by Ryan Randazzo
A group of Arizona State University Polytechnic students has partnered with SRP on a project that aims to make accessing solar and other alternative energy more reliable.
A common misconception about household solar-power systems is they create a more secure power supply. The truth is that most solar households are connected to the grid and in a blackout lose power just like everyone else, even if the sun is shining.
Although rooftop solar-power systems reduce the amount of natural gas that utilities burn to make electricity, having many of them on the power grid makes utility operations more complicated because power can be flowing to and from customers and the production of it fluctuates due to cloud cover.
The project the Polytechnic students are working on for SRP is a “microgrid” project to make the power grid more dependable as increasing numbers of homes install solar and other alternative-energy products.
The project could help SRP and other utilities forecast how to manage the fluctuating power from high concentrations of rooftop solar and other distributed energy systems.
“There have been so many technological changes with (solar) and other energy sources, the microgrid can simulate what type of impact it would have when different energy sources drop off or are added,” said Freddie Dobbins Jr., a SRP engineer who helped with the project.
“We have to look, as the (electrical) loads become more concentrated, especially with solar, when the sun passes over, we have a cycling effect,” he said. “Different solar units are dropping in and out. It could have an impact on how we distribute loads.”
Even though thousands of Arizonans have added solar power to their homes, the issue is not a problem yet because the concentrations of solar on the grid are not very high. But many more homeowners are expected to use solar, thanks to federal and utility incentives and the falling cost of solar panels.