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Grid integration necessary to support rising solar use

By Max Burkhalter
August 6, 2013

Solar energy use is a nice concept when you look at it broadly. The sun keeps on shining day after day, releasing rays that can be transformed into a clean, inexpensive and completely renewable power source. The idea is lovely until your community is hit by a cloudy day and all of a sudden solar energy creation diminishes. It is even more problematic when the skies are overcast and energy generation levels are so inconsistent that nobody has much of an idea what to expect from solar panels.

According to a recent Solar NovusToday report, the intermittent nature of solar power is proving incredibly problematic as solar energy use becomes more popular. However, the growing market for smart grid technologies, especially sensors, could prove key to enabling the kind of integrated grid necessary to allow for more dependence on intermittent energy resources.

Solar power and the integrated utility grid
The contemporary utility grid is not well equipped, in most cases, to deal with unpredictability. The problem is that the grid cannot handle the instability created by intermittent power resources, the news source explained. This is beginning to change, however, as the smart grid introduces the kind of network, real-time data delivery and distribution automation capabilities that make the infrastructure flexible enough to support solar power.

Sensor systems are critical to enabling this functionality. The report said that sensors can be used simply to notify grid operators of any mechanical problems. However, you can also use the technology to track how much energy is needed at different locations and many other attributes of the grid that are useful for supporting solar energy use.

Citing an IHS study, the news source explained that the market for sensors used in utility settings is poised to double during the 2012 to 2014 period, an increase that is closely related to increased dependence on solar. Solar energy can flourish when these sensors and other grid elements are integrated effectively.

Get terminal servers if you want solar power
Another challenge associated with using solar energy as part of an integrated grid setup is a need for more geographically varied transformer stations. This creates a major problem from a data communication standpoint because most technologies in such settings depend on serial connection, while the smart grid is usually built on Ethernet. As a result, serial to Ethernet terminal servers are emerging as a key component of smart grid systems, especially in cases when utility companies are depending on solar power and other forms of geographically distributed power generation.

Perle offers a range of cost effective serial-to-Ethernet converters to help meet NERC-CIP compliance for the protection of critical cyberassets in substations. The IOLAN SDS HV/LDC Terminal Server is designed to meet harsh environments associated with Power Substations with attributes such as support for substation AC and DC voltage ranges, extended operating temperatures and meeting emission, immunity and safety approvals associated with substation IT equipment.


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