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Grasping the significance of solar inverters

Posted: 01 Sep 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar power  solar inverter  photovoltaic 

There are many reasons that islanding must be prevented with photovoltaic or any other distributed-energy generation. Some of these are listed below:
� The utility cannot control voltage and frequency in the island, creating the possibility of damage to customer equipment in a situation where the utility has no control.
� Utilities, along with the PV distributed-resource owner, can be found liable for electrical damage to customer equipment connected to their lines that results acceptable ranges.
� Islanding may create a hazard for utility line-workers or the public by causing a line to remain energized, which may be assumed to be disconnected from all energy sources.
� Reclosing into an island may result in re-tripping the line or damaging the distributed-resource equipment or other connected equipment because of out-of-phase closure.
� Islanding may interfere with the manual or automatic restorable of normal service by the utility.

Besides the anti-islanding feature, the inverter also needs to meet the respective safety guidelines and regulations imposed by specific regions.

Future of inverters
Higher efficiency: Currently, maximum efficiencies of inverter in the US Market are in the order of 95 percent. In Europe, transformerless designs and innovative topologies are yielding higher efficiencies, with one model (SMA Sunny Mini Central 8000TL) claiming 98 percent.

Lower cost: A price target of around $0.2-0.3/W by 2020 has been set for inverters, which represents a reduction of 50–75 percent from current levels. This is most likely to be achieved through increased production volumes and learning-curve improvements.

Better reliability: Inverter MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) is now in the 5–10-year range. Ideally, inverters would last as long as other PV system components (i.e., 25 years), but many question whether such improvements will ever be achievable at a reasonable cost. In the near- to medium-term, an MTBF of greater than 10 years is likely to be achievable through improving quality control, better heat dissipation and the reduction of complexity.

Advanced communication capabilities: Today, inverters can record and relay information using manufacturer-specific protocols. Next-generation units should use a universal communication standard to relay more comprehensive system information, enabling advanced diagnostic features and communication with the utility to support grid stability.

According to IMI Singapore, the Sun Farmer solar inverter platform project is a pilot project that could eventually pave the way for further development of the future's energy-harvesting systems from other alternative energy sources. As most of the developed countries are starting to take the initiatives to tackle greenhouse gases and are trying to solve environmental problems associated with global warming, the market for energy-saving products and energy-harvesting systems will be an ever-growing market over the next few decades.

About the authors
Aung Naing Moe and Zhang Binbin are part of the Speedy-Tech Design & Development Department of Integrated Microelectronics Incorporated (IMI)- Singapore.

References:
"Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics until 2014 (May 2010 update)" by European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA)
"Photovoltaic Energy: Electricity form the sun" by European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA)
"Solar Energy Industry Statistics: Growth" by Solarbuzz.
"Solar Inverter cost projection" by Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI)

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.


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