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openCEM: Australia's first free, open-source energy modelling tool

Australia's first free, open-source energy modelling tool helps plan for a renewable future

As Australia faces increasing demand on its national electricity network, along with pressure to move towards renewable energy sources, decision and policy makers require access to accurate data in order to assess and verify predictions of energy production, and set policies to proactively plan for Australia’s energy future.

While markets like North America and Europe have had access to high-standard, open data-gathering tools for energy sector decision making for some time, in Australia similar platforms were both expensive and lacked the transparency desired by policy-makers and investors.

To better equip Australia’s energy sector experts with the visibility and insights necessary for transitioning towards a zero-carbon electricity system, Thoughtworks worked alongside IT Renewables, the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at the University of New South Wales and the Energy Transition Hub at the University of Melbourne, to develop openCEM, Australia's first free, open-source capacity expansion modelling tool.

Launched in September 2019, openCEM received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), as part of its Advancing Renewables Program, and the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. 

From policy makers to investors, the tool is available to anyone wanting to explore predictions about future energy technologies and policies on Australia's National Electricity Market. By running any number of scenarios, users can review the implications of variables such as technology characteristics and costs, and changing levels of electricity demand, through until 2050. This capability means that ultimately, openCEM will be able demonstrate how an advanced industrial economy can run reliably on a suite of orchestrated renewable energy generators.

Particular emphasis was placed on the openCEM user experience so the tool was designed to be used in two ways. Users can explore a range of pre-loaded scenarios (based on a set of identified assumptions) on the openCEM website. Results such as generation capacity, dispatch and wholesale electricity cost are displayed visually with attractive graphics. The more sophisticated option is for users to download and install openCEM. Users familiar with Python can then run their own scenarios, with tailored assumptions about inputs such as technologies, policies and demand profiles.

ITP Renewables sees potential for the tool to be customised for modelling the uptake of renewables into the grids of markets across the region and further afield.  

openCEM is a significant step in the right direction for the future of renewable energy. It optimises for a least-cost solution that maintains energy security. Modelling in Australia was previously expensive, single-instance and revealed little about sources of data and assumptions used for analysis, making it very difficult to question the basis upon which dubious energy-modelling claims are made, or to generate alternative scenarios.
Oliver Woldring
Strategy and Policy Group Manager, ITP Renewables

From leading a two-day inception through to building a business case, fundraising, product development and launching, Thoughtworks’ methodology and software delivery capability was at the core of a cohesive team of technologists, designers and subject matter experts. Our experience was critical to managing time-intensive processes, stakeholder management and reporting requirements, and delivering remotely and within budget limitations.

Thoughtworks designed and delivered openCEM’s tech stack using Amazon Web Services for hosting, Elasticsearch for searching, React for a mobile-first front end, Bitbucket, Node.JS and Python. As an active open source project, openCEM modelling assumptions and functionality will continue to be refined, with planned improvements identified on the openCEM website.

In March 2020, openCEM won the title of best sustainability project at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.

Thoughtworks is a key contributor to open source and openCEM is a wonderful example of how software design excellence, meticulous modelling and first-class project management can come together on an open source platform to fill an important need for our energy future. Our hope is that openCEM will demonstrate how an advanced industrial economy can run on renewable energy and that it has set a precedent for similar undertakings in the future, whereby any such government-funded projects are open source.
Felicity Ruby
Research and Policy Adviser, Thoughtworks Australia

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