Grid Integration and Intelligent Controls Powering Solar 2.0
The next wave of solar PV generation in Europe is coming. The most recent advancement is riding not on the back of a game changing new panel design, or sweeping policy changes, solar 2.0, as it is being called, is breathing new life into the solar industry through a closer integration with the power grid, including intelligent controls.
With a robust and capable power grid infrastructure already at its disposal, Europe is well equipped to integrate new monitoring and management tools and methods to free up further capacities. As Europe sees its 2020 renewable energy targets looming, it is becoming increasingly important to take advantage of all available technologies to enable the highest possible levels of solar penetration on the grid.
One of the main drivers of solar PV’s continued growth, outpacing all fossil fuel and nuclear installations combined in 2017, has been the continuously falling price of solar PV generation. As solar continues to establish itself as one of the most cost effective generation technologies available, it is important that developments related to grid integration keep pace with the quickly advancing industry.
A demonstration project spearheaded by the California Independent System Operator, First Solar, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2016 tested the proficiency of a 300 MW solar plant in providing ancillary services to the electric grid. The centrepiece of the project was the plant level controller (PPC), developed by First Solar, which enabled a multitude of new plant level control functions.
The conclusion of the demonstration project resulted in valuable insights regarding what can be possible if a closer integration of utility scale PV plants and the power grid is facilitated. When paired with advanced plant controls, Solar PV plants can provide a wide range of reliability services, including dynamic voltage regulation, fast frequency response in both low and high frequency events, and ramp rate controls. Most importantly, this functionality currently already exists in utility-scale PV power plants, meaning grid operators can start to take advantage of these valuable services.
In order for solar to enter its next phase in earnest, cooperation from grid operators and policymakers is of the upmost importance. With advanced solar plant controls offering solutions to several of the operational challenges faced by grid operators in the transition to renewable energy, this new functionality should be highlighted as a valuable tool in the march towards a sustainable energy future.
With the technology present and infrastructure in place to bring a new level of usefulness to utility-scale solar, it is becoming increasingly important for energy policies and electricity market designs to keep pace and allow solar PV generation to function at its full potential. Managing the technology in an outdated manner will only serve to undermine its effectiveness moving forward, and give fuel to those still canvassing for the interests of fossil fuel producers.
A joint study published by Solar Power Europe and First Solar has outlined what can be made possible by shifting solar power from its current “must-take” operating mode to a dispatchable model. The study shows that in a must take scenario, solar power can reliably provide up to 14% of energy to the grid, beyond that, systems do not have the flexibility to balance supply and demand. Dispatchable solar unlocks much greater potential for solar plants, increasing the value of generated energy and enabling solar penetration more than twice the levels possible with the must take model.
Solar 2.0 is only the beginning of what can ultimately be achieved, and those in the industry are already hard at work on Solar 3.0, a fully dispatchable system enabled by energy storage. Solar 3.0 will offer the ability to react to grid demands, and provide the required energy regardless of time, or current production potential of the plant. Beyond the simple addition of storage capabilities, solar 3.0 will usher in a more autonomous operation of PV plants, including module cleaning, performance optimization, and integrating systems with storage technologies.
As the push to combat climate change grows in strength in Europe and abroad, solar industry leaders are showing that they are well equipped to handle a heightened role in the shift to a renewable energy future. Following the roadmap laid out with solar 2.0, and eventually 3.0 will necessitate the cooperation of not only those directly involved in the industry, but those tasked with creating the policies that will govern our energy future. The future of solar is already here, and with the support of policy makers and the public, it can continue to provide a path towards a sustainable future.