“PV’s ability to provide grid support is underrated”

An interview with Dr. Winfried Hoffmann, President, European Photovoltaic Industry Association

Photo: EPIA

Large photovoltaic systems with more than one up to several tens of MW of power have gained growing market shares in the photovoltaics industry. What role do they play in restructuring the European energy sector?

It’s clear that the latest changes in national regulatory frameworks do not favour the development of large ground-mounted systems. In the short term, we should not expect dramatic development of this segment in the established markets. But with the continuous effort of the industry to decrease the cost of PV technology (and, as a consequence, its generation cost), large plants remain an important option for the decarbonisation of the EU electricity sector in the medium-to-long term. But this requires a redesign of electricity markets in order to ensure the profitability of such large-scale installations.

Large solar parks are able to stabilize the grid. How important is it for the rapid change in the system of electricity supply?

Well, these services are certainly necessary if we want to move from a fossil or nuclear-based, heavily centralized system to a clean, safe decentralized one. As PV increasingly becomes a player in the power system, it will have to provide more services to the grid. We are already working in close collaboration with DSOs and TSOs on the role of PV in the future power mix and also during the transition. With the support of our members EPIA is working on EU-financed projects like PV GRID or REserviceS that will help the transition. PV’s existing ability to provide significant grid support capabilities – including active power reduction, fault ride-through, and voltage support – is vastly underrated.

PV systems of all sizes can provide grid support services.
Photo: First Solar

With increasing level of active power in the grid from solar parks or wind farms it might be more important to feed in reactive power. Which role can solar parks play in order to reduce the costs for new high-voltage or medium-voltage cables?

PV systems of all sizes can provide grid support services. The main advantages of large plants are the lower cost to provide the service and the ease of implementing communication. PV can participate in system operation either at the distribution or the transmission level. But it requires a cost-effective communication infrastrcuture, new system operation strategies that take advantage of PV’s capabilities, a better interaction between DSOs and a better understanding of what PV can provide. The effective use of PV capabilities can effectively reduce the need to extend the exisiting grid infrastructure.

Superstorm Sandy made it clear: The solar fields are the first generators returning to the grid after a blackout or shut-down of the grid in case of hazard or disaster. Do they diminish the risk of blackouts at all?

As EPIA showed in its “Connecting the Sun” report, large-scale PV integration in the European grid is technically feasible with a high level of security of supply, even under the most extreme weather and load conditions. With the right measures and investments in place, system reliability can be ensured. The concept of back start or restoration plans – restarting the system after a black out – is really complex. Currently PV is not integrated in such plans and is requested to disconnect during events. In a future with a lot of PV and with the development of the right measures, PV could serve as an emergency generation technology during critical events and help to restore the grids.

The most powerful voice of photovoltaics in Europe

EPIA – the European Photovoltaic Industry Association – represents members active along the whole solar PV value chain: from silicon, cells and module production to systems development and PV electricity generation as well as marketing and sales. EPIA’s mission is to give its global membership a distinct and effective voice in the European market, especially in the EU.

EPIA – European Photovoltaic Industry Association
Renewable Energy House
Rue d’Arlon 63–67
1040 Brussels

Phone: +32 (2) 4653884
Fax: +32 (2) 4001010