A viable solar battery solution, or another boondoggle?

On the surface, this looks promising. OTOH, often when you look below the surface, things aren’t what they are advertised to be. A good example is Elon Musk’s solar battery boondoggle in Australia. Large mega-batteries are difficult to implement, and very expensive to build and maintain, they also require special hookups to the grid and a fair amount of landscape. They are also a single point of failure that could take down the entire grid if it fails to switch on when needed.

However, a distributed solar battery approach right at the solar cells might be far better strategy. From the University of Texas at Austin:

Solar Energy Storage Problem May be Solved in New Single-System Technology

Generating power from the sun isn’t the problem. The technology has been there for decades. Storing that power efficiently, however, has been a challenge. Until now.

AUSTIN, Texas — Generating power from the sun isn’t the problem. The technology has been there for decades. Storing that power efficiently, however, has been a challenge.

That’s why the Department of Energy has awarded $3 million to engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin to overcome the Achilles’ heel of the solar power story since Day One: how to store its energy.

To date, most major solar energy systems are bulky and expensive, with inefficient storage capacity. Energy coming from existing solar power systems must be housed in storage systems outside of the generators that create the power. In other words, two separate systems are required to ensure successful operation.

But experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent. The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.

UT’s solar farm located on Pickle Research Campus UT Cockrell School of Engineering Communications

Collectively, the combined technologies are known as an M4 Inverter – their main function being the conversion of the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, which eliminates the need for a bulky and expensive low-frequency transformer.

Electrical and computer engineering professor Alex Huang, who directs the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center in the Cockrell School and works with the UT Center for Electromechanics, is the lead principal investigator for this DOE-funded project. He believes the M4 Inverter will create efficiencies in a variety of ways.

“Our solution to solar energy storage not only reduces capital costs, but it also reduces the operation cost through its multifunctional capabilities,” Huang said. “These functionalities will ensure the power grids of tomorrow can host a higher percentage of solar energy. By greatly reducing the impact of the intermittence of solar energy on the grid and providing grid-governing support, the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid.”

One such additional functionality is the ability to provide fast frequency control, which would prevent a solar-powered grid from experiencing blackouts on days when large cloud cover might obstruct solar farming.

To achieve the level of efficiency needed to convert the solar energy to the power grid, new silicon carbide power electronics switches will be used in the M4 Inverter. The need for a bulky 60-hertz transformer is also eliminated in the M4 Inverter to further increase the efficiency and to reduce the capital and installation cost. Construction of the system will be based on the modular building block concept that further reduces manufacturing costs and provides reliable operation through a power backup. The team will partner with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Toshiba International, Wolfspeed and Opal-RT, as well as Argonne National Lab.

The DOE awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal to cut in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

###

h/t to WUWT regular, Roger Sowell

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129 thoughts on “A viable solar battery solution, or another boondoggle?

  1. Does anyone have a realistic estimation of the life of a solar panel.
    Current warranties are in the range of 20 years.

    • … and … a chart illustrating the degradation of wattage with age. The rate of degradation. Life-cycle cost of replacement is an essential economic variable (well, for all us poor non-elite, working class anyway).

    • I am still using ARCO solar panels manufactured in 1979. Obviously, not Chinese! I guess that fact dates me. Oops!

    • Bill,
      It seems highly probable that you are sucked in by bullsh*t.
      Still, I guess that’s what happens when bullsh*t is your prime form of communication.
      You must be a big fan of Musk.

    • The battery is SA does a good job at providing frequency control ancillary services (FCAS), short term load control…seconds to minutes. It cannot and does not provide long term load leveling needed for wind and solar power. It replaces the system inertia that large fossil plants have and wind turbines lack. It does this job very effectively but it cannot do the job the media implies, and maybe thinks it can do.

      • Exactly Doug. I looked far and wide for a description of what that $100M AUD battery near Jamestown, SA is intended to accomplish. I don’t think there is such a description. But at 100MwH storage/109MW max output, it is far too small to handle a major outage such as failure of the 460Mw Heywood connector to Victoria.

        It appears that the only problem(s) it can possibly address are the need for something to buffer wind/solar generation burstiness and/or the fact that neither wind nor solar are “spinning reserve” that adjusts output to match fluctuations in demand. If that’s what it does, it’s a good thing and every grid with a lot of wind/solar generation probably needs one or more of them. (Wind/Solar fans should remember to adjust the cost of grid scale electricity from those sources upward to cover capital ind maintenance costs for the buffer batteries). But it does NOT solve the problem of delivering adequate electricity during periods of low wind and low sunshine.

    • Yes Bill and Electranet are adding batteries with the help of some more slush funds-
      https://www.electranet.com.au/electranet-awards-contract-to-build-yorke-peninsula-battery/
      and another $80 mill in frequency condensers to get the unreliables up to scratch-
      https://reneweconomy.com.au/cheap-condensers-to-displace-gas-as-renewable-energy-back-up-29544/
      and the millions just keep on coming on top of the dearest power prices in the world already but don’t you worry about the power poor

    • Bill,
      Promoting an article that impkies a battery is the same as a generator, which you do, demonstrates a high level of confusion on your part.

    • AEON appears to be solely using their 30MW portion to make money by charging when costs are low and discharging when costs are high. All this does is increase consumer electricity costs, so the poor consumer is being charged for the battery site development, and continues to be charged more for its use. I don’t believe this is progress.

  2. If they are going to put that power onto the grid, they have to convert it to 60Hz at some point.
    The article goes on and on about using high frequencies. Does this new battery of theirs store AC power?
    If so, they need to apply for next years Nobel in physics.

    If they are putting the power from this system onto the grid, of what advantage is converting it to high frequency give them? They have to convert it to DC to put it into the battery, and 60Hz to put it onto the grid.

  3. Science by press release. As usual, written by a journalist without a clue on anything about science or engineering.
    The typical result, as usual, garbled nonsence.

    They start out explaining that storage is the weak point of photovoltaic, OK so far.
    Then they claim the problem will be solved with a new inverter.
    But inverters do not store anything. They just convert DC to AC.

    If this PR really is a fair representation of the investigator’s position, then it seems they will say anything at all in pursuit of federal grant money.

    • I was also trying to figure out what they were claiming. “Solar Energy Storage Problem May be Solved in New Single-System Technology.” It’s hand waving that could have been written concisely as:

      Smaller lower cost inverters, one for every solar cell could obviate the need for larger inverters. Done.

      No need to talk about storage since I don’t get how this addresses the storage issue.

    • What I always want to know when talking about small inverters is what the voltage waveform looks like. Usually small, light, cost-effective comes with the cost of a very square-ish waveform, often not even usable by most electronic equipment.

      • I don’t think that’s true these days Jeff. Most modern inverters generate a high frequency square wave, pulse width modulated and filtered to produce an accurate 50/60 Hz waveform. I include cheap Chinese generators in this description.

  4. Err “The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.” sounds like nothing more than a solar panel with a switching power supply. Don’t see how those can store a joule.

  5. This seems to be a mish mash of poorly communicated ideas. It starts out talking about storage , but quickly switches to frequency control. Then there is “the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid.” and nowhere decribes how or why this would be providing me power at 4AM in the dead of winter, absent fossil or nuclear supply.

    • Yeah. Just what are they using to store the electricity? Better inverters do not deal with that minor little problem. /sarc

      • Actually, the /sarc tag is entirely unnecessary. This is a completely factual non-ironic statement.

  6. This is good (though obvious) but where is the storage in this scheme? The major problem with wind and solar generation is their inability to provide electricity at all times. And because of poor storage options – Li-O batteries have only 1/8th the storage capacity of petrol per kg – won’t you still need base loading capacity that can satisfy the demand during the night and when the wind isn’t blowing since you can’t store enough electricity to satisfy demand? Won’t this result in expensive duplication of generating capacity? Will costs double? Is nuclear generation the only practical answer?

  7. ???????
    Anybody know?
    Those plants in the photo with the big flowering spikes.
    Are those Aloe Vera? Or perhaps small Century Plants?

  8. The idea is nice … integrate an inexpensive, efficient, reliable, compact, environmentally non-toxic battery into the same panel-and-frame system that presently serves to empower municipal scale PV energy plants. Good idea, at many levels.

    • Decentralizes storage
    • Scales with plant capacity
    • Satisfies the “n–1 / n” problem¹
    • Rests on afforability, durability, efficiency

    ¹ the “n–1 / n” problem is “how well does a ‘solution’ based on repetitions of some unit function handle the elision of one unit?”. If the battery-and-photocell units are truely independent of each other nominally, then (assuming the designers didn’t blow a gasket and forget to put it in) the “bypass self on self-detction of failure” mechanism does a lot to keep the whole system functional.

    The real problem tho — whether at the scale of one’s rooftop, or the scale of a municipal multi-hectare installation — has always been the same.

    Namely how to hook up the panels, and then arrays-of-panels into a reliable substrate for power generation?
    _______

    Give it a whirl: (first the “easy case” of a well heeled suburbanite’s solar rooftop)

    You’ve infused yourself in the mystic charts, the counterintuitive recommendations for system sizing, and the prevailing wholesale prices for both high-efficiency and high-reliability / weather stable ÷ 25+ year cells. You want to hook ’em all up in a way that tolerates the failure of part of a panel, a whole panel, and because there are quite a few panels, hopefully a whole section of panels if they are attacked by vandal ravens and bad acting monkeys.

    You have 96 panels. Each generating a peak of 275 watts – with direct-overhead sunlight at your latitude. The roof just so happens to be at almost the exact right angle to accomplish this without fancy panel frames. Each panel generates over 36 volts at 7.5 amps at that point. Ideally (subject for another discussion), you’d like the output DC power of the whole array to be more or less the peak voltage needed by the DC-to-AC power converter. It makes them hyper-efficient that way. Your house is 240 V, split phase.

    Using PEAK = √(2) • RMS voltage, you get 1.414 × 240 → 339 V. That — or a bit below that — would be the optimal battery stack voltage level. So how to arrange the panels? There are 96 of them. Well, pretty easily! 336 V ÷ 36 V = 9.33 … but since you can’t have “⅓ of a panel”, taking 9 panels at a go is just fine. Taking 96 total panels ÷ 9 = almost 11 rows of them. Just a few short! Its ok.

    Each ‘row of 9’ panels will be hooked like elephants in a chain: series connected, so that the total output of a row is 324 or more nominal full output volts. At 7.5 amps (since in series, volts add, but amps stay mostly constant). Likewise, if the situation were Tinkertoy simple, you would then hook all 11 chains of 9 panels each row to a supergrid outputting 324 volts, and 11 × 7.5 = 82 amps or therabouts. Right?

    Well no… not in practice. In practice big things (trees, rooflines, stuff in your neighbors’ yards) can shadow parts of your massive array. Moving shadows, predictable as “the wind”, covering parts of the system up. The problem there is that when a panel (minimally) is partially shadowed, either (or both) its voltage or its current output will dip. While that doesn’t sound like much of a problem, it turns out to be critical: any underperforming panel acts … instead of as a generator … at worst like a big power consumer, chewing up power for the row its in.

    And if the panels are hooked in rows, and the rows are hooked in parallel … and there are underperforming panels, well, the whole system can become hopelessly vexed by the low performers.
    _______

    Thing is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ideally — if you’ve not been exposed to a bunch of product advertising and propaganda — you would like a panel to be “load and generation transparent”. Way more like the tinker toys. Hook ’em in series to rows … and get 324 volts out, and hook rows into parallel ladder-steps, without dead panels, shadowed panels, out-of-spec neighbor panels and sub-performing chains … taking down the system (or ideally, not losing their sub-par generating output either!).

    So the industry has come up with a lot of little dohickeys that address this. They’re small, pretty darn efficient, and at least a few of them are “plug and play”, nearly (ideally) to be forgotten and just keep on working right. Sometimes they’re called buck-inverters, or impedance matchers. Sometimes other words are used. The idea tho’ is that each full panel is hooked to one, and ‘it’ takes the panel’s output, and matches the expected voltage and allows pass-thru current that keeps the whole leg working at whatever top efficiency is even possible for the chain. Likewise, when hooking the 9-panel chains to each other in parallel, yet another kind of inverter is used to match the varying output of each leg, to produce a harmonious whole-system output.
    _______

    These things work! Ultimately, even non-geeks can be relatively assured that every kilowatt-hour of juice created “on top” by the panels is being absorbed and used by both the captive house-and-property uses, and all excess either diverted to a battery capture system, or “just the grid” for sale.

    But how does the Municipal scale system work? The same way? It is MUCH bigger, with many more layers of small-scale fault tolerance, chain fault-tolerance, parallel-grid balancing tolerance and sudden-patch loss (overhead clouds passing by).

    Will this battery system — integrated to the cells at a one-per-panel basis — be able to handle this level of geometric fault tolerance?

    I think that THAT is the question.
    Not just a rosey pair of glasses.

    GoatGuy

    • The real issue is “peak” occurs for about an hour or so around solar noon and builds to it or declines from it during the day. Throw in the fact the Sun varies ~46 deg in angle from summer to winter and back and doesn’t shine at all 12hrs on average, well …

      Then inside your house someone or something is running 24×7. The two just don’t match up.

    • GoatGuy, thanks for the lucid explanation. It sounds like the only innovation here is the use of silicon carbide inverters (smaller, cheaper, running at higher temperature?) and a “multi-port” design. Kind of a ho-hum given the huge structural problems you outline.

  9. TonyL June 4, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    You beat me to it. This is even worse than usual. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like the postmodernism generator applied to engineering.

    One such additional functionality is the ability to provide fast frequency control, which would prevent a solar-powered grid from experiencing blackouts on days when large cloud cover might obstruct solar farming.

    ???? Not even wrong.

    • My big laugh of the day!!!!
      “Not even wrong”, Perfect.
      That bit you blockquoted is what convinced me that I was reading chain-linked buzzwords.
      Here are a few more:
      “also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale”

      • I see those, and keep yelling BINGO! Cheapskates never pony up my prize, though.

        OT – NOW my reply has the account info filled in (although not hidden, at least to me). I don’t know whether Anthony poked something on the widget, or it was simply a propagation delay issue. Anyway, seems to be fixed.

  10. They talk about direct-to-alternating current conversion via new silicon carbide ‘power switching’ inverters….. but there is nothing in this article about ‘new batteries’ or energy storage…. WUWT?

  11. I don’t know if this post is a result of an email I sent recently to Anthony, perhaps not.

    To clear up some confusion regarding storage in the comments above, here is the DOE’s statement about the technology: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/advanced-power-electronics-design-solar-applications-power-electronics

    “UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

    Project Name: Modular, Multifunction, Multiport, and Medium-Voltage Utility Scale Silicon Carbide PV Inverter

    Location: Austin, TX

    DOE Award Amount: $2,999,400

    Awardee Cost Share: $840,452

    Principal Investigator: Alex Q. Huang

    Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

    Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

    Hope this helps.

    • Thanks Roger. This excerpt is referring to that energy storage device:
      “…and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support.”

  12. I suppose another Carrington event or a neutron bomb air burst would destroy the entire grids generation capacity and prevent it from ever being restarted? CO2 footprint reduced in a flash.

  13. I fail to see how the stated ultra fast frequency control ‘feature’ makes up for lack of power made when/if dark clouds come along. Pretty hard to come up with energy when there is none.

    • Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

      • … it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer.

        It doesn’t. Medium-voltage is 1 kV to 35 kV. Medium-voltage is the lowest voltage before it is
        stepped down to the end user. The upper range of medium voltage is primarily used in rural areas where distribution lines are long. Transmission line voltage are typically 135 kV to 765 kV. They are still going to need a transformer to step the voltage up from medium to high. So instead of having a transformer that goes from low to high they will have a transformer that goes from medium to high.

        • …unless you work in Facilities. Your statement is true if you work in Transmission. If you work in Facilities low voltage is 0-50 volts (the controls and communications) medium voltage is 50-500 (the power to everything inside the facility) and high voltage is everything >500 volts (from the Facilities perspective, the voltage that must be transformed in order to be useable, thus all transmission voltages). So the press release makes sense if you replace “…medium voltage…” with words like “…the voltage the equipment uses…”. See, it’s only a matter of your frame of reference!

  14. The article talks about storage of power, but does not identify how the electricity is stored. If it’s the usual lithium battery, then nothing has changed and no extra reliability is gained. Just distribution of costs and an increase in battery replacements.

    • Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

  15. A inverter using wide bandgap technology can operate with less internal resistance making them able to handle higher switching currents more efficiently. Boosting the output voltage means less loss due to resistance of connections. Having an inverter that could boost the voltage of each solar panel to a kilovolt or more would allow connections between cells to be made with smaller gauge wire. Combining the power of multiple solar panels could be done by using a simple diode bridge rectifier at the output of each inverter making it pulsed DC. All pulsed DC lines could be hooked together without expensive phase conversion. That 1kvolt line could then feed into one larger inverter at the location 240v split phase is needed. The ability to have highly efficient inverters capable of dealing with high voltage and current makes electricity transmission much more efficient.

    The reason AC was chosen over DC was for its ability to use transformers to efficiently boost the voltage for long distance transmission and then reduce the voltage at its load destination using other transformers. This was Tesla’s legacy.

    Some people think that AC is better at long distance transmission of power but that is not true. It is the voltage, the higher the better, that makes long distance transmission of electrical power more efficient.

      • Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

        Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

        Hope this helps.

    • For extreme distances and undersea cables, the AC losses are too high (seawater works as a capacitor) and they go back again to UHVDC (ultra high voltage DC) lines. That is currently the case in China where they just finished a 1100 kV DC line with a length of over 3,000 km:
      http://www.eenewseurope.com/news/record-1100kv-uhvdc-power-link-rolls-out-china-0
      The connection was finished a few weeks ago and after tests will be set in use by the end of this year…

    • When I hover over a link in the comment section, then the link text disappears. Apparently the link text becomes white (or a very light color), therefor blending into the background. It is possible to click on the link and follow it.

      I use Opera v52 and the same is happening when using Firefox v59 (both on Linux).

        • Thanks Antony

          I had some time and tried to figure out where the issue could originate from. It doesn’t seems to be a right out of the box issue to me. I couldn’t find anything in the wpdiscuz css that would cause the hovered links to go white.

          The issue seems to come from a custom css page that overrides the theme CSS. It says on line 13: “edited version by Jim”. Not sure who that Jim is, could also be a wordpress or wpdiscuz developer.

          On line 224, it defines the default link style over the complete site. It is an orangy-brown color when hovering over a link. Which is what I would expect.

          I think the problem originates for the definition of two special styles. On line 256, the link style of the masthead is defined, but it also seems to wrongly redefine a:hover and a:visited as white. The same with the link style of the main menu (line 262) in which a:hover and a:visited are also wrongly redefined as white.

          I think the solution is to specify the a:hover and a:visited as specifically belonging to the site-title in the masthead definition (line 256). Change:
          .site-title a, a:hover, a:visited {
          in
          .site-title a, .site.title a:hover, .side.title a:visited {

          And doing the same for the definition of the menu (line 262):
          .menu a, a:hover, a:visited {
          in
          .menu a, .menu a:hover, .menu a:visited {

          That seems to solve it, at least on my test page.

  16. I worked industrial service and was an inverter specialist for 8 or 9 years.

    The best I can guess from this vague article is to:

    1) Use high frequency inverter to convert solar panel output to medium voltage. This uses a much smaller transformer than at 60Hz and therefore costs less and is more efficient.

    2) Convert the high frequency medium voltage AC to DC.

    3) Use another inverter to convert medium voltage DC to 60Hz AC to send to the power grid. No bulky transformer needed.

    Converting AC to DC to AC is commonplace in industrial inverter applications. Inverters are very efficient. In many applications use of inverters can realize significant energy savings over running the application without the inverter set up.

    Hope this helps

    • David: My experience with similar UPS and VFD power electronic technology is that a high frequency carrier in the range of 3 kHz to 12 kHz is manipulated by Pulse Width Modulation into a roughly shaped 60 Hz AC sine wave. Is this the HF the article refers to?

      • You would be correct Ron.

        In power supplies such as in computers switching carrier frequencies can be in the range of 20kHz to 70kHz. The only limit is design requirements and component limitations.

        It has been a while since I was an inverter specialist but motor driver inverters at that time had carrier frequencies into the lower 20kHz range. The largest I worked on was just under a megawatt power output. I am still amazed that so much power can be switched on and off so quickly. But then I see a lightning bolt and remember that this is small potatoes compared to what nature does.

  17. I think everyone in the thread is missing the point. First you give them $3million then in a couple of years they’ll tell you it didn’t work. It’s basically just a funding ploy.

    • In a similar vein, were, or are, other fuel technologies given the nice free investigative handouts to promote their advancement.

  18. I’m confused. The new inverter doesn’t help the storage problem. It doesn’t even help the intermittency problem, only the conversion of DC power to AC. The problem is the drop in power every time a cloud passes in front of the sun, and the boost when the cloud passes again.

  19. Roger Sowell,

    Thanks for the clarifications! The inverter system has a DC tap, allowing routing of DC electricity from the solar panels to charge a local battery. It also allows DC-to-AC electricity conversion, either directly from the solar panel or from the battery, to grid supply. And the combined system reduces conversion/transmission losses, when compared to more conventional systems. Got it.

    • Yes. As someone stated earlier, the posted article is rather poorly written. I found the DOE article that has a better explanation. Thus appears to be distributed storage, and that might be economic with enough small batteries to achieve economies of production.

      Time will tell if the sales price at the bus-bar is reduced over today’s technology.

      • A lot of small, cheap batteries sound great until you look at their life expectancies. Even if you had batteries that could last twenty years, highly doubtful, you would soon be replacing 5% of them a year. That would be a tremendous problem, particularly for rooftop placements. Balancing labor costs with material costs is important.

  20. Has nickel iron Edison battery technology been totally eliminated from large fixed power storage use? People rave about Lithium ion, a solution for mobile use, and lead acid, another mobile solution.

    When real estate and weight are not the prime motivations while longevity and smaller pollution footprint are more of a consideration it would seem a 30 to 50 year battery bank would outshine lithium ion or lead acid, regardless of efficiency levels.

    Combined with newer wide bandgap semiconductor technology it would seem to be a more long term match of capabilities.

  21. Anthony,
    I can see the ‘reply’ buttons attached to each comment, as well as the +/- toggles. I can ‘up vote’ but I cannot ‘reply’. The reply button is not working for me.

  22. I have the same comment as Loren.

    The reporting is inaccurate. Their research has nothing to do with storage.

    Storage has everything to do with finding the magic battery. There is no battery that is even close to being able to store the amount of energy required for reasonable cost.

    Also it is not clear what engineering or commercial advantage there would be to combine solar cell with inverter.

  23. What a load of garbage! As mentioned in another comment, it looks like someone strung together a whole bunch of technical buzz words without even checking to make sure they are even related or relevant. And silicon carbide inverters??? Give me a break.

    I see zero mention of anything in the article related to energy storage. I worked for a company that made inverters for wind, solar, backup and mobile applications. Inverters do not store power and there is nothing new here – the technology has been around for decades. Solar systems have always required inverters to feed power back into the grid, so what are they really doing that’s worth $3M in research funding?… Boondoggle like the title of the post says..

    • Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

  24. There is a clear relationship between efficiency and higher voltages when transferring power. Inverters allow that efficiency to be exploited via direct current sources and batteries.
    Ohms law and watts law are the mathematical basis for this.

    To make it more real, an automobile charging and staring system uses very large gauge copper wire to carry the 100 amp charging current and the 300 plus amp staring current in the small space of the car’s engine compartment.

    A 20 volt solar cell producing 200 watts has a current of 200/20=10 amps. Scale that up to the current needed to provide a house and you get 8000 watts / 20 volts = 400 amps. You are not talking engine compartment sizes either. Runs of 10s to 100s of feet might be needed. The copper in the cables alone would be a large expense along with the power loss along those cables.

    Raising the voltage to “midrange AC” about 1000 volts, reduces that current from 400 amps to 8000 watts / 1000 volts = 8 amps. Much less current for the same amount of power.

    Not only do you save in cabling costs but you also lose less power during transmission.

  25. . . . critical to addressing solar photovoltaic

    Seems there are many “critical” issues to be resolved.
    Two examples:
    One such is making the sun shine in high latitudes in the winter season.
    Has the issue of shipping solar energy from Tucson to Fairbanks been resolved?

  26. If you watch the science news, there is a major solar panel breakthrough every week. None of which pan out to anything.

    • And you would be right, except that costs have steadily declined, efficiencies have steadily improved, and capacity factors have steadily improved with better tracking systems.

      Other than that, though, none of which pan out to anything.

  27. The Hornsdale Power Reserve (often called the Tesla battery in South Australia) uses Samsung cells because they were better suited to the duty (and/or Tesla could not meet the promised delivery date).

    The Australian Energy Market Operator is pleased with the battery performance as detailed here:
    https://www.aemo.com.au/-/media/Files/Media_Centre/2018/Initial-operation-of-the-Hornsdale-Power-Reserve.pdf
    The comparison charts on page 6 indicates the impressive response of the battery to load control commands from AEMO for frequency control.

    The system in Texas still needs storage so that problem remains. There is nothing new about the inverter technology as far as I can gauge other than putting all functions into one inverter with ability to provide frequency control services for the grid. The low cost Chinese inverters use high frequency switch to reduce transformer size so that is nothing new:
    https://www.banggood.com/Solar-Power-Inverter-2000W-1224V-DC-To-220V-AC-Modified-Sine-Wave-Converter-USB-p-1225632.html?rmmds=detail-top-buytogether__5&cur_warehouse=CN
    That is why they do not cost much for the rated power. Efficiency is in the mid to high 90s for moderate loads in cool weather. The cooling fan lowers efficiency. Some really cheap inverters do not bother controlling the fan; they run continuously. Some of these low cost inverters can be used in strings with one master but they are not suitable for grid connection.

    The idea for small or micro inverters on each solar panel for parallel strings is not new. This is commercially available technology:
    http://www.spacesolar.com.au/micro-inverter/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIiYS_7rK72wIVzYRwCh3ImwWNEAAYASAAEgIMFvD_BwE
    These do not have any storage though so power fluctuates with solar energy variation.

    So I figure the project is just bundling existing technology into a more comprehensive package. I could not see any point in batteries being located on a roof.

    • The system includes storage.

      Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

      • So it doesn’t really “include storage.” It just provides a direct current port to allow you to add storage devices if you want. In other words, if I’m reading this right, batteries are not included. (If I’m reading this wrong, please stop quoting the nonsensical project summary and give us your own summary in plain English.)

  28. Effective storage of solar energy?
    Yawn…
    Give me a call when they dream up something as good as a big coal stockpile…

    • The irony is coal is 100% natural solar energy storage. The Green blob constantly sermons us that natural is good… until it’s not.

  29. Am I missing something? This looks like a big nothing – just a slightly more efficient inverter, to convert battery or solar DC into grid AC.

    • I agree. I am shocked that implementing a modern power architecture is seen as novel and worthy of a DoE grant at this stage. Am I to understand no one in the commercial solar industry called Vicor over the last 30 years?

  30. I’m out of my league here but inverters have been common in RVs where they are critical because of the weight of solar panels. I had a panel on a trailer for 20+ years and the industry has been actively working on the system, even with frequency control because of appliance problems. They have greatly improved, but still seem to follow physical limitations. If they run an RV air conditioner it will be impressive, but I don’t see how that is possible.

  31. “which eliminates the need for a bulky and expensive low-frequency transformer.”

    Modern PWM inverters operate at much higher frequencies which require smaller and cheaper transformers. How is any of this a storage system?

  32. So, the only thing they created was a new inverter design. One for each panel. Now, that has been done before.. Btw, these switching power supplies never use a bulky transformer as they switch at much higher frequencies than AC power (60 / 50 Hz) anyway.

  33. But experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent.

    Kind of like a UPS. I believe many residential inverters already provide this option.

    …their main function being the conversion of the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, which eliminates the need for a bulky and expensive low-frequency transformer.

    Medium voltage is what goes down your street. To supply power to the wider grid they are still going to need a step up transformer. Current commercial inverters run about 98% efficient as do the transformers. They will be lucky if they can get a 1% improvement. I suspect that people that already design and build these things have a much higher chance of making improvements.

    This is just a taxpayer funded nothing burger.

  34. The Australian Battery a massive success? That is pure propaganda. It is power imported from Victoria and NSW that props up the unbelievably inefficient South Australian power grid. You can look at how it is performing here. https://reneweconomy.com.au/nem-watch/

    At this moment of writing it is putting a massive (sarc) 27MW into the system.

  35. Nothing whatsoever about batteries or energy storage as claimed. If they get that bit so badly wrong it makes you wonder if they even got their own names right.

  36. I don’t see how this solves the problem with solar power. The current grid installations in Australia, supply all of 0.4% of our total power needs. Storing it for later use, does nothing for the production! All it does do, is introduce more losses into the system! But lets say there are no losses. 0.4% produced and used now, is the same as 0.4% stored and used later. But, I do notice in the article, that there is no mention of the actual storage media used? Did I miss something?

  37. But experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent.

    An interesting claim, “integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system” that is not substantiated by anything else in the article, followed by a non-sequitur ” effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent”.

    Then we have what would seem to be the meat…

    Collectively, the combined technologies are known as an M4 Inverter – their main function being the conversion of the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, which eliminates the need for a bulky and expensive low-frequency transformer.

    Where we learn that in fact the main issue is one of integrating an inverter. not storage, onto the panels…..

    What is going on?

    Well, finally a hint…

    The DOE awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal to cut in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

    Yeah, right….now we are in a position to translate from press release to actual reality

    “Noting the DOE goals of reducing renewable costs and improving its dispatchability we have a slight improvement we are working on, which is to integrate the high voltage inverters on the solar panel chips themselves. This won’t to a damned thing for storage, and it creates huge problems in synchronizing arrays of chips but with a bit of luck and a few million in grants it might actually result in a marginally better panel. It wont help- dispatch/storage at all, so we just lied about that”.

    • The system includes storage.

      Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

  38. So in the end what this comes down to is a new, possibly slightly improved, inverter with an option to hook it up to a battery. In other words a big nothingburger.

  39. And, of course, these solar panels are designed to do what we are all led to believe CO2 does: namely absorb solar energy and thus heat the Earth.

    The basic science says that if you want to heat the Planet then plaster it with solar panels. Have a look at the Stephan-Boltzmann equation.

    A good example of the weird logic of the Greenblob.

    Meanwhile the solution to all these storage problems is a gas turbine and store the energy in a tank.

    • At last. A sane word in the midst of all this madness.

      My first job was at Johannesburg electricity department. They had 2 coal fired power stations and two converted jet engines running on bog standard jet fuel they used for what they called peak lopping. They could run them up to full power in a matter of minutes and keep them running until the power stations had put another generator set on load hours later. I’m retired now, so this is nothing new. It appears that this approach is still the only practical solution to lopping peaks and thus keeping the lights on. Rather important for those mining gold 2 miles down.

      Until such time as battery technology advances to the point where it can do the same job (don’t hold your breath) it is a complete waste of time and money in this application.

      In my view unreliables like wind and solar are a net cost as they increase grid instability which then costs money to counter. Let them prove me wrong by building one of their pet projects that includes the peak-lopping element without taxpayer support and see how competitive they are.

      I’ve no doubt the inverter technology they’ve developed may well make a bad idea slightly less bad but that doesn’t magically make it good.

  40. Let’s see. Solar panels require glass, aluminum, copper, steel, and cement / concrete. When I see the industrial processes used to produce these materials powered by wind and solar generated electricity and solar heat I will consider that maybe, just maybe these technologies are approaching cost parity. Until then, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

  41. M4 unit? Presumably units 1 thru 3 were not completely successful Dr Daystrom?

  42. An inverter is not a battery.
    Better quality solar power could help grid performance and realibility, which seems to be the point if the article.
    If that is the case, the peksy problem of “dark” is still unsolved.
    Which means consumers will still be stuck with the added expense and problems of a hybrid system.
    And pollution will be more, not less.

  43. Anthony you really need to read things before you post them, the article is gibberish and Roger Sowell’s link makes it clear that your title is incorrect.

    This is not about batteries at all, it is an inverter that can perform some additional functions if connected to a separate energy storage system.

  44. If I understand EMP correctly, then solar energy systems are significantly more vulnerable to EMP than a non-solar grid.
    Anyone with a stronger physics background please comment.

  45. I didn’t see one place where they actually say how their system will store energy. It sounds like it’s a new switch to change DC to AC, which can adjust the frequency quickly. Does that mean going from 60 cycles to 50? How would that help, and how would that prevent damage to equipment designed for 60 cycles?

    The blockquote from the researcher certainly sounds like he’s trying to mislead / doubletalk his readers. Or, maybe I’m missing something.

    • The system includes storage.

      Project Summary: This project is developing the next-generation utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) inverter referred to as a modular, multi-function, multiport, and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter. Called the M4 Inverter, it directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer. The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device. The device has multiple functionalities and can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation, and peak power reduction, and enables synthetic inertia to be integrated into the inverter for grid support. Taken together, these advances will enable the inverter to drastically reduce the levelized cost of energy.”

      Extracting the pertinent part: The inverter also has a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device.

      Hope this helps.

      • Instead of repeating the same project summary over and over and expecting a different result, how about translating this technobabble for us so we can understand it, unless you don’t really understand it either.

        • The press release cut and pasted by Anthony Watts at the start of this thread is gibberish. The link posted by Roger Sowell (https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/advanced-power-electronics-design-solar-applications-power-electronics) makes sense to me, as does his summary of it above.

          The device being developed does not store electricity, but it can form part of a system that does.

          As this device does not store electricity, all the limitations of existing forms of electricity storage remain.

          The only issue I have with the device description is the bit about eliminating the need for a transformer. I don’t see any difficulty in making a inverter that outputs at any voltage you want, however the grid operates at several different voltages. This inverter seems to output at the voltage used for local distribution, which is fine if the load is close to the solar farm, but if they want to transmit the power long distances they will need to use a transformer to step it up.

  46. More proof that solar power technology isn’t ready for massive installations. This innovation made $100’s of billions of inverters obsolete.

  47. WHAT??
    The article is suppose to be about how they store energy (at night) to be competitive with Fossil Fuel power plants that remain up continuously. I understand the dynamics of low voltage switching to create a more functional interface to be transformed down the line and integrated into the grid…. but where was the battery…. all I read was… “ability to provide fast frequency control”…. what does that have to do with storing energy for when the sun doesn’t shine.

    Can someone help me out. Did I miss something???

    • “The UT project will develop the next generation of … modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.” I know nothing about the subject of this article, but, judging by the description of the project, the product will not be competitive with fossil fueled energy sources without huge subsidies.

  48. So, you have one system that simply accumulates energy. Where is the modulation and control of the accumulated energy if this is one system? Basically, a sunny day will be charging up a bomb, that could fail catastrophically at any time.

    This is exactly why capacitor-based storage systems are dangerous. We can easily build electric cars with amazing amounts of energy storage, but capacitor energy can be releasable in an instant if there was a failure. Gasoline and diesel are available energy but only when mixed with air and ignited such that the energy release in a failure is simply a treatable fire. A capacitor failure would be equivalent to a low-yield non-nuclear event.

    Another pie-in-the-sky PBI (partially baked idea).

  49. Wait, this system does nothing in the way of storing energy, just converting it to 60-cycle AC? Wow, Who cares? The Sun sets and so does your life.

    There is nothing in this article that begins to suggest how the energy is stored, other than in possible capacitor structures, in which case the danger is obvious.

  50. To paraphrase a famous saying. Not only this press-release isn’t true, it isn’t even a lie.

  51. Almost all Li-Ion systems, including all Li-Ion power tools, as well as the Tesla, use the standard 18650 cell, wired in series and parallel. A little known fact is that during the Li-Ion charging cycle, only 50% of the charging energy gets stored in the battery, while the other 50% is lost as heat. Another way is to say the storage efficiency is 50%. There are many ways to store energy changing from kenetic to static and back again that are more than 50% efficient. Makes one wonder why they are choosing such an expensive, yet low efficiency system.

  52. The following is background for the technical-oriented readers: from the IEEE, the nuts and bolts of transformer inverters, paper from 2014.

    Translation for the non-technical readers: The spark-chasers figured out a safe, and more economic way to send high-quality power from a solar photo-voltaic power plant into the grid.

    “A Multilevel Medium-Voltage Inverter for Step-Up-Transformer-Less Grid Connection of Photovoltaic Power Plants” M. R. Islam et. al., IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics ( Volume: 4, Issue: 3, May 2014 )

    https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6777547/

    Abstract: “Recently, medium (0.1-5 MW) and large (>5 MW) scale photovoltaic (PV) power plants have attracted great attention, where medium-voltage grid connection (typically 6-36 kV) is essential for efficient power transmission and distribution. A power frequency transformer operated at 50 or 60 Hz is generally used to step up the traditional inverter’s low output voltage (usually ≤400 V) to the medium-voltage level.

    Because of the heavy weight and large size of the power frequency transformer, the PV inverter system can be expensive and complex for installation and maintenance. As an alternative approach to achieve a compact and lightweight direct grid connection, this paper proposes a three-phase medium-voltage PV inverter system. The 11-kV and 33-kV PV inverter systems are designed. A scaled down three-phase 1.2-kV test rig has been constructed to validate the proposed PV inverter. The experimental results are analyzed and discussed, taking into account the switching schemes and filter circuits. The experimental results demonstrate the excellent feature of the proposed PV inverter system.”

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