Smart inverter market grows on rise of virtual power plants
Virtual power plants, which combine the output from multiple energy sources and can ramp it up or down centrally to suit power-purchase agreement (PPA) requirements, are growing in Germany and the United States on the back of rising distributed energy generation, wider use of smart meters and other smart grid technologies, and the emerging markets for ancillary services.
“Increasing functionality in the form of embedded hardware and software would be the primary differentiator of successful midstream solar companies,” Deutsche Bank said in a report published in February.
“Over time, the integration of storage and energy management would become the primary differentiator for solar companies,” the bank said.
The proliferation of virtual power plants (VPPs) is already forcing inverter makers to include greater intelligence in their systems, while virtual power plant owners are seeking to invest in sophisticated data software to control the output from multiple energy sources, according to Mark Barineau, analyst with Lux Research in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Almost all new inverters next year will be smart,” he said.
In June, inverter maker SMA unveiled a partnership with LichtBlick, the German virtual power plant operator, to integrate battery storage systems connected to rooftop PV into a single IT platform that could then deliver power to electricity markets.
SMA is contributing partial solutions for the PV system and its aggregation.
“When many local storage systems are linked together, they create a powerful ‘SchwarmBatterie,’ or battery cluster, which LichtBlick uses to stabilize utility grids and compensate for weather-related fluctuations in wind and solar power,” SMA said in a press statement.
Virtual power plants give operators access to a larger generation pool with enough over-capacity to curtail and ramp up production according to off-taker demand.
Markets with surging renewable energy capacity, such as Germany, are often faced with excess supply of intermittent power.
SMA is researching different inverter solutions for virtual PV power plants, including via partnerships with companies like Lichtblick, said Dagmar Buth-Parvaresh, a member of the company’s public relations team.
Other manufacturers known to be working on smart inverters include ABB, KACO, Outback, SolarEdge, Enphase and Ideal Power.