By: Burns & McDonnell
The Southeast is armed with some of the greatest solar energy potential in the nation. Currently home to more than 600 solar projects that generate roughly 9,000 megawatts (MW) of power, the region’s booming solar market is projected to surpass the 20,000-MW benchmark by 2022. But without a strategic plan for solar build-out, many utilities in the region face a difficult road to a renewable future.
Despite the engineering and construction challenges that come with interconnecting a new solar generator the systematic interconnection of large numbers of solar plants requires rigorous planning by utilities to successfully incorporate the projected solar build-out. There are key components that should be included within every plan:
Understand the grid’s overall hosting capacity. Knowing a grid’s hosting capacity allows a utility to understand where and how much generation can be added in its distribution system. Then, the utility can publish that information to encourage solar development at the locations with adequate capacity. This isn’t always a fast process, as such assessments involve multiple studies and the capital necessary to keep accurate and up-to-date models.
Engineer the interconnection process. Once a grid’s hosting capacity is known, the entire interconnection process can be designed to accommodate reliability standards, as performing studies, including harmonics and protection, will still be necessary to make a site suitable for interconnection.
Implement planning tools. If a utility wants to take applications for new generation development without knowing their hosting capacity, then the utility will need to set up the appropriate planning tools. As applications come in, reliability assessments will be required to determine the capacity of the circuit through various studies. The planning tool sets up a process for the utility to follow for interconnection.
To handle both the outstanding applications and the potential for new Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA)-driven contracts, utilities in the Southeast will need more engineers, with some utilities creating new groups devoted to interconnection. Systematic interconnection plans will serve as powerful tools for utilities as the industry continues to find more intentional ways of installing the large amount of photovoltaic generation projected to meet the future’s energy demands.