U.S. DoE gives $2.1 mln contract to develop smart-grid ready PV inverters

Solectria Renewables, LLC (Lawrence, Mass., U.S.A.), a PV inverter manufacturer, announced on Tuesday that it has been awarded a $2.1 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop integrated smart-grid ready photovoltaic (PV) inverters with utility communications in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Detroit Edison, National Grid and Xcel Energy. The contract is part of the DOE's SunShot Initiative, which aims to accelerate the development of cost-competitive solar technologies, according to the company.

A PV inverter is a part of the solar energy system that converts direct currents (DC) to alternating currents (AC) to allow it to be fed onto a commercial electric grid.

According to Solectria, this program will demonstrate smart-grid ready inverters with grid support functionality and required communication links with utilities.

According to Solectria, today's utility scale PV inverters are not well integrated with existing Distribution Management Systems (DMS) control distribution switches, load-tap changers, capacitor banks, and other circuit operation distributed resources. Under this contract, EPRI and Solectria Renewables will integrate the DMS, enabling utilities to communicate different operating objectives such as a normal mode, with no disturbances, energy conservation mode, demand reduction mode, or grid-level emergency mode.

The key objectives of the program are to leverage ongoing investments--in smart grid and related standards--and to expand PV inverter capabilities, which together will enable grid operators to better utilize these grid assets, according to the company. The main elements in this project are: head-end communications at the utility operations center; integration into the DMS; back-end PV plant master controller; and smart-grid functionality built into the inverters.

Detroit Edison, National Grid and Xcel Energy will supply test sites ranging from 605kW to 30MW, according to the company. Each of the sites will test different aspects of the aforementioned technologies being developed by EPRI and Solectria Renewables.

The completed program will demonstrate end-to-end communication connectivity and control between the utility operations and distributed resources by developing DMS, the communication head-end at utility operation center, substation DER SCADA, (e.g. the communication path), back-end plant master controller and inverters with smart-grid functionality.

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