Demand For Smart Inverters Increasing With Distributed Energy Growth

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Grid operators are requiring solar plants to provide more support services to the grid, deploying evolving technologies such as smart inverters.

Bruce Barney, writing for Solar Oregon, provides this excellent perspective on the impact for utilities who face managing increasingly complex information concerning the generation and distribution of electricity:

“The utility grid will probably see more changes in how it works in the next 10 or 15 years than in the last 100!  The main driver for this huge shift in how the grid works will undoubtedly be the growing number of electrical consumers who also become electrical generators. From a residential solar system to a municipal biogas plant to a cogeneration unit in a manufacturing plant, more and more distributed generation will be on the grid.”

Importantly, these words form a basic tenet in understanding renewable electricity distribution over the next decade.

To this end, the technical capability of a solar plant to provide grid services falls directly on the inverter, points out Mike Heymsfeld, referring to a newly proposed amendment to the IEEE 1547 Standard for Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems. He argues standards like this will create “a new national standard requiring inverter manufactures to provide grid support, such as low/high voltage and frequency “ride through,” as well as reactive power support, to mitigate grid instability.”

As such, inverter manufacturers are in the midst of developing smarter inverters to communicate between the grid and the solar plant, ultimately creating a far smarter and resilient grid for the future.

One Colorado company leading the development of such smart inverters is Fort Collins-based Advanced Energy Industries.

AE solar energy inverter1000NX_jpg
AE’s NX inverter technology revolutionized the utility scale inverter market

According to Advanced Energy, its NX inverter technology has “revolutionized the utility scale inverter market with its bi-polar transformerless design.”  AE’s NX solutions are designed to meet today’s large commercial and utility applications requirements.

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Founded in 1981, Advanced Energy has built a diversified and global business, delivering advanced power and control technologies to many international clients across a range of industries. The AE specialists are deployed throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, specializing in solar power conversion.

Recently, AE was awarded 325 MW of solar projects by Swinerton Renewable Energy. The installation and commissioning of the portfolio of projects is expected to begin in 2015 and continue through the middle to end of 2016. The 1000NX Inverter will be used on these projects.

“After evaluating the inverter market, we determined that the Advanced Energy 1000NX inverter will allow us to maximize our solar energy production while reducing balance of system and construction costs,” said George Hershman, Swinerton VP and division manager in a press announcement.

Specifically, the AE 1000NX inverter delivers a 98% weighted efficiency rated by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and 98.1% peak efficiency. The inverter’s self-contained, closed-loop air-to-liquid cooling system and component selection offer maximum rated power at desert temperatures, along with significant balance of system savings from the unique +/-1000VDC topology. With a full complement of utility controls, the AE 1000NX also ensures reliable integration of renewable energy into the power system.

Why Smart Inverters? Smart inverters need to be designed to connect to the grid during minor grid disturbances, to change their output to assist the grid in staying stable. Such inverters function in a  ‘randomized’ manner, so all don’t disconnect from the grid at the same time, causing instabilities or outages.

Photo credit: Advanced Energy Industries

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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