Solar as the Solution: 3 Ways Solar Can Step Up its Grid Services Game.

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A larger picture further emerges when you look at how power gets generated and transmitted to utilities. The electric grid continuously monitors, controls, and measures generation to ensure that our customers have a reliable, timely electricity supply. Still, the grid is more than an energy-delivery system alone. Grid operators manage electricity supply and demand on the electric system by controlling numerous "grid services"—activities that protect our transmission system and keep it running smoothly.

Now that solar energy provides as much as 15% of generation on the grid in some states, grid operators must balance various resources and respond to disturbances to ensure people can get electricity 24/7 when there's an issue with one generation area. Behind the scenes, grid operators are working hard to ensure a proper balance between supply and demand for all resources across the nation.

Grid Services 101

Just like you need to make sure your car is running smoothly, various enablers work together on the electricity grid to ensure that power flows safely and efficiently. Off-grid solar system services help maintain and improve this system by creating backup power options and mapping out strategies for dealing with major power losses, ensuring reliable delivery and use of electricity. From voltage management to generation reserve management to black start operations, the enablers on the grid are working in collaboration with one another to create a stable network that keeps the lights on around the clock.

National projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy will soon be unleashing new ways that solar can help contribute to the reliability and stability of the grid in a variety of areas, like absorbing unpredictable load variations, supporting voltage regulation, and enabling quick recovery from faults or outages to maintain system-wide reliability.

1. In Sync

Three major services are needed for alternating current (AC) power grids: voltage, frequency, and phase. The frequency should be maintained within a certain range to ensure customers' safe and effective energy flow. As energy supply and demand change, there will be fluctuations in the frequency level, but it must be maintained within the required range. If not, issues with power quality can occur that damage electrical equipment.

Using state-of-the-art controls, the 300-megawatt solar plant could adjust and regulate itself on an advanced level within minutes. These attributes are essential to any power grid but particularly important to communities in wildfire-prone areas where certain outages can last weeks or even longer. Because of these rapid responses, the solar plant is better equipped for times when there's no wind or other renewables available to help keep state'sstate's energy supply constant.

While the current testing phase continues, the solar power plant, which helps to unlock the grid service capabilities of this project, will continue to be on display.

2. On-Demand Power

Water heaters will use spinning reserves—energy that's already online and ready to use right away whenever needed. This type of on-call, on-demand power must be easily accessed and used in just a few minutes when you need it.

While solar PV and energy storage can perform these services, thermal solar can also provide similar benefits. Thermal solar plants use a special storage tank that stores heat for a later use period. They also have a spinning turbine that provides stability to the grid, which means that even if the power supply is cut off for some reason or when solar panels stop producing energy at night, there's still going to be electricity available to keep things running smoothly.

3. Rebooting the Grid

When an electricity outage or disaster occurs, the energy grids must be restored safely and responsibly. The process is challenging and has to happen quickly to keep things from shutting down. The power restoration process is different for every utility company because it depends on how the grid is constructed and managed. In certain situations where the grid has been taken offline or becomes damaged, a "black start" is vital for getting everything running again. A black start will rarely occur, but that's not to say it could happen. 

AHLEC can help you with solar sunshine coast and more information on solar power. 

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