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Sharing Power from Renewables During Outages

Posted Sep 26th, 2017

Sharing Power from Renewables During Outages

Most who are reaping the benefits of personal solar panels aren’t very different than the rest of society when there’s a power outage – they are in the dark. That could change though, as a result of the work being done at the University of California San Diego.

Engineers at the University have developed a way to not only allow homes to access their renewable energy in a power outage but also share it. The project was inspired after Hurricane Sandy left many people without power for up to two weeks. 

While your home stays connected to the grid during a power outage, what throws off a lot of people is that the devices managing the solar panels are powered down as a matter of safety. This means homeowners are unable to draw power from their own renewable energy sources. However, through the creation of algorithms, engineers were able to disconnect the devices known as solar inverters from the grid that powers off the solar panels. Daily Science recently reported that the algorithms are compatible with existing technology and are expected to boost system reliability by up to 35 per cent. The only changes that need to be made are the installation of a circuit breaker that can be remotely controlled and communication methods that would allow the houses to communicate together. 

Research suggests that power outages that last just 5 to 10 minutes cost customers an estimated 80 billion each year.

The algorithm developed by the engineers at the University of California is capable of prioritizing distribution of power. To do so, it calculates how much solar and wind power is going to be produced based on forecasts and compares it to how much energy storage is available. It then looks at the amount of energy residents are projected to use compared to the amount of energy a cluster of homes can provide. 

After working with the algorithm, the research team started experimenting with energy storage configuration. They discovered that although installing energy saving units in every home would result in the best performance, it was a lot more cost effective to share a community-scale storage system. To bring a group of homes together, each house would need to have a “grid-forming inverter.”

Currently, in most jurisdictions, a homeowner is not permitted to sell power to other another homeowner so regulations would need to change but in the meantime, the technology would be able to benefit businesses that require power yet have no back-up generator.

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