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Binghamton University researchers to lead $2.6 million study of solar energy and power grids

By Eric Reinhardt (ereinhardt@cnybj.com)

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Researchers at Binghamton University will use $2.6 million in federal funding on a study of solar energy and power grids. (Photo credit: Binghamton University)

VESTAL, N.Y. — Binghamton University researchers will use $2.6 million in federal funding to help develop ways to “reliably” support higher amounts of solar power on the grid.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awarded the funding, Binghamton University said.

The three-year project will focus on advanced grid-forming photovoltaic (PV) inverter control technologies so that the renewable-energy source can be “more efficiently and reliably” integrated with electricity generated by coal, natural gas, or other non-renewable methods.

The effort’s ultimate goal is to demonstrate a new grid-forming control algorithm at a 1 megawatt hybrid PV plant at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. The proposed controls will be scalable and replicable to multiple hybrid PV plants.

The project will support SETO’s goal to enable the hybrid PV systems to contribute to the reliability of the U.S. electric grid as well as the goal of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 set by New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Binghamton research team

Ziang (John) Zhang (Photo credit: Binghamton University)

Ziang (John) Zhang, associate professor at Binghamton’s Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science, will serve as the principal investigator (PI) on the research. Co-PIs include Ning Zhou, an associate professor; Jian Li, an assistant professor; and Lei Yu, an associate professor.

“We are living in a world where more energy is coming from renewables,” Zhang said. “How can we make the power system as stable as the one we use today? The challenge is that today’s power system uses synchronous generators that have been well studied for decades, as we know how they will behave under different conditions — as a rotating mass, a synchronous generator following Newton’s Law of Motion. However, renewable energies such as a PV system connect to the power system through an inverter, which will behave based on the control software.”

Zhang went on to say that one issue facing the Binghamton team is that alternating current generated by traditional methods is able to naturally synchronize with existing power on the grid if the electricity is properly fed into it. A large amount of renewable energy in the grid could cause problems if we don’t have thorough understanding of how these inverters will behave under different grid conditions.

“In the future, we’re not only going to have conventional generators, but we also will have solar generation,” Zhang said. “The way we currently use renewable generation is that we just dump all of the power into the grid and conventional generators are doing all the balancing work, which probably won’t be the case when the majority of the power is coming from solar and wind. If we have fewer conventional generators in the system, something has to pick up this balancing work.”

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