Utilities call for help on solar power, demand smart inverters


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: Utilities in sunny parts of the world are becoming inundated by  rooftop solar. When those power sources move rapidly up or down - as they do quite often - they can cause serious voltage fluctuations. A group of utility executives and other industry leaders is now asking for help in the form of mandates that would require smart inverters to mitigate the fluctuations. The effort was spearheaded by San Diego Gas & Electric which, by most accounts, has a higher solar penetration than any other North American utility. The release and a link to a full report can be found below.


Incidentally, a similar call for smart inverters is coming from the Northeast United States. In that case, the driving force is the desire to keep solar panels producing electricity even when the main grid goes down. - By Jesse Berst


The Western Electric Industry Leaders (WEIL) Group urges the adoption of smart inverters on all new solar


The Western Electric Industry Leaders (WEIL) Group is urging the installation of "smart inverters” on all new solar generators in the region to ensure the smooth integration of these environmentally friendly resources onto the electric grid.  This vital technology would allow the effective integration of these solar installations by providing the necessary voltage support for these intermittent resources, which can cause power quality problems and reliability impacts because of fluctuations in their generation output.  The smart inverters would help ensure the integrity and reliability of the overall electrical system and enable the increased use of clean renewable energy for the benefit of the community.


WEIL has released a report detailing the immediate need for smart inverters and a letter urging all relevant state public service commissions and/or legislatures to act decisively on this issue to ensure the reliability and safety of the grid for the region’s millions of customers.  WEIL is comprised of executive leaders from numerous utility companies, government agencies and other organizations that provide reliable electricity to millions of citizens throughout the Western United States, serving and empowering their lives each and every day.  Many of these utilities have been called to integrate large amounts of clean, renewable energy into the interconnected electric system, and to do so in a reliable, cost-effective manner.


"As more and more solar generators are placed on the regional electric grid, we need to work together to smoothly bring these clean resources onto our system by fitting them with smart inverters to counter the voltage fluctuations that occur with these intermittent renewable resources,” said Mike Niggli, president and chief operating officer of SDG&E.   "This will ensure the integrity, safety and reliability of our system and enable the continued adoption of more clean, environmentally-beneficial solar power for our communities.”


The challenge is that these new, cleaner forms of renewable energy - wind and solar - tend to be intermittent by nature.  If a cloud covers the sun, or the wind stops blowing, the power output of these sources can become unavailable suddenly and indefinitely.  The key, then, is to seamlessly integrate them onto the grid without sacrificing reliability during these unpredictable fluctuations.  That is where the smart inverters will play a vital, transformative role.  These devices are a low-cost way to mitigate the voltage changes caused by the fluctuating solar generation, thus preventing potential power quality problems.  However, if smart inverters are not installed, these voltage swings can potentially damage utility equipment and residents’ home appliances; increase overall cost of maintaining the grid; require installation of larger, more expensive alternatives; and could even contribute to distributed outages.

Filed Under