By Dr. Vlatko Vlatkovich March 19, 2014
Chief Engineering Officer, General Electric
Solar power generation is a hot commodity in the renewables energy market – last year, it topped the charts for renewable energy production growth, passing the 100 terawatt hour mark with 65% year on year growth in 2013. This is a marked shift from decades of slow growth, and a global challenge to deliver a significant proportion of energy demands from renewable sources. In the past, renewables as a whole – and solar technology in particular – have been too expensive and too inefficient, and national energy policies have been slow to embrace them.
Yet we are on the cusp of a solar age. We will only see the acceleration in solar if we can find the means to efficiently operate solar power at large scale.
GE is investing heavily across its businesses to ensure it can be a primary port of call for EPCs and developers looking to build next generation solar plants to address these challenges and help give solar power a more central role in the global energy mix.
Converting the energy captured by solar panels to supply the electricity grid is a hugely important part of the solar efficiency puzzle. GE Power Conversion’s ProSolar inverter technology is a cornerstone of the solution here, giving solar utility players tremendous flexibility, scale and value.
With the ProSolar operating at 1500VDC input, the inverter reaches up to 30% CAPEX savings on farm infrastructure. The 4MW power rating as compared to industrial standard 1MW means 4 times higher power concentration, resulting in significant OPEX savings. Fewer inverter stations required by the power plant also means lower total installation and maintenance cost.
GE is also investing heavily in grid modernization and integration, working out ways in which the – often variable – contributions of renewables actually makes the grid more stable through application of modern controls and energy storage technologies. GE’s energy storage business is focused on high capacity batteries for infrastructure applications. This includes grid scale energy storage batteries, vital to delivering “renewables firming” (managing the variability of the renewable power contributions to the grid) and regulating grid frequency.
Also key to delivering efficient, cost-effective solar power at utility scale in the future is finding ways of increasing the operational efficiency. Intelligent software is needed to help manage energy dispatch and assess any operational issues remotely, something that is particularly important given that many solar plants are located in remote areas. Given that many investments in solar are long-term bets, GE has a wealth of experience in providing financial support to ensure these projects get from concept to reality.
Solar power will become increasingly central in the global energy mix, and a lot of investment is going into making it a reality. GE is putting itself at the forefront of this trend, leading the market with the enabling technologies for solar.