Big solar installations are taking place all over the country, and experts are forecasting even more in the years to come. But what happens when distributed solar becomes a reality on a mass scale? How will it impact the grid as a whole? And what steps can be taken now to ensure the transition goes smoothly?
These are the some questions that researchers at General Electric (GE) and Arizona Public Service (APS), along with three other partners, are seeking to address through a comprehensive study, the first of its kind, funded through a $3.3 million High Penetration Solar Deployment grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission earlier this month, the study will take place in Flagstaff, Arizona, and will focus on identifying methods and technologies to optimize grid reliability and efficiency with a high concentration of distributed solar.
By deploying 1.5 megawatts of solar power on a single “feeder”, or energy distribution area–generated by residential photovoltaic (PV) rooftop installations, commercial business properties and a utility-scale solar park installation–the APS study will provide answers to questions about the technologies needed to accommodate higher penetrations of solar (and when they will they be needed), what changes utility controllers can expect in how they manage power, how the stability of the distribution network could be affected by fluctuating solar power production and how the new features of the GE Solar Inverter might help to improve system stability and power quality. GE researchers will be collecting data over the next couple of years, with a full report to be completed by 2013.