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Electricity generation is the process of generating electric power from sources of primary energy. For utilities in the electric power industry, it is the stage prior to its delivery (transmission, distribution, etc.) to end users or its storage (using, for example, the pumped-storage method).
Electricity is not freely available in nature, so it must be “produced” (that is, transforming other forms of energy to electricity). Production is carried out in power stations (also called “power plants”). Electricity is most often generated at a power plant by electromechanical generators, primarily driven by heat engines fueled by combustion or nuclear fission but also by other means such as the kinetic energy of flowing water and wind. Other energy sources include solar photovoltaics and geothermal power.
Several fundamental methods exist to convert other forms of energy into electrical energy. Utility-scale generation is achieved by rotating electric generators or by photovoltaic systems. A small proportion of electric power distributed by utilities is provided by batteries. Other forms of electricity generation used in niche applications include the triboelectric effect, the piezoelectric effect, the thermoelectric effect, and betavoltaics.
Methods of generation
Electric generators transform kinetic energy into electricity. This is the most used form for generating electricity and is based on Faraday’s law. It can be seen experimentally by rotating a magnet within closed loops of conducting material (e.g. copper wire). Almost all commercial electrical generation is done using electromagnetic induction, in which mechanical energy forces a generator to rotate:
Electrochemistry is the direct transformation of chemical energy into electricity, as in a battery. Electrochemical electricity generation is important in portable and mobile applications. Currently, most electrochemical power comes from batteries. Primary cells, such as the common zinc–carbon batteries, act as power sources directly, but secondary cells (i.e. rechargeable batteries) are used for storage systems rather than primary generation systems. Open electrochemical systems, known as fuel cells, can be used to extract power either from natural fuels or from synthesized fuels. Osmotic power is a possibility at places where salt and fresh water merge.
The photovoltaic effect is the transformation of light into electrical energy, as in solar cells. Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight directly to DC electricity. Power inverters can then convert that to AC electricity if needed. Although sunlight is free and abundant, solar power electricity is still usually more expensive to produce than large-scale mechanically generated power due to the cost of the panels. Low-efficiency silicon solar cells have been decreasing in cost and multijunction cells with close to 30% conversion efficiency are now commercially available. Over 40% efficiency has been demonstrated in experimental systems. Until recently, photovoltaics were most commonly used in remote sites where there is no access to a commercial power grid, or as a supplemental electricity source for individual homes and businesses. Recent advances in manufacturing efficiency and photovoltaic technology, combined with subsidies driven by environmental concerns, have dramatically accelerated the deployment of solar panels. Installed capacity is growing by 40% per year led by increases in Germany, Japan, United States, China, and India.
Source: Electricity generation, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Electricity_generation&oldid=1011001237 (last visited Mar. 21, 2021).
A photovoltaic system, also PV system or solar power system, is a power system designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics. It consists of an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to convert the output from direct to alternating current, as well as mounting, cabling, and other electrical accessories to set up a working system. It may also use a solar tracking system to improve the system’s overall performance and include an integrated battery solution, as prices for storage devices are expected to decline. Strictly speaking, a solar array only encompasses the ensemble of solar panels, the visible part of the PV system, and does not include all the other hardware, often summarized as balance of system (BOS). As PV systems convert light directly into electricity, they are not to be confused with other solar technologies, such as concentrated solar power or solar thermal, used for heating and cooling.
PV systems range from small, rooftop-mounted or building-integrated systems with capacities from a few to several tens of kilowatts, to large utility-scale power stations of hundreds of megawatts. Nowadays, most PV systems are grid-connected, while off-grid or stand-alone systems account for a small portion of the market.
Operating silently and without any moving parts or environmental emissions, PV systems have developed from being niche market applications into a mature technology used for mainstream electricity generation. A rooftop system recoups the invested energy for its manufacturing and installation within 0.7 to 2 years and produces about 95 percent of net clean renewable energy over a 30-year service lifetime.:30
Due to the growth of photovoltaics, prices for PV systems have rapidly declined since their introduction. However, they vary by market and the size of the system. In 2014, prices for residential 5-kilowatt systems in the United States were around $3.29 per watt, while in the highly penetrated German market, prices for rooftop systems of up to 100 kW declined to €1.24 per watt. Nowadays, solar PV modules account for less than half of the system’s overall cost, leaving the rest to the remaining BOS-components and to soft costs, which include customer acquisition, permitting, inspection and interconnection, installation labor and financing costs.
A photovoltaic system converts the sun’s radiation, in the form of light, into usable electricity. It comprises the solar array and the balance of system components. PV systems can be categorized by various aspects, such as, grid-connected vs. stand alone systems, building-integrated vs. rack-mounted systems, residential vs. utility systems, distributed vs. centralized systems, rooftop vs. ground-mounted systems, tracking vs. fixed-tilt systems, and new constructed vs. retrofitted systems. Other distinctions may include, systems with microinverters vs. central inverter, systems using crystalline silicon vs. thin-film technology, and systems with modules from Chinese vs. European and U.S.-manufacturers.
About 99 percent of all European and 90 percent of all U.S. solar power systems are connected to the electrical grid, while off-grid systems are somewhat more common in Australia and South Korea.:14 PV systems rarely use battery storage. This may change, as government incentives for distributed energy storage are implemented and investments in storage solutions gradually become economically viable for small systems. A typical residential solar array is rack-mounted on the roof, rather than integrated into the roof or facade of the building, which is significantly more expensive. Utility-scale solar power stations are ground-mounted, with fixed tilted solar panels rather than using expensive tracking devices. Crystalline silicon is the predominant material used in 90 percent of worldwide produced solar modules, while its rival thin-film has lost market-share.:17–20 About 70 percent of all solar cells and modules are produced in China and Taiwan, only 5 percent by European and US-manufacturers.:11–12 The installed capacity for both, small rooftop systems and large solar power stations is growing rapidly and in equal parts, although there is a notable trend towards utility-scale systems, as the focus on new installations is shifting away from Europe to sunnier regions, such as the Sunbelt in the U.S., which are less opposed to ground-mounted solar farms and cost-effectiveness is more emphasized by investors.:43
Driven by advances in technology and increases in manufacturing scale and sophistication, the cost of photovoltaics is declining continuously. There are several million PV systems distributed all over the world, mostly in Europe, with 1.4 million systems in Germany alone:5– as well as North America with 440,000 systems in the United States. The energy conversion efficiency of a conventional solar module increased from 15 to 20 percent since 2004:17 and a PV system recoups the energy needed for its manufacture in about 2 years. In exceptionally irradiated locations, or when thin-film technology is used, the so-called energy payback time decreases to one year or less.:30–33 Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have also greatly supported installations of PV systems in many countries. The levelised cost of electricity from large-scale PV systems has become competitive with conventional electricity sources in an expanding list of geographic regions, and grid parity has been achieved in about 30 different countries.
As of 2015, the fast-growing global PV market is rapidly approaching the 200 GW mark – about 40 times the installed capacity in 2006. These systems currently contribute about 1 percent to worldwide electricity generation. Top installers of PV systems in terms of capacity are currently China, Japan and the United States, while half of the world’s capacity is installed in Europe, with Germany and Italy supplying 7% to 8% of their respective domestic electricity consumption with solar PV. The International Energy Agency expects solar power to become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar thermal contributing 16% and 11% to the global demand, respectively.
A grid connected system is connected to a larger independent grid (typically the public electricity grid) and feeds energy directly into the grid. This energy may be shared by a residential or commercial building before or after the revenue measurement point, depending on whether the credited energy production is calculated independently of the customer’s energy consumption (feed-in tariff) or only on the difference of energy (net metering). These systems vary in size from residential (2–10 kWp) to solar power stations (up to 10s of MWp). This is a form of decentralized electricity generation. Feeding electricity into the grid requires the transformation of DC into AC by a special, synchronising grid-tie inverter. In kilowatt-sized installations the DC side system voltage is as high as permitted (typically 1000 V except US residential 600 V) to limit ohmic losses. Most modules (60 or 72 crystalline silicon cells) generate 160 W to 300 W at 36 volts. It is sometimes necessary or desirable to connect the modules partially in parallel rather than all in series. An individual set of modules connected in series is known as a ‘string’.
Scale of system
Photovoltaic systems are generally categorized into three distinct market segments: residential rooftop, commercial rooftop, and ground-mount utility-scale systems. Their capacities range from a few kilowatts to hundreds of megawatts. A typical residential system is around 10 kilowatts and mounted on a sloped roof, while commercial systems may reach a megawatt-scale and are generally installed on low-slope or even flat roofs. Although rooftop mounted systems are small and have a higher cost per watt than large utility-scale installations, they account for the largest share in the market. There is, however, a growing trend towards bigger utility-scale power plants, especially in the “sunbelt” region of the planet.:43
Main article: Photovoltaic power station
Perovo Solar Park in Ukraine
Large utility-scale solar parks or farms are power stations and capable of providing an energy supply to large numbers of consumers. Generated electricity is fed into the transmission grid powered by central generation plants (grid-connected or grid-tied plant), or combined with one, or many, domestic electricity generators to feed into a small electrical grid (hybrid plant). In rare cases generated electricity is stored or used directly by island/standalone plant. PV systems are generally designed in order to ensure the highest energy yield for a given investment. Some large photovoltaic power stations such as Solar Star, Waldpolenz Solar Park and Topaz Solar Farm cover tens or hundreds of hectares and have power outputs up to hundreds of megawatts.
Rooftop, mobile, and portable
Main article: Rooftop photovoltaic power station
A small PV system is capable of providing enough AC electricity to power a single home, or an isolated device in the form of AC or DC electric. Military and civilian Earth observation satellites, street lights, construction and traffic signs, electric cars, solar-powered tents, and electric aircraft may contain integrated photovoltaic systems to provide a primary or auxiliary power source in the form of AC or DC power, depending on the design and power demands. In 2013, rooftop systems accounted for 60 percent of worldwide installations. However, there is a trend away from rooftop and towards utility-scale PV systems, as the focus of new PV installations is also shifting from Europe to countries in the sunbelt region of the planet where opposition to ground-mounted solar farms is less accentuated.:43 Portable and mobile PV systems provide electrical power independent of utility connections, for “off the grid” operation. Such systems are so commonly used on recreational vehicles and boats that there are retailers specializing in these applications and products specifically targeted to them. Since recreational vehicles (RV) normally carry batteries and operate lighting and other systems on nominally 12-volt DC power, RV systems normally operate in a voltage range that can charge 12-volt batteries directly, so addition of a PV system requires only panels, a charge controller, and wiring. Solar systems on recreation vehicles are usually constrained in wattage by the physical size of the RV’s roof space.
Main article: Building-integrated photovoltaics
In urban and suburban areas, photovoltaic arrays are often used on rooftops to supplement power use; often the building will have a connection to the power grid, in which case the energy produced by the PV array can be sold back to the utility in some sort of net metering agreement. Some utilities, use the rooftops of commercial customers and telephone poles to support their use of PV panels.Solar trees are arrays that, as the name implies, mimic the look of trees, provide shade, and at night can function as street lights.
Further information: Photovoltaic system performance
Uncertainties in revenue over time relate mostly to the evaluation of the solar resource and to the performance of the system itself. In the best of cases, uncertainties are typically 4% for year-to-year climate variability, 5% for solar resource estimation (in a horizontal plane), 3% for estimation of irradiation in the plane of the array, 3% for power rating of modules, 2% for losses due to dirt and soiling, 1.5% for losses due to snow, and 5% for other sources of error. Identifying and reacting to manageable losses is critical for revenue and O&M efficiency. Monitoring of array performance may be part of contractual agreements between the array owner, the builder, and the utility purchasing the energy produced. A method to create “synthetic days” using readily available weather data and verification using the Open Solar Outdoors Test Field make it possible to predict photovoltaic systems performance with high degrees of accuracy. This method can be used to then determine loss mechanisms on a local scale – such as those from snow or the effects of surface coatings (e.g. hydrophobic or hydrophilic) on soiling or snow losses. (Although in heavy snow environments with severe ground interference can result in annual losses from snow of 30%.) Access to the Internet has allowed a further improvement in energy monitoring and communication. Dedicated systems are available from a number of vendors. For solar PV systems that use microinverters (panel-level DC to AC conversion), module power data is automatically provided. Some systems allow setting performance alerts that trigger phone/email/text warnings when limits are reached. These solutions provide data for the system owner and the installer. Installers are able to remotely monitor multiple installations, and see at-a-glance the status of their entire installed base.
The balance of system components of a PV system (BOS) balance the power-generating subsystem of the solar array (left side) with the power-using side of the AC-household devices and the utility grid (right side).
A photovoltaic system for residential, commercial, or industrial energy supply consists of the solar array and a number of components often summarized as the balance of system (BOS). This term is synonymous with “Balance of plant” q.v. BOS-components include power-conditioning equipment and structures for mounting, typically one or more DC to AC power converters, also known as inverters, an energy storage device, a racking system that supports the solar array, electrical wiring and interconnections, and mounting for other components.
Optionally, a balance of system may include any or all of the following: renewable energy credit revenue-grade meter, maximum power point tracker (MPPT), battery system and charger, GPS solar tracker, energy management software, solar irradiance sensors, anemometer, or task-specific accessories designed to meet specialized requirements for a system owner. In addition, a CPV system requires optical lenses or mirrors and sometimes a cooling system.
The terms “solar array” and “PV system” are often incorrectly used interchangeably, despite the fact that the solar array does not encompass the entire system. Moreover, “solar panel” is often used as a synonym for “solar module”, although a panel consists of a string of several modules. The term “solar system” is also an often used misnomer for a PV system.
Further information: PV module
The building blocks of a photovoltaic system are solar cells. A solar cell is the electrical device that can directly convert photons energy into electricity. There are three technological generations of solar cells: the first generation (1G) of crystalline silicon cells (c-Si), the second generation (2G) of thin-film cells (such as CdTe, CIGS, Amorphous Silicon, and GaAs), and the third generation (3G) of organic, dye-sensitized, Perovskite and multijunction cells.
Conventional c-Si solar cells, normally wired in series, are encapsulated in a solar module to protect them from the weather. The module consists of a tempered glass as cover, a soft and flexible encapsulant, a rear backsheet made of a weathering and fire-resistant material and an aluminium frame around the outer edge. Electrically connected and mounted on a supporting structure, solar modules build a string of modules, often called solar panel. A solar array consists of one or many such panels. A photovoltaic array, or solar array, is a linked collection of solar modules. The power that one module can produce is seldom enough to meet requirements of a home or a business, so the modules are linked together to form an array. Most PV arrays use an inverter to convert the DC power produced by the modules into alternating current that can power lights, motors, and other loads. The modules in a PV array are usually first connected in series to obtain the desired voltage; the individual strings are then connected in parallel to allow the system to produce more current. Solar panels are typically measured under STC (standard test conditions) or PTC (PVUSA test conditions), in watts. Typical panel ratings range from less than 100 watts to over 400 watts. The array rating consists of a summation of the panel ratings, in watts, kilowatts, or megawatts.
Module and efficiency
A typical 150 watt PV module is about a square meter in size. Such a module may be expected to produce 0.75 kilowatt-hour (kWh) every day, on average, after taking into account the weather and the latitude, for an insolation of 5 sun hours/day. Module output and life degraded by increased temperature. Allowing ambient air to flow over, and if possible behind, PV modules reduces this problem. Effective module lives are typically 25 years or more. The payback period for an investment in a PV solar installation varies greatly and is typically less useful than a calculation of return on investment. While it is typically calculated to be between 10 and 20 years, the financial payback period can be far shorter with incentives.
The temperature effect on photovoltaic modules is usually quantified by means of some coefficients relating the variations of the open‐circuit voltage, of the short‐circuit current, and of the maximum power to temperature changes. In this paper, comprehensive experimental guidelines to estimate the temperature coefficients. 
Due to the low voltage of an individual solar cell (typically ca. 0.5V), several cells are wired (also see copper used in PV systems) in series in the manufacture of a “laminate”. The laminate is assembled into a protective weatherproof enclosure, thus making a photovoltaic module or solar panel. Modules may then be strung together into a photovoltaic array. In 2012, solar panels available for consumers have an efficiency of up to about 17%, while commercially available panels can go as far as 27%. It has been recorded that a group from The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems have created a cell that can reach 44.7% efficiency, which makes scientists’ hopes of reaching the 50% efficiency threshold a lot more feasible.
Shading and dirt
Photovoltaic cell electrical output is extremely sensitive to shading (“Christmas light effect”). When even a small portion of a cell, module, or array is shaded, with the remainder is in sunlight, the output falls dramatically due to internal ‘short-circuiting’ (the electrons reversing course through the shaded portion of the p-n junction). If the current drawn from the series string of cells is no greater than the current that can be produced by the shaded cell, the current (and so power) developed by the string is limited. If enough voltage is available from the other cells in a string, current will be forced through the cell by breaking down the junction in the shaded portion. This breakdown voltage in common cells is between 10 and 30 volts. Instead of adding to the power produced by the panel, the shaded cell absorbs power, turning it into heat. Since the reverse voltage of a shaded cell is much greater than the forward voltage of an illuminated cell, one shaded cell can absorb the power of many other cells in the string, disproportionately affecting panel output. For example, a shaded cell may drop 8 volts, instead of adding 0.5 volts, at a particular current level, thereby absorbing the power produced by 16 other cells. It is thus important that a PV installation is not shaded by trees or other obstructions.
Several methods have been developed to determine shading losses from trees to PV systems over both large regions using LiDAR, but also at an individual system level using sketchup. Most modules have bypass diodes between each cell or string of cells that minimize the effects of shading and only lose the power of the shaded portion of the array. The main job of the bypass diode is to eliminate hot spots that form on cells that can cause further damage to the array, and cause fires.
Sunlight can be absorbed by dust, snow, or other impurities at the surface of the module (collectively referred to as soiling). Soiling reduces the light that strikes the cells, which in turn reduces the power output of the PV system. Soiling losses aggregate over time, and can become large without adequate cleaning. In 2018, the global annual energy loss due to soiling was estimated to at least 3 % – 4 %. However, soiling losses varies largely from region to region, and within regions. Maintaining a clean module surface will increase output performance over the life of the PV system. In one study performed in a snow-rich area (Ontario), cleaning flat mounted solar panels after 15 months increased their output by almost 100%. However, 5° tilted arrays were adequately cleaned by rainwater. In many cases, especially in arid regions, or in locations in close proximity to deserts, roads, industry, or agriculture, regular cleaning of the solar panels is cost-effective. In 2018, the estimated soiling-induced revenue loss was estimated to between 5 and 7 billion euros.
The long‐term reliability of photovoltaic modules is crucial to ensure the technical and economic viability of PV as a successful energy source. The analysis of degradation mechanisms of PV modules is key to ensure current lifetimes exceeding 25 years.
Main article: Photovoltaic mounting system
A 23-year-old ground mounted PV system from the 1980s on a North Frisian Island, Germany. The modules conversion efficiency was only 12%.
Modules are assembled into arrays on some kind of mounting system, which may be classified as ground mount, roof mount or pole mount. For solar parks a large rack is mounted on the ground, and the modules mounted on the rack. For buildings, many different racks have been devised for pitched roofs. For flat roofs, racks, bins and building integrated solutions are used. Solar panel racks mounted on top of poles can be stationary or moving, see Trackers below. Side-of-pole mounts are suitable for situations where a pole has something else mounted at its top, such as a light fixture or an antenna. Pole mounting raises what would otherwise be a ground mounted array above weed shadows and livestock, and may satisfy electrical code requirements regarding inaccessibility of exposed wiring. Pole mounted panels are open to more cooling air on their underside, which increases performance. A multiplicity of pole top racks can be formed into a parking carport or other shade structure. A rack which does not follow the sun from left to right may allow seasonal adjustment up or down.
Due to their outdoor usage, solar cables are designed to be resistant against UV radiation and extremely high temperature fluctuations and are generally unaffected by the weather. Standards specifying the usage of electrical wiring in PV systems include the IEC 60364 by the International Electrotechnical Commission, in section 712 “Solar photovoltaic (PV) power supply systems”, the British Standard BS 7671, incorporating regulations relating to microgeneration and photovoltaic systems, and the US UL4703 standard, in subject 4703 “Photovoltaic Wire”.
Central inverter with AC and DC disconnects (on the side), monitoring gateway, transformer isolation and interactive LCD.
String inverter (left), generation meter, and AC disconnect (right). A modern 2013 installation in Vermont, United States.
Systems designed to deliver alternating current (AC), such as grid-connected applications need an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) from the solar modules to AC. Grid connected inverters must supply AC electricity in sinusoidal form, synchronized to the grid frequency, limit feed in voltage to no higher than the grid voltage and disconnect from the grid if the grid voltage is turned off. Islanding inverters need only produce regulated voltages and frequencies in a sinusoidal waveshape as no synchronisation or co-ordination with grid supplies is required.
A solar inverter may connect to a string of solar panels. In some installations a solar micro-inverter is connected at each solar panel. For safety reasons a circuit breaker is provided both on the AC and DC side to enable maintenance. AC output may be connected through an electricity meter into the public grid. The number of modules in the system determines the total DC watts capable of being generated by the solar array; however, the inverter ultimately governs the amount of AC watts that can be distributed for consumption. For example, a PV system comprising 11 kilowatts DC (kWDC) worth of PV modules, paired with one 10-kilowatt AC (kWAC) inverter, will be limited to the inverter’s output of 10 kW. As of 2019, conversion efficiency for state-of-the-art converters reached more than 98 percent. While string inverters are used in residential to medium-sized commercial PV systems, central inverters cover the large commercial and utility-scale market. Market-share for central and string inverters are about 44 percent and 52 percent, respectively, with less than 1 percent for micro-inverters.
Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) is a technique that grid connected inverters use to get the maximum possible power from the photovoltaic array. In order to do so, the inverter’s MPPT system digitally samples the solar array’s ever changing power output and applies the proper resistance to find the optimal maximum power point.
Anti-islanding is a protection mechanism to immediately shut down the inverter, preventing it from generating AC power when the connection to the load no longer exists. This happens, for example, in the case of a blackout. Without this protection, the supply line would become an “island” with power surrounded by a “sea” of unpowered lines, as the solar array continues to deliver DC power during the power outage. Islanding is a hazard to utility workers, who may not realize that an AC circuit is still powered, and it may prevent automatic re-connection of devices. Anti-Islanding feature is not required for complete Off-Grid Systems.
Although still expensive, PV systems increasingly use rechargeable batteries to store a surplus to be later used at night. Batteries used for grid-storage also stabilize the electrical grid by leveling out peak loads, and play an important role in a smart grid, as they can charge during periods of low demand and feed their stored energy into the grid when demand is high.
Common battery technologies used in today’s PV systems include the valve regulated lead-acid battery– a modified version of the conventional lead–acid battery, nickel–cadmium and lithium-ion batteries. Compared to the other types, lead-acid batteries have a shorter lifetime and lower energy density. However, due to their high reliability, low self discharge as well as low investment and maintenance costs, they are currently the predominant technology used in small-scale, residential PV systems, as lithium-ion batteries are still being developed and about 3.5 times as expensive as lead-acid batteries. Furthermore, as storage devices for PV systems are stationary, the lower energy and power density and therefore higher weight of lead-acid batteries are not as critical as, for example, in electric transportation:4,9 Other rechargeable batteries considered for distributed PV systems include sodium–sulfur and vanadium redox batteries, two prominent types of a molten salt and a flow battery, respectively.:4 In 2015, Tesla Motors launched the Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with the aim to revolutionize energy consumption.
PV systems with an integrated battery solution also need a charge controller, as the varying voltage and current from the solar array requires constant adjustment to prevent damage from overcharging. Basic charge controllers may simply turn the PV panels on and off, or may meter out pulses of energy as needed, a strategy called PWM or pulse-width modulation. More advanced charge controllers will incorporate MPPT logic into their battery charging algorithms. Charge controllers may also divert energy to some purpose other than battery charging. Rather than simply shut off the free PV energy when not needed, a user may choose to heat air or water once the battery is full.
Monitoring and metering
The metering must be able to accumulate energy units in both directions, or two meters must be used. Many meters accumulate bidirectionally, some systems use two meters, but a unidirectional meter (with detent) will not accumulate energy from any resultant feed into the grid. In some countries, for installations over 30 kWp a frequency and a voltage monitor with disconnection of all phases is required. This is done where more solar power is being generated than can be accommodated by the utility, and the excess can not either be exported or stored. Grid operators historically have needed to provide transmission lines and generation capacity. Now they need to also provide storage. This is normally hydro-storage, but other means of storage are used. Initially storage was used so that baseload generators could operate at full output. With variable renewable energy, storage is needed to allow power generation whenever it is available, and consumption whenever needed.
A Canadian electricity meter
The two variables a grid operator have are storing electricity for when it is needed, or transmitting it to where it is needed. If both of those fail, installations over 30kWp can automatically shut down, although in practice all inverters maintain voltage regulation and stop supplying power if the load is inadequate. Grid operators have the option of curtailing excess generation from large systems, although this is more commonly done with wind power than solar power, and results in a substantial loss of revenue. Three-phase inverters have the unique option of supplying reactive power which can be advantageous in matching load requirements.
Photovoltaic systems need to be monitored to detect breakdown and optimize operation. There are several photovoltaic monitoring strategies depending on the output of the installation and its nature. Monitoring can be performed on site or remotely. It can measure production only, retrieve all the data from the inverter or retrieve all of the data from the communicating equipment (probes, meters, etc.). Monitoring tools can be dedicated to supervision only or offer additional functions. Individual inverters and battery charge controllers may include monitoring using manufacturer specific protocols and software. Energy metering of an inverter may be of limited accuracy and not suitable for revenue metering purposes. A third-party data acquisition system can monitor multiple inverters, using the inverter manufacturer’s protocols, and also acquire weather-related information. Independent smart meters may measure the total energy production of a PV array system. Separate measures such as satellite image analysis or a solar radiation meter (a pyranometer) can be used to estimate total insolation for comparison. Data collected from a monitoring system can be displayed remotely over the World Wide Web, such as OSOTF.
Source: Photovoltaic system, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Photovoltaic_system&oldid=1013041953 (last visited Mar. 21, 2021).
A power optimizer is a DC to DC converter technology developed to maximize the energy harvest from solar photovoltaic or wind turbine systems. They do this by individually tuning the performance of the panel or wind turbine through maximum power point tracking, and optionally tuning the output to match the performance of the string inverter (DC to AC inverter). Power optimizers are especially useful when the performance of the power generating components in a distributed system will vary widely, such as due to differences in equipment, shading of light or wind, or being installed facing different directions or widely separated locations.
Power optimizers for solar applications can be similar to microinverters in that both systems attempt to isolate individual panels in order to improve overall system performance. A smart module is a power optimizer integrated into a solar module. A microinverter essentially combines a power optimizer with a small inverter in a single enclosure that is used on every panel, while the power optimizer leaves the inverter in a separate box and uses only one inverter for the entire array. The claimed advantage to this “hybrid” approach is lower overall system costs, avoiding the distribution of electronics.
Source: Power optimizer, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Power_optimizer&oldid=1010963328 (last visited Mar. 21, 2021).
Smart modules are a type of solar panel that has a power optimizer embedded into the solar module at the time of manufacturing. Typically the power optimizer is embedded in the junction box of the solar module. Power optimizers attached to the frame of a solar module, or connected to the photovoltaic circuit through a connector, are not properly considered smart modules.
Smart modules are different from traditional solar panels because the power electronics embedded in the module offers enhanced functionality such as panel-level maximum power point tracking, monitoring, and enhanced safety.
Solar panel installers saw significant growth between 2008 and 2013. Due to that growth many installers had projects that were not “ideal” solar roof tops to work with and had to find solutions to shaded roofs and orientation difficulties. This challenge was initially addressed by the re-popularization of micro-inverters and later the invention of power optimizers.
Solar panel manufacturers partnered with micro-inverter companies to create AC modules and power optimizer companies partnered with module manufacturers to create smart modules. In 2013 many solar panel manufacturers announced and began shipping their smart module solutions.
Source: Smart module, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Smart_module&oldid=878893660 (last visited Mar. 21, 2021).