Around 40% of the world’s power needs are currently met by electrical energy and that proportion is expected to rise as countries cut carbon emissions and shift to renewable energy sources. As the trend towards renewable energies increases, enabling technologies such as power electronics are becoming ever more important.
Utilities are becoming increasingly concerned that as solar panels become more prevalent, they will tax local grids and destabilize power service, leading to the need for expensive equipment upgrades.
Germany, Hawaii, and parts of New Jersey and California have already taken measures to prevent the worst from happening. For instance, close to 10% of Hawaiian Electric’s customers have solar panels, and the local utility now requires solar contractors and customers on Oahu to obtain approval before installing solar panels.
A model for sharing the cost of studying the upgrades may need to happen to install another rooftop solar system is being developed by Hawaiian Electric.
To address the instability caused by distributed solar, start-up Gridco Systems has developed a product that uses power electronics to smooth out spikes in voltage caused by solar generators. Gridco believes it’s pole or ground-mounted devices will create a distributed control infrastructure to monitor and manage the flow of power for a number of uses, including solar integration.
These power regulators can cost between $5,000 and $8,000. One device can regulate a single cluster of homes with rooftop solar panels, but it may take several devices to manage voltage fluctuations in a utility-scale installation. Managing voltage fluctuations in a utility-scale installation could require multiple devices.