As a new member of the Sunlab at the University of Ottawa, the PVSC 40th IEEE conference in Denver, Colorado, was the first international conference on solar energy in which I participated. A large photovoltaic conference, there were over 1500 participants in attendance. This excellent learning opportunity gave me a large overview of the development in solar energy as well as the latest advances made in that field. The presentations, made by experts from many different countries around the world, demonstrated the latest innovations in photovoltaics, the increasing possibilities in the use of solar energy, how easy it is getting to access to this form of renewable energy, and also the environmental, economic and political issues related to its exploitation. Both Research laboratories and private companies presented their latest results in characterization, research, and manufacturing processes.

The first day was dedicated to short four-hour tutorials where we had the possibility to choose between various topics such as the characterization and analysis of solar cell technology, advances made in terms of efficiency in the energy conversion of the third generation cells, silicon cells, multi-junction cells, space cells, and several other topics. Having my interests more oriented towards distribution and systems, reliability and integration on the distribution grid, my choice was not very difficult: “Integrating the distribution network using photovoltaic solar systems.” I was quite pleased to find a section on my field of study and interests!

The integration of solar energy is a new challenge, because unlike the traditional philosophy of centralized energy production, it is mostly decentralized and intermittent (highly dependent to the weather). It is also generating direct current instead of alternative current, and, sometimes, the energy comes from the consumer into the distribution grid, instead of coming from an adjacent substation toward the consumers. These differences require adaptation of the transmission and distribution grids in order to receive and manage this energy efficiently and in a cost-effective way for distributors and consumers, while maximizing the production performances.

The first speaker in that section was Michael Coddington, senior researcher in electrical engineering at NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), where he focuses on the integration of electric power systems on the distribution grid with an emphasis on solar systems. The presented research focused on the critical aspect of having proper control systems in place to be able to react fast and properly to unintentional islanding event on the grid interconnections system. The power hardware-in-the-loop (PHIL)-based approach developed for accurate, rapid and real-time simulations of anti-islanding and other complex controls scenarios was compared to discrete hardware-based test simulations performed with unintentional islanding of a photovoltaic inverter. The comparison demonstrated successful and precise results for the PHIL to represent unintentional islanding events.

The second speaker was Blake Lundstrom, electrical engineer at the Electrical Distributed Energy Systems Integration Group at NREL whose research also focuses on the integration of renewable energy resources in the electricity networks. His presentation was particularly interesting, focussing on the modeling of distribution systems, development of advanced power electronic components, evaluation and modeling of micro-distribution and advanced modeling methods. High penetration level of solar energy generation on a grid has some power quality issues due to voltage rise, voltage flicker and reactive power that need to be controlled properly. The test platform developed, including a PHIL, successfully allowed the study of advanced inverter controls, their impacts on the power quality of the energy generation and the system-wide impacts with constant power factors controls or active volt/VAR controls.

The third and final speaker was Dr. Ravel F. Ammerman, professor at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department of the Colorado School of Mines. His presentation was about the integration of generation systems, the electrical safety surrounding facilities, the risk analysis of arc flash, as well as the application of computers in the analysis of distribution systems. The models proposed accurately simulated the impacts of these risks on an interconnected grid system. These three presenters gave excellent presentations showing several important aspects of the integration of PV on the distribution grid and the impacts of this type of energy production that has different behaviours than the traditional methods of generating electricity.

The 40th IEEE PVSC conference was a success. From my perspective, it was a great opportunity to learn and to meet other professionals, researchers, laboratories and companies from around the world, sharing the same interests as well as giving an overview of the latest technological advances. A conference like this is an effective way to quickly learn about advances in a wide variety of topics related to photovoltaics. This type of experience gives the motivation to persevere and continue in the development of solar energy that will be the next step toward the green production of energy. I encourage everyone to attend to these types of events if the possibility is there. I also would like to thanks the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network (PVIN) for this great opportunity to learn and meet other people all driven by the same objectives. Also, thanks to the organizers for the very successful 40th edition of the PVSC conference.

Louis Béchard B.E.E. 4th Year SUNLAB, University of  Ottawa

Louis Béchard
B.E.E. 4th Year
SUNLAB, University of
Ottawa