An esoteric smart-grid technology is gaining prominence as expanded solar capacity poses new challenges to utilities and grid operators.
Advanced inverters, or smart inverters, are sophisticated versions of the devices long used to convert the direct current output of solar panels into the alternating current used by consumers across the electrical grid. Whereas traditional inverters are programmed to shut off during disturbances on the electrical grid, advanced inverters can continue to operate and even assist in smoothing out an increasingly variable grid.
Only a handful of U.S. states make significant use of this emerging technology, but that’s changing as electricity standards and procedures are updated to reflect a modernizing industry. In Illinois, ComEd plans to test smart inverter functionalities as part of a microgrid pilot project on Chicago’s South Side. In January, the utility received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) toward utilizing smart inverters in the so-called “Microgrid-Integrated Solar-Storage Technology” project.
The project will address “one of the key barriers for the high penetration of solar PV systems: the seamless integration of these systems in utility grids,” reads a release on DOE’s website.