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

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.            

RELATED ARTICLES

Intersolar Europe 2015: Spirits Up, Stats Down

William P. Hirshman, Contributor Intersolar Europe, billed at the world’s leading exhibition for the solar industry, is indeed big. But Intersolar Europe 2015, one of five Intersolar-branded gatherings around the globe each year, was not as large as the an...
US Capitol

Republicans and Democrats Back Bill to Level the Playing Field for Renewable Energy

Vince Font, Contributing Editor U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Jerry Moran are leading a bipartisan effort to reintroduce tax code legislation aimed at leveling the playing field for renewable energy investment. The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act w...
Solar thermal desalination

Solar Thermal Desalination Now Underway in Water-hungry California

Susan Kraemer, Correspondent Regional droughts are being exacerbated by climate change, which is mostly caused by what is tasked with bailing them out — fossil fuels. Israel, Australia, and now southern California have all turned to expensive energy-gu...
Memo pad on table

IRS Issues Solar Tax Equity Memo Stating the Obvious

David Burton and Richard Page, Akin Gump On Friday, the IRS issued a heavily redacted Chief Counsel Advice (“CCA”) memorandum, that addresses the intersection of solar investment tax credit partnership flip transactions and the wind production tax credit part...
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...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 3
1505REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

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

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

SAP for Utilities

The SAP for Utilities conference is the most comprehensive SAP for Utili...

Training: Preparing for Rule 21 - SPI 2015

What: Rule 21 Training When: September 16th @ 4:30-5:30pm Wher...

Training: NEC 2014, AFDI, & Rapid Shutdown - SPI 2015

What: NEC 2014, AFDI, & Rapid Shutdown When: September 15t...

COMPANY BLOGS

More Middle-Class Massachusetts Residents Are Going Solar

Massachusetts is known for the Pilgrims, Boston cream pie and its excell...

Harnessing Emotions

Think about how you interact with your prospects. Are you going from the...

Can Solar Customers and Conventional Utilities Get Along?

As the number of rooftop solar continues to grow, especially in the...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS