Sandia and SunPower Researching Utility-Scale Solar Energy Integration

Sandia National Laboratories and SunPower Corp. announced that they formalized a research agreement in which they will focus on integrating large-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems into the grid.

The organizations signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), which enables them to leverage approximately $1 million of combined U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and SunPower funding. Additionally, a consortium led by SunPower, which includes Sandia as a partner, was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) to improve modeling of high-penetration PV systems.

According to a recent report published by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar industry grew in 2009 despite economic concerns. The total U.S. solar electric capacity from PV and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies exceeded 2,000 MW, which is enough to serve more than 350,000 homes.

Bust since solar power is intermittent, and as more and more of it is added to the grid,utility companies must find a way to ensure that the power system continues to operate reliably and cost-effectively, whether the sun is shining or not. This is a new challenge for many utility systems operators.

“A question worth asking is: what are the possible impacts of connecting very large PV systems or a lot of smaller, distributed PV systems on the grid, and what are the solutions for mitigating these impacts? It’s not just a rhetorical question anymore,” said Sandia photovoltaic systems researcher Abraham Ellis. “It is a question that many utility companies are grappling with right now. Part of the problem is that we lack specialized tools and data to properly assess the impact on the grid and evaluate mitigation alternatives. This partnership will help address those challenges.”

Through the CRADA and the CSI grant the organizations will create better grid-integration simulation models and develop new tools to better understand how utility power systems are affected by the variability of solar generation.

Sandia and SunPower have been working through Sandia’s CRADA since February and have already started producing new models and simulation tools.  The results will soon be disseminated through joint publications. The collaboration between Sandia and SunPower is expected to achieve significant results over the next two years.

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