Industry Insights

Solar Power Saves the Day

2018-09-05  |  7 min read 

High conformance standards help extend the use of solar energy as an emergency power source

Individually, we feel the effects of global warming through weather extremes. Among friends, some lost homes as wildfires razed the arid suburbs of Northern California in October 2017, while others reached out to help families whose homes were destroyed by devasting floods in the India state of Kerala in August 2018. Kerala, which hosts the world’s first entirely solar-powered airport, saw flood waters knocking out four out of the eight power storage plants. The damaged solar panels have an estimated repair bill of $1.4 million.

World's fully solar-powered Cochin International Airport succumbed to flood waters.
World's fully solar-powered Cochin International Airport succumbed to flood waters. (Source: The Hindu)

While some media headlines picked up the solar-powered angle to lead their reports on the flood damages at the Cochin airport, in the same light, a heart-warming story in the Times of India shared how a couple in Chengannur, Kerala turned their solar-powered home into a rescue and temporary refugee center. When authorities shut down the municipal power grid to prevent further damages, the couple’s roof-top solar panels supplied energy for people to charge their phones and send SOS messages to rescue stranded victims.

Solar Power to the Rescue

The use of solar power for disaster relief is not new. It is proving to be a nimble temporary bridging resource when natural calamities knock down conventional power grids. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it became a vital resource. Besides powering personal communication devices, it kept life-saving medical facilities going and ensured proper food storage, among other tasks. It kept the vital electrical needs fed as the country tackled the lengthy process of restoring its power grid.

What helps to build the case for solar power as a useful emergency resource is its nimbleness and sustainability once it is set up — compared with backup generators which need refueling to run, solar systems are shipped to disaster zones and setup quickly to provide electricity in mere hours, without the need for refueling.

Withstanding Hail and Highwater

Perhaps the most critical factors that determine the viability of solar power for disaster relief is its field readiness and roadworthiness. From withstanding scorching temperatures to pummelling hailstones, snow falls, hurricanes and floods, the solar energy system must be able to withstand these extreme conditions.

Source: Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)

For this, kudos must go to the solar energy industry, which is working to improve the viability of solar power as an alternative energy source for our planet. The cost had been a significant entry barrier in the past. However, proving the naysayers wrong, designers of solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) inverter systems have managed to drastically drive down the cost of solar power while vastly increasing their performance and reliability.

Falling costs of solar panels and PV inverters help increase adoption of solar energy.
Falling costs of solar panels and PV inverters help increase adoption of solar energy.

Maintaining the Standards of PV Energy

A driving force behind the rapid improvement in the price-performance ratio of solar energy systems is the concerted effort to enhance conformance standards for solar panels and PV inverter systems. The continuous drive to lower the cost of large PV systems has designers, developers, and companies looking beyond 600- and 1,000-volt systems to 1,500 V. With much higher power at play, it is necessary these systems are rigorously tested at both design and manufacturing stages for safety and reliability despite the stresses from its exposure to the elements.

Earlier this year, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) revised the IEC 61730 standards to meet evolving PV technologies. IEC 61730 specifies fundamental construction requirements for PV modules to provide safe electrical and mechanical operation, while IEC 61730-2 specifically defines the requirements to test PV modules of up to 1,500 Vdc.

In response to the growing need for higher-voltage PV systems, independent testing organization Underwriters Laboratories also released new requirements for the evaluation and certification of 1,500 V PV modules. Standard UL1703 addresses the potential electrical hazards associated with the increased voltage.

Other standards such as the European Standard EN50530 provides a procedure for measuring the efficiency of the maximum power point tracking (MPPT) of inverters, which are used in grid-connected photovoltaic systems. MPPT efficiency represents how accurately an inverter tracks the maximum power point of the PV output, which continually changes, depending on environmental conditions such as solar irradiance and temperature.

Manufacturers of PV modules and inverters know the importance of ensuring their designs and products conform to industry standards. These standards help to ensure the solar energy systems deliver on their promise to help people in their quest for renewable energy. In times of crises, the reliable performance of their products — because they have met or surpassed the standards set for performance and safety — can help save lives and mitigate damages.

 

Keysight Technologies provides design and test tools to help both developers and manufacturers of solar energy and photovoltaic inverter systems to maximize their product performance. Our N8900APV photovoltaic array simulation solution automatically creates static and dynamic EN50530 test reports at a click. For more information, please visit: www.keysight.com/find/N8900APV