Photovoltaic energy is currently more expensive than conventional, higher-carbon energy sources, but it's getting cheaper. Over the next five years, as photovoltaic module production capacities continue to grow and economies of scale are achieved, the cost of photovoltaic-based power generation is expected to fall to the same levels as peak-rate electricity from conventional sources.
ABB has a broad offering for the solar market, including power and automation products and systems that maximize energy yield in solar installations and maximum return on investment for plant operators.
Photovoltaic plants, in which solar energy is collected by light-sensitive panels and converted directly into electricity, rely on inverters to convert the direct current produced by the cells into alternating current, which is needed for electricity distribution. ABB's new product, the central inverter, PVS800, feeds clean solar power into medium- or low-voltage grids via transformers and switchgear (both available from ABB).
Available in power ratings of between 100 and 500 kW, the new inverter can be used in both industrial-scale photovoltaic power plants and for medium-sized power plants installed on the roofs of commercial or industrial buildings. ABB's central inverter is reliable, durable, easy to install, and extremely compact. In fact, it is the one of the most compact models currently available on the market.
The new solar inverters are based on tried-and-tested technology developed by ABB for use in variable-speed drives (devices that control the flow of power to electrical equipment, tailoring performance to the needs of the task in hand). ABB is the world leader in this type of technology and by adapting it for use in solar inverters, has produced a highly reliable product that is expected to provide at least 20 years of trouble-free operation. The new inverters are also supported by ABB's proven maintenance and service offering.
Growth in the solar industry is currently supported by governments, in various parts of the world, making generous payments to producers who feed their solar power into the grid. The aim is to raise production volumes and achieve the economies of scale that will reduce the cost of solar generation. Once the cost of solar power reaches parity with other forms of generation, the industry will continue to grow, driven by environmental concerns. This point, which is known as "grid parity," is expected to be reached first in regions with high levels of solar radiation and high conventional electricity peak prices, California and Italy, for example.
While continuing growth of the solar sector is highly desirable from the environmental point of view, it may cause problems for the grid. The irregular flow of solar power into the grid, caused by changes in the weather, can cause disturbances in the grid and interruption of power supplies for consumers.
On a small scale, disturbances can be corrected, but to deal with the fluctuations that large quantities of renewable power generation will bring, particularly if it comes from large numbers of small generators distributed across the grid, the system needs to change. The current power network needs to be better monitored, more automated and better able to respond to disturbances in power flows. It needs to be more intelligent. In short, we need a smarter grid.
A number of the technologies needed for the development of smart grids are already available as part of ABB's existing portfolio, and ABB is at the forefront of development projects working to implement these solutions in the grid. While true smart grids are still a vision for the future, ABB is helping to drive the evolution of our power systems, and ABB's solar inverters are part of the plan.
ABB is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 117,000 people. For more information, visit: www.abb.com.
SOURCE: ABB Measurement & Analytics