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Innovative solar smoother manages fluctuations from alternative energy sources

Western Australia's Horizon Power recently released new specifications that have a major impact on the renewable energy industry.

The State-owned regional utility required a smoothing device to be installed on every new solar power system to help with power fluctuations. 

Horizon Power's infrastructure was having difficulties coping with the unstable power, due to injection of solar energy from private systems.

The utility operates WA's remote electricity supply systems and some local generation facilities and retails electricity to almost 30,000 customers in the Kimberley, Gascoyne, Mid West and southern Goldfields.

Horizon Power generates some electricity from renewable sources, including wind power in coastal areas and small scale solar power schemes. 

Currently there are too many solar panels feeding into generator-based mini-grids in some towns in rural WA. When the mini-grid experiences large changes in the injection of solar power, for example on cloudy days, the generators have to work hard to keep up.

If a large cloud passes by, then the solar power injection level will suddenly drop and generators will need to work hard to keep the power flowing.

Horizon Power has introduced the changes to ensure that these “black holes” of power are avoided. This is achieved via a “solar smoothing” equipment.

The smoothing device will provide back-up power to the grid while the generators ramp up and down – reducing the long term wear and tear of the equipment.

The introduction of the specifications will ensure that Horizon’s infrastructure is protected, whilst also allowing space for new solar farms, where the hosting capacity has been reached. Currently, “Solar Smoothers” are a new and emerging technology.

Magellan Power has been working for the past three years on a Grid Power Support System which has already been sold to the Queensland Utility Ergon Energy for a similar application.

The Grid Power Support System was given to residents of Townsville for a similar purpose of correcting power levels, and is currently in operation.

Chief Technical Officer from Magellan Power, Lindsay Meek said the need for the Smoother is critical in smaller solar-powered communities.

“We can keep adding solar panels but it will eventually break the network – there’s a high cost to too much unreliable power, especially for consumers.”

Meek said the Magellan “Solar Smoother” innovation is a good solution to the problem because it uses Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries which have a high charge/ discharge rate and good cyclic characteristics.

“Our system consists of batteries and a bi-directional inverter, and the lithium ensures that the batteries aren’t compromised by the heavy work load.”

Magellan Solar Smoother features:

  • Four quadrant ruggedised IGBT based bi-directional inverter
  • DSP and microcontroller based
  • Integrated cell battery management system, supporting advanced lithium phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries
  • Available in single phase and three phase
  • Communication with external SCADA/network/PC via RS-232, RS485, DNP3, TCP/IP, WEB
  • Optional MPPT solar charge controller

[Image courtesy Magellan Power. More information.]

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