GE’s New 600kW Solar Inverter Tackles Challenges of Integrating to Today’s Grid
Based on the proven design of the power converters that GE manufactures for its fleet of 12,000+ 1.5-megawatt wind turbines, the new solar inverter is suited for use in the multi-megawatt solar projects that are becoming an increasing percentage of new installations. “We believe that there will be significant growth in large-scale projects as the United States and the world strive to meet renewable energy targets,” said Victor Abate, vice president-renewables for GE Power & Water. “The challenge will be integrating these larger solar projects—which are also powered by a variable fuel source—in a reliable way.”
Because the energy output of a solar power plant is directly related to the availability of the sun, anticipating the load that the solar power plant will provide can present a challenge for the utility grid, causing the plant to trip off-line. In order to ensure that solar power plants stay online, providing cleaner, more reliable energy, the variability needs to be managed so that it is more predictable—even during disturbances such as intermittent cloud cover.
GE’s wind converters include control functions that enhance integration—a requirement to meet grid codes. SunIQ, GE’s suite of solar plant monitoring and controls, can manage voltage in a similar way. “As variable energy such as wind and solar continues to come online, there will be ongoing challenges with integrating into the grid,” said Abate. “Solar integration will need to be managed in order to ensure that it operates as a ‘good citizen’ on today’s grid.”
According to New Energy Finance, demand for solar energy has grown about 30% per year for the past 15 years, while hydrocarbon energy demand typically grows less than 2% a year. As wind and solar power plants increase in size and number to meet these demands, they are beginning to have a greater impact on the grid, displacing more traditional sources of power generation.
While some software changes were needed to modify GE’s wind converter technology for solar applications, the hardware has remained nearly the same, enabling GE to leverage its expertise in the manufacture of its extremely reliable wind converters. Engineering and design were completed at GE’s controls center of excellence in Salem, Va. The company already makes 4,000 wind converters annually and has increased production at the Salem facility to include solar. In addition to experience, GE offers the global resources necessary to effectively maintain high levels of performance in large-scale installations, including a global services organization, 24/7 remote monitoring and diagnostics centers and parts support.