Utilities Tie Solar Growth To Smart Grid

The variable nature of solar power presents a challenge to utilities aiming to integrate large volumes of photovoltaic (PV) systems onto the electric grid. While many utilities encourage customers to install distributed PV systems in their service areas, they must also continue to ensure that grid power remains reliable and safe. Utilities hope that, in the future, smart grid technologies will help them manage the effects of increased PV penetration.

A recent study published by global management and technology services company Accenture, shows that a significant percentage (38 percent) of utility executives believe that increased penetration of PV systems onto the electric grid could undermine the reliability, safety and quality of the power supply if they do not plan accordingly. The study, based on a survey of 50 executives from 31 North American utilities, reveals that many utilities believe they will need to upgrade transmission and distribution capabilities, and most of them would rather do so using automated solutions rather than manual intervention.

image via Shutterstock

Accenture reports that many utilities are already performing some key functions that will help them successfully integrate PV, including performing grid analytics (48 percent), PV systems control (44 percent) and commercial transactions (32 percent). The company recommends that utilities develop comprehensive roadmaps, invest in smart grid technologies and provide the infrastructure, systems and processes necessary to proactively facilitate PV deployment. This could include exploring new ownership models for PV systems: the survey found that over half (51 percent) of PV systems are customer-owned, compared to utility-owned (34 percent) and third-party or developer-owned (15%).

“Solar power has great potential as a source of renewable energy as developers continue to innovate and reduce the cost of PV production,” said David M. Rouls, managing director, Accenture Smart Grid Services. “However, the large-scale penetration of solar PV will require smart grid planning and changes by utilities to realize its benefits.”

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Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

    • Hisham Othman

      It is important for utility executives to embrace solar energy as a key ingredient in the energy mix of the future and thus work proactively to define the technical requirements of utility-grade solar systems.These systems should at all times preserve the grid reliability in terms of voltage and frequencyu00a0fluctuations and be part of the utility asset base.u00a0 It is not acceptable to allow consumer-grade solar systems to suck off the excess “reliability” margins of the grid and then force the utility to make grid enhancements that will be additional cost to all consumers.u00a0 The smart solar technologyu00a0(combining distributed solar panels with smart grid technology) has been around for a couple of years, is made in the USA,u00a0and has been embraced and further funded by DOE in their SEGIS program.