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PV System Performance

DC monitoring raises the bar for solar power plants

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2011

to build a PV system with DC monitoring capabilities remains a difficult decision, and it’s impossible to generalize whether it’s always worth the additional costs. Project teams must consider the benefits and tradeoffs, and choose solutions that best maximize performance while minimizing associated drawbacks.

Furthermore, looking ahead, the large-scale solar wholesale generation plants currently under development will have a substantial effect on the North American utility grid when they are built. The variability of solar resources has the potential to negatively impact the continuity of power supplied by the electric grid if steps aren’t taken to fully characterize and control the shape and timing of solar energy, just as utilities have modeled existing energy supplies and customer load patterns, and managed around them. The wind industry learned that system operators and regulatory agencies would demand to know the performance, predictability and transient response of variable energy systems, and would order strategies to reduce the effect of such power excursions in an effort to maintain the reliability of the electric grid. As a result, the wind industry today enjoys a 10-year head start over the solar industry in working with utilities to model their systems in a manner that is meaningful to utilities and grid operators.

DC monitoring will be essential for refining energy models and characterizing response of large-scale solar photovoltaic power plants. Today, DC monitoring is just that: monitoring. We observe and record performance metrics and react if a declining trend in performance is detected. Tomorrow, DC monitoring will more accurately be referred to as DC control; performance data will be fed back into control systems and algorithms that will predict power transients, automatically disconnect faults and perform other protective actions that serve to maximize energy harvest in a proactive manner. In addition, smart grid technologies will rely on DC monitoring systems to detect and predict the effect of rapid transients to precisely match electricity supply with demand.