The focal point of the U.S. Department of Energy’s vision for the nation’s electricity grid is solar power, seamlessly integrated into the existing grid architecture, with high levels of scalability, security and reliability. DoE’s recently announced, “Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE)” funding program targets the addition of solar at 50% of the peak distribution load by 2020, rising to 100% of the peak distribution load by 2030.
Among several smart technologies deployed to make this vision a reality, the solar inverter will be the linchpin. Basically, an inverter converts the DC output of a solar cell to AC that can power standard appliances and other electronic equipment in a home or business, or can be fed back into the grid if not needed locally. Thus, synchronizing its AC output with the grid voltage and complying with safety requirements, such as shutting off the AC output when the grid is down, are also basic functions of a solar inverter.
Now, inverters are being called upon to deliver a number of other capabilities: Monitoring and communicating the grid’s status, responding to operational instructions from a central location, making autonomous decisions to improve grid stability and power quality, and providing ancillary services.
The solar inverter is going to be both crucial and ubiquitous; for engineers it represents a significant opportunity for innovation.
To demystify some of the inner workings of this crucial component of the grid, we recommend a crash course in the fundamentals. This short training video casts a wide net that includes: Converter topologies; the importance of digital control in the conversion of DC to AC (and how to select digital controllers); overcoming voltage limitations using capacitive isolation; communications standards best suited for monitoring inverters, and many other topics. It’s an invaluable first step to engineering a smarter, greener grid.