It's been nearly 30 years since Pacific Gas & Electric completed installation of the first grid-supported solar PV system. At 500 kilowatts, that facility is dwarfed by today's utility-scale solar PV projects which are in the 200 MW range. That early solar farm's viability as a distributed energy resource was secured almost instantly as the utility quickly realized its reliability and peak-shaving benefits. Back then, the primary control concern of the plant's operators was ensuring the system could curtail solar production when necessary. Today's needs are significantly different.
Growth in utility-scale renewables has been exponential since that first utility solar farm. In 2021, about 20% of the 4.12 trillion kWh of electricity generated at United States utility-scale electricity generation facilities was from renewable energy sources1. In 2022, planned deployments in the United States are estimated at 21.5 GW of solar and 7.6 GW of wind. If all goes according to plan, utility-scale solar in 2022 will surpass that of 20212. Renewables mandates have caused a rush in deployments and these recent deployments require a lot more control than just curtailment.
As utility-scale renewable deployments have become increasingly large and complex, a plethora of solutions have sprung up to support this complexity. SCADA and PLC/RTU systems that were state-of-the-art 20 years ago and were perfectly suited to simple tasks like power curtailment, don't have the higher-speed functionality required to sell power in an energy market that fluctuates at one- to five-minute intervals. Furthermore, today's power purchase agreements require a renewable power plant operator to be able to control voltage, frequency, power factor, active/reactive power and ramp rate, among other things, to ensure power flowing through the point of interconnection is as contracted.
Vendors of the utility-scale facility's parts, including solar panel, inverter and battery manufacturers have stepped in to fill the gaps and have developed products that can handle the exacting demands on plant operators being imposed by power purchase agreements. But many vendors have developed their products in isolation and haven't vetted them with all possible combinations and nuances presented by today's hybrid power plant.
Enter the renewable power plant controller or PPC. Relatively new to the power plant monitoring and control scene, the PPC offers a software-based solution that unifies all the power plant's disparate assets and orders them to operate smoothly and efficiently. Able to function at high speed and aided by artificial intelligence, software is perfectly positioned to process the myriad commands happening in real-time in today's energy markets.
It would seem the PPC is the salvation power plant developers have been waiting for. Unfortunately, as is often the case when newcomers arrive on scene, there are still a few myths floating out there preventing the industry from embracing PPCs wholeheartedly.
Watch this video to catch a few of them:
The myths include:
- Buying the right monitoring and control pieces means they will work well together
- The software that comes with a renewable energy asset is ideal for the job
- The order of installation for monitoring and control pieces does not matter
- Legacy SCADA constrains the value of new systems
- We are limited by battery capacities
- Different use cases demand different batteries
While some of these myths may have been true years ago, today's software has advanced significantly, giving us sophisticated tools to control the more dynamic requirements of the modern grid. Due to its flexible nature, PPC software offers better future-proofing of power plants that may have different, unknown constraints imposed on them later.
Equally important, software is often vendor agnostic with the capability to transcend the silos that individual asset controllers were developed in. This means software not only ensures all components play well together, but optimizes each component at every moment to function at its peak, given the unique grouping and operational parameters it's in.
If you've encountered any of these myths while determining the best monitoring and control platform for your renewable power plant, you may want to check out our white paper, Integrated Monitoring & Control Platforms for Hybrid Power Plants, where each of these myths is explored in more detail. Doing so could save you valuable implementation time during project development and ensure more consistent revenue once your plant is operational.