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DOE funds research into grid-forming PV inverter controls

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DW Keefer's picture
Journalist, Independent Journalist and Analyst

DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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  • Jan 8, 2021

A team of researchers from Binghamton University has been selected to receive $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to develop ways to reliably support higher amounts of solar power on the grid.

The three-year project will focus on advanced grid-forming photovoltaic (PV) inverter control technologies so that the renewable energy source can be more efficiently and reliably integrated with electricity generated by coal, natural gas or other non-renewable methods.

The ultimate goal of the research is to demonstrate a new grid-forming control algorithm at a 1 megawatt hybrid PV plant at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. The proposed controls will be scalable and replicable to multiple hybrid PV plants.

The project will support SETO’s goal to enable the hybrid PV systems to contribute to the reliability of the U.S. electric grid as well as the goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030 set by New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Serving as principal investigator is Associate Professor Ziang “John” Zhang, who said, “We are living in a world where more energy is coming from renewables. How can we make the power system as stable as the one we use today?

He said the challenge is that today’s power system uses synchronous generators that have been well studied for decades, as we know how they will behave under different conditions — as a rotating mass, a synchronous generator following Newton’s Law of Motion. However, renewable energies such as a PV system connect to the power system through an inverter, which will behave based on the control software.”

One issue facing the Binghamton team, he said, is that alternating current generated by traditional methods is able to naturally synchronize with existing power on the grid if the electricity is properly fed into it. A large amount of renewable energy in the grid could cause problems if we don’t have thorough understanding of how these inverters will behave under different grid conditions.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jan 19, 2021

I don't understand. What's to research? There's no mystery to synthetic inertia. Anyone with enough EE background to understand the electrical characteristics of synchronous motor-generators and the design of DC to AC power inverters should be able to design and implement n inverter control algorithm that -- within limits -- displays the same I-V response curves as a synchronous motor-generator.

Maybe the problem is in that "within limits" part. Any inverter will have limits on the amount of current it can deliver while emulating a synchronous generator. A synchronous generator has limits as well, but its short-term limits can be much larger than what it's practical for an inverter to match. For voltage and frequency regulation, it probably doesn't matter. The line voltage and current excursions that the inverter will be have to handle should be within limits that the inverter can handle. Fault recovery, however, is a different matter.

For fault recovery, the momentary current and voltage excursions that a generator or inverter can encounter can be quite large. A rotating machine can rely on its physical inertia to cope with momentary excursions larger than what it's practical for an inverter to handle. If a large battery bank will be required to participate in fault recovery or black start operations, the most cost-effective means to address the requirement could be through the use of synchronous condensers. But that's a design optimization study, not inverter control algorithm research.

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