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NREL Releases High-Penetration PV Handbook for Distribution Engineers

January 27, 2016

As solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are increasingly installed throughout the country at distribution-level utility scale, a new challenge is emerging: how to safely and effectively integrate greater amounts of variable solar generation onto the distribution grid without adverse impact on the system.

That's why NREL researchers, in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE), Quanta Technology, Satcon Technology Corporation, and Electrical Distribution Design (EDD), have produced a handbook to help distribution engineers understand and navigate the challenges of integrating high penetrations of PV generation into their service territories. Funding for this project was provided by the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative.

The High-Penetration PV Integration Handbook for Distribution Engineers presents the potential impacts of high-penetration PV integration, provides model-based analysis approaches for determining the level of PV impact, and suggests potential mitigation measures that could be taken to reduce PV impacts to distribution system engineers with a working knowledge of distribution systems planning and operations.

While the handbook was developed specifically for distribution system engineers working in North America, the information included is potentially useful to personnel at all positions at a utility, as well as PV developers, researchers, and even energy customers wanting a better understanding of the distribution system. And while the research that produced this handbook was focused on the integration of utility-scale PV systems (1-5 megawatts [MW]), much of the information is also relevant for the integration of large numbers of small PV systems, as are found in some residential neighborhoods throughout the country.

The handbook is the culmination of a five-year research project that began in 2010, where NREL, SCE, Quanta Technology, Satcon Technology Corporation, and EDD teamed together to analyze the impacts of high penetration levels of photovoltaic (PV) systems interconnected onto the SCE distribution system. This project was designed specifically to leverage the experience that SCE and the project team would gain during the significant installation of 500 MW of commercial-scale PV systems (typically 1-5 MW) that started in 2010 and was completed in 2015 within SCE's service territory through a program approved by the California Public Utility Commission.

Learn more about NREL's work to integrate more renewables on the electric grid through its Energy Systems Integration program.

—Devonie McCamey