Industry group calls for smart inverter use for solar energy projects

The Western Electric Industry Leaders (WEIL) group is urging the installation of smart inverters on all new solar power generators in the region to ensure the smooth integration of these renewable energy resources onto the electric transmission grid.

This technology would allow the effective integration of these solar energy installations by providing the necessary voltage support for these intermittent resources, which can cause power quality problems and reliability impacts because of fluctuations in their generation output, according to the group.

The smart inverters would help ensure the integrity and reliability of the overall electrical system and enable the increased use of renewable energy.

The challenge is that these new, cleaner forms of renewable energy — wind and solar — tend to be intermittent by nature. If a cloud covers the sun, or the wind stops blowing, the power output of these sources can become unavailable suddenly and indefinitely. The key, then, is to seamlessly integrate them onto the grid without sacrificing reliability during these unpredictable fluctuations. That is where the smart inverters will play a vital role.

These devices are a low-cost way to mitigate the voltage changes caused by the fluctuating solar generation, thus preventing potential power quality problems. However, if smart inverters are not installed, these voltage swings can potentially damage utility equipment and residents’ home appliances; increase overall cost of maintaining the grid; require installation of larger, more expensive alternatives; and could even contribute to distributed outages.

With more than 100,000 solar arrays already installed in the region, WEIL Group member companies have studied this issue extensively and found significant improvement in power quality when smart inverters are placed on the system. This change is well worth the small cost to the consumers who choose to use solar installations. For a solar installation costing $12,000, the new smart inverter technology will only cost about $150 more than the current inverters, about 1 percent of the overall cost. This is a bargain price given the expensive retrofit process in Germany.

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