The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Why ABB Wants to Buy an Inverter Maker

ABB's plan to buy Power-One reflects the growing importance of the inverter as the brain to help integrate solar energy into the U.S. electric grid.

An inverter's traditional role is to convert the direct current from the solar panels into the alternating current to feed into the grid. Its role is expanding, however, as power plant developers, utilities and grid operators increasingly turn to inverters for ways to control the flow of solar energy. Functions such as low-voltage ride through, reactive power injection, over-frequency response and ramp-up control are either under consideration or required for interconnecting solar power projects in the transmission and distribution networks.                        

Inverter makers knew this was coming because they have seen the need for those features in more mature solar markets such as Germany. The U.S. is a younger and fast-growing market. It's is now seeing the first wave of big solar energy projects coming online.

The amount of new solar energy generation grew 76 percent in 2012 in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. The utility segment of the business, in which developers build power plants for utilities or to sell power to utilities, is bigger than the commercial and residential sectors. In 2012, developers completed 152 utility projects, which accounted for 54 percent, or about 1.8 GW, of the solar panels installed that year. Over 4 GW of utility-scale projects are under construction, many of which are in western U.S.

With so much solar energy coming online, utilities and grid operators have been doing studies and pilot projects to figure out how best to manage the infusion of solar energy, especially given that the amount of production could fluctuate widely throughout the day because of factors such as cloud covers. A grid runs smoothly only when there is a balance of supply and demand, something that is easier to achieve with fossil fuel power plants.

Baking more intelligence into inverters is one of the ways to manage a grid with more solar power. The amount of solar energy flowing into the grid isn't significant enough to make an impact on the grid operationyet, said Chase Sun, principal engineer at Pacific Gas and Electric, told me by email earlier this year. But with big power projects coming online and the increase of smaller solar electric systems, including those on the roofs of homes and businesses, there will come a day when the grid "may not have sufficient operating margin to cover for the renewables if a large number of them tripped off unnecessarily due to a major system disturbance."

Inverters serve as a bridge between the solar panels and the transmission or distribution network. So a lot of technical work is looking at interconnection requirements for hooking a solar project to the grid. The Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is working on modifying the 1547 standard for interconnection.

Much of the new inverter functions deal with voltage and frequency regulations. Low-voltage ride through, for example, will keep the solar power flowing into the grid even when the voltage of the grid drops. In the past, the conventional wisdom was to shut off the solar power flow if an inverter detects an unusually low dip in voltage of the grid for whatever reason. But doing so may not be helpful. If a bunch of solar energy systems suddenly go offline, then the utilities and grid operators will have to scramble to make up for the shortfall. PG&E uses inverters with low-voltage ride through function in its own solar power projects that are connected to its distribution network.

Power plant developers also increasingly want to what's called "ramp-up control." This function makes it possible to turn on and dial up a power plant's production each day, and is especially critical for renewable energy generation because its rate of production isn't as steady as a fossil fuel power plant. Adding ramp-up control isn't as difficult as creating ramp-down control, though, something that would be easier accomplished with the use of energy storage.            

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now



SolarCity Lays Claim to ‘World’s Most Efficient Rooftop Solar Panel’

Jennifer Delony SolarCity in an Oct. 2 announcement said that it will begin production this month on what the company claims is the “...

Global Forecast: Solar Installation Capacity To Top 57 GW in 2015

Renewable Energy World Editors Solar installations globally could grow by between 25 percent and 30 percent in 2015 compared to last year, according...
solar power

APS Requesting Proposals for New Large-scale Solar Power Plant

PennEnergy Editors Arizona Public Service (APS) on Oct. 1 announced it is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to test the market for n...


Solar Power World Ranks Florida Solar One a Top 400 Solar Installer

Florida Solar One, a Miami Fort Lauderdale solar contractor is ranked among the top sol...

Niner Wine Estates Powers 100 Percent of Winery Operations with REC Solar

The 388 KW solar system installed by REC Solar will pay for itself in approximately fiv...

AWS Truepower Makes Wind Project Design More Effective with Less Effort with New Openwind® Version

AWS Truepower, LLC, an international leader in renewable energy consulting and informat...

US Solar Institute Chosen for Military Solar Training at Patrick Air Force Base

In August 2015, the Air Force chose The US Solar Institute (USSI) for a specialized sol...



Geothermal Visual: GEA, Clean Energy Organizations Tell Congress: We Need Tax Extenders 'As Soon As Possible'

In a letter dated Oct. 5, over 580 signatories representing clean energy industries, including Geothermal Energy Asso...

It's All About The Why

Why do people buy your product or service? This is a question that you should keep in your mind at all times and remi...

Tracked Community Solar Gardens Bloom

Victor Delgado and his wife Norma had been watching their utility bills slowly climb since they bought their home in ...


Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Applying Renewable Energy - Online Training

RENAC Online offers a selection of courses on a wide variety of renewabl...

Certified Renewable Energy Project Developer - online training

In this online training, participants learn about the most critical para...

Certified PV Professional - online training

After completing this online training, participants will be able to unde...


Referral Engine

In the efficiency business, a successful referral can mean the differenc...

The Vice President Stole My Show (Not Really)

When I finished my Solar Power International (SPI) panel discussing what...

The Value Of The Building

If you’re selling efficiency solutions in the built environment, y...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now