was to attend the APSRC. Having never spent any time at ANU, I felt it was pertinent that I take a tour around some of the campus to see what the uni is like.

The Campus


The Australian National University, ANU for short, is in Canberra. The main gate (I believe) is at the intersection of North Road and Barry Drive, where I found the most official looking logo sign across the whole campus. The campus itself is quite dispersed, covering a fair amount of area with many separate buildings.


Some of the buildings appear somewhat dated, but elegant in their own way. This is their Engineering building.


Whereas other buildings on the campus have been renewed and look a lot more modern. This is the Research School of Chemistry which has a building somewhat reminiscent of UNSW’s Law Building.


Some of the buildings I found were just downright quirky. If you thought Keith Burrows Theatre at UNSW was round, you haven’t seen the Haydon Allen lecture theatre, also dubbed “The Tank”.


The School of Art has a very vintage look to it, with a sculpture in front of the building. Adjacent to this is the School of Music which was undergoing renovations.


The university also has a Drill Hall Gallery, with a sculpture that looks a bit like the pages of a book.


Just opposite is the ANU Shop where campus tours depart, but I didn’t bother with that. In fact, there are many ways to get into the campus by foot, and sometimes it just seems that you’re walking from the street into the campus without knowing it.


There are even function centres that can be hired …


… as well as a nearby UniLodge accommodation with some restaurants as well. Being right next to Canberra Centre, everything seems rather convenient.


Just around the corner, there was this set of accommodation blocks. I mistook the green mesh as if it were temporary scaffolding. A very interesting choice of architecture.

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2016113015419645The set of blocks must have been fairly recent as well, since they had a new loking Schneider Electric KPX padmount transformer. In case you wondered how much it weighs – a hair over 5 tonnes is the answer!

Another interesting thing was the presence of “Cab Spot” signs in some areas, so that people can convey their location with a high amount of accuracy without any ambiguity.


2016120109249765The uni itself is located not far from Black Mountain – the location of Telstra Tower. This tower is quite iconic and houses a number of microwave repeater dishes and transmitting antennas. Rather amusingly, the tree in the foreground is cordoned off with a warning sign that states “Caution! Bees in Lavender”. I’ve never seen that before.

As usual, there are also bulletin boards where university students hang posters and signs. More about that later.


While walking around, every-so-often, you can catch glimpses of the tower which remind you that you’re in Canberra.


If there’s one thing that really stands out, that is how ANU has very much maintained a green campus. Nature is everywhere – this nice boulevard …


… and even a creek running through the university.


It feels like a relaxed place to be, although the students sitting their exams might beg to differ.

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The birds also agree – I managed to spot crows, magpies, rosellas and wattlebirds in my short time roaming around. The magpie was also very nice in sitting still and singing for me for a few minutes.


Their environmental responsibility also extends to this row of solar panels on top of their retail precinct next to their library building.


When it comes to facilities, there’s really no complaints either. We don’t even have electric barbecues on our campus!

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The university acts as a “safe space” for expressing individual thoughts and greivances, and the noticeboards really do show that is very much alive. Even without the benefit of noticeboards, it seems students aren’t shy of putting stickers on water fountains and signs to get their message across – in this case, a parody sticker of Wilson Security’s logo protesting their Naru and Manus Island operations.

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Canberra seems to have a reputation for being under camera surveillance, and at ANU, this is no different. In many locations, they have disguised CCTV cameras as light posts – mildly effective during the day, but more obvious at night. I suppose it might be a little more aesthetically pleasing than having them obvious.

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I saw some other ANU-specific signs – good to see they use recycled water and a good number of people are cycling around the campus. The ramp load message was rather interesting – it specifies a weight load per area. This might be because they don’t want to have the pavers destroyed, but this is more an engineers’ sign rather than something your average person can work out.

But the sign itself is flawed. How do you determine it? I mean … if I’m an average 70kg human, and I’m standing on a single foot, a back of the envelope assuming my shoe measures about 30cm x 15cm tells me I’m exerting about 1556kg/m^2 of downward force. Does that mean I can’t walk on this ramp? Uhh … I suspect they need to add even more information for us to resolve this uncertainty.


On one day, I spotted the mobile blood-bank collection truck on campus, which isn’t something I see very often …


… and this road safety sign on Barry Drive. It’s fairly old fashioned, but I just like the way it almost dares you to drink and drive.

The Conference


The conference was held in the Manning Clark Lecture Theatres.


2016113008019579The theatres were named after Manning Clark, Professor of History.




2016120311119942The conference itself was an information overload. Session after session of overviews or mostly solid technical information, new ideas and hope for the future. It was both inspiring and draining, as it was three days of 8:30am to 5:30pm of presentations and conversations with like minded people. It was highly enjoyable, and I think I got a lot out of it.


It was a rather interesting experience, even on the first day, when Josh Frydenberg was invited to speak at the co-run Energy Update conference. Just outside the theatres, signs of a protest were already evident, and constant heckling from crowd members including “Knitting Nanna” really put the heat on the minister. I really don’t envy his position, as it’s a tough one to balance as you can’t please everybody.

Regardless, from everyone that I heard speak at the conference, I think the key takeaways from the conference included:

  • The need to do more, and quickly. To arrest global warming will require all the resources we have. This includes renewable energy resources, but also less conventional carbon sequestration approaches. It seems too late to save the planet on energy policy alone.
  • Policy drivers can be extremely powerful in making things work – at least, from the analyst’s point of view.
  • Technology improvements in wind power have resulted in steady improvements in capacity factors and costs for energy – it is very much complementary to solar output and offshore wind appears to be a key growth area.
  • Solar energy penetration has altered the load curve to represent a “duck” curve, where afternoon-evening peak is not really being aided and overgeneration during the middle of the day is a risk.
  • Lack of inertia in present line-interactive inverters leads to challenges in maintaining grid stability, although solutions are actively being worked upon which may mean that inverters may work together in teams to provide grid FCAS auxiliary services (and also, consequently, rely on networking/IoT). Whether they can provide utility-level reliability is yet to be demonstrated.
  • New opportunities in distributed generation peer-to-peer energy trading has the potential to change the business model of distributors and retailers, thus supplying energy at similar costs to end users, but allowing end users to effectively trade energy on an open market – whether they are receptive to change is questionable.
  • Solar cell devices work in perovskites is progressing at a remarkable rate. Unusual behaviours are beginning to find explanations rooted in classical physics and chemistry, and ever-greater efficiencies and cell sizes have been reported.
  • Battery storage is a big thing for the grid. Costs are likely to make it feasible for some applications very much in the “current” time, although how best to integrate this into the grid for other purposes (PFC, reactive power support) is still under investigation. It has a potential to mitigate the intermittency which can cause grid problems, although how to share the costs of such services between the grid provider and the consumer is also a point of contention.

One of the things I saw throughout was a constant focus on capacity factors. It seems that the vast majority of projects are basically “profit driven”, thus there is this issue of making sure everything is used to its maximal ability to maximise the profits. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is one that constrains us dearly, as it means that there is an equity issue to be addressed especially where transmission network capacities are maxed out and certain end-points can’t trade energy due to the prevailing network conditions.

It also results in intermittency being an issue. Where running anything near its maximal capacity, there is little reserve to handle transients or changes in conditions. This is partly why the stability of the grid may be impacted if everything is “optimized” to be “just sufficient”. This is also why I find some of the proposals somewhat scary. Networked small-scale inverters acting as large generators have a slight benefit that failure of any one will only result in small deviations, however, such systems open up new dependencies on networking and “internet of things” which may become vulnerable to even basic denial-of-service attacks.

AEMO’s dispatch market currently focuses on 5-minute intervals, and schedules/dispatches generation to meet needs on this interval. Adding a lot of smaller generators and co-ordinating them is likely to prove onerous, and existing large scale power plants were probably built with contractual agreements to “buy” energy at a certain rate for a certain number of years ensuring the capacity factor. This is essentially energy that has to be bought … so coal it is?

Instead, solar energy at the moment is getting quite cheap. It’s so cheap that I think we can afford not to utilize it all. In fact, I think it probably makes sense even when using cheap less-reliable panels, based on overprovisioning and geographic dispersal. By having a power reserve based on not using all your energy that you can get at all times, it’s possible to “help” the grid along with the extra power. It’s possible to compensate for weather events causing ramping at other solar farms, for example. It’s also possible to utilize the capacity of transmission lines to the maximum, especially if teamed with storage, throughout the day and night.

The issue is that we need to do more, and fast, for our own future. So, I think it’s important to remember that the cost of something doesn’t really reflect its true environmental cost. Coal and nuclear may seem cheap on paper, but they have other costs which aren’t clear. Renewable energy makes comparison harder, since costs are almost all upfront, but generally their impact and running costs are low once installed. I really hope that storage and renewables both get cheap enough to work hand-in-hand to provide a stable-enough energy source that can transition us away from gas and coal fired plants within the next decade. Maybe it’s not the cost and profits we should be thinking about but merely the fact that if we don’t do this all together, we might not be living in the sort of world that we have now, and our future children won’t be able to either.

Wi-Fi Devices on the Network?

Being at the university, having good internet connectivity was a given. On the first day, as the conference provided credentials didn’t work, I had to tunnel through the eduroam system. This was an arrangement that allowed roaming researchers to login to the Wi-Fi network at participating institutions using their “home” institution credentials. It worked by forwarding the Wi-Fi session all the way through to the home institution, and thus was not as efficient as a local login. This did get me online well enough that I could get to my home servers, check everything was okay and transact some data to my phone and laptop.

After the end of the first day, the network connectivity was fixed, so I decided to give the network a scan to see what turned up. I used the Fing application, and decided to catalog the OUI’s derived from the MAC addresses to see how popular certain brands of devices were.


A total of 693 devices were found connected to the ANU_Secure network, of which a majority were Apple devices, with Samsung and Intel taking the next two places and more than 75% of the devices connected. This is a combination of all types of devices – phones, laptops, etc.

The ANU_Secure network allocated addresses in the space, with symmetric 1:1 NAT and firewall. The wireless access points were branded Aruba, whereas the ones at UNSW are Cisco.


In all, the ANU campus is fairly large, and even though some of the buildings were rather dated, the uni seems to be undergoing a renewal of sorts. The campus seems to be very green, relaxing and feature-rich. It’s well situated and easy to get to.

The conference itself was eye-opening and inspiring, even though it was very draining due to the information overload. I think the key takeaway message is that there are challenges towards integrating high levels of renewables and improving their performance, but these challenges are being actively researched and strategies to improve the coexistence of old and new are being developed. The inertia of old-industries and business-as-usual conservatism really does put a brake on the pace of change, but it seems that massive change is inevitable if we are to meet and exceed accord targets and keep the warming and climate change at bay.

The next post looks at some rather interesting infrastructure, namely the ACT Government and iiNet’s CBRfree WiFi network.


A photo of the afternoon sun hitting The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources building facing the Ellery Crescent entrance to ANU as I was leaving the conference for the final time on Thursday 1st December.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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2 Responses to Canb2016: Part 2 – ANU & the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference

  1. Edward says:

    Hi Gough. This is a trivial point to make, but on your comment about electric barbecues, UNSW does have at least a couple. They’re just hidden from the main foot traffic areas. There’s one near Sam Cracknell pavilion, on the other side of the brick wall of the main walkway. There’s also one on the Physics Lawn, near the Rupert Myers lecture theatre.

    Also, congratulations on reaching 2 million site views! May the next million views be more enjoyable for you than the last.

    • lui_gough says:

      Aha! I forgot all about those … yes, the ones next to the Village Green! The Physics Lawn one rings a bell too … although I’ve never used either one, I do vaguely remember passing by them at one stage. Good to know – I’ve not been down that end of the campus for so long …

      – Gough

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