Emerging Issues and Challenges with Integrating High Levels of Solar into the Distribution System
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Wide use of advanced inverters could double the electricity-distribution system’s hosting capacity for distributed PV at low costs—from about 170 GW to 350 GW (see Palmintier et al. 2016). At the distribution system level, increased variable generation due to high penetrations of distributed PV (typically rooftop and smaller ground-mounted systems) could challenge the management of distribution voltage, potentially increase wear and tear on electromechanical utility equipment, and complicate the configuration of circuit-breakers and other protection systems—all of which could increase costs, limit further PV deployment, or both. However, improved analysis of distribution system hosting capacity—the amount of distributed PV that can be interconnected without changing the existing infrastructure or prematurely wearing out equipment—has overturned previous rule-of-thumb assumptions such as the idea that distributed PV penetrations higher than 15% require detailed impact studies. For example, new analysis suggests that the hosting capacity for distributed PV could rise from approximately 170 GW using traditional inverters to about 350 GW with the use of advanced inverters for voltage management, and it could be even higher using accessible and low-cost strategies such as careful siting of PV systems within a distribution feeder and additional minor changes in distribution operations. Also critical to facilitating distributed PV deployment is the improvement of interconnection processes, associated standards and codes, and compensation mechanisms so they embrace PV’s contributions to system-wide operations. Ultimately SunShot-level PV deployment will require unprecedented coordination of the historically separate distribution and transmission systems along with incorporation of energy storage and “virtual storage,” which exploits improved management of electric vehicle charging, building energy systems, and other large loads. Additional analysis and innovation are needed in every area to realize the potential of this integrated vision.