Research Taking a Shot at Improving Solar Energy

SunShot might sound like the next wave of NASA missions, or perhaps even the latest weapon of a James Bond villain, but it’s a US Department of Energy research initiative that holds the potential to reshape the way we think about, gather, and use solar energy.

The US Department of Energy logo for the SunShot Initiative.

The SunShot National Laboratory Multiyear Partnership recently awarded a $2.3 million, thirty-six-month project to UT’s College of Engineering and its collaborators.

“There is great potential in the United States to better make use of solar power possibilities,” said Yong Liu, research assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UT. “Our study will look at problems inherent to current photovoltaic power generation, its effect on the U.S. power grid frequency stability, and how to mitigate its effect in order to avoid large blackouts.”

Photovoltaic power, or PV power, converts solar energy to electricity without burning fossil fuels and is considered the carbon-free solution for our energy problem.

While the best-known example is the standard solar panel that has been around for decades, breakthroughs in technology have provided reduced cost as well as increased efficiency, which in turn greatly increases the potential capacity of PV plants.

This potential surge of grid-connected solar arrays has raised concerns with utility operators about the potential impact solar energy could have on power grid stability, but knowledge is scarce on both the problems that lie ahead and the solutions for current problems.

“Our preliminary studies already demonstrated that the overall frequency response of US power grids will deteriorate significantly with rapidly increasing renewable power generation,” said Liu. “A case study in wind power in Ireland also backs this up, so clearly renewable energies pose some serious challenges that traditional power production does not.

“That is the main challenge we seek to answer.”

The team will set about answering that challenge in three phases:

Developing a wide range of PV penetration scenarios based on accurate interconnection models and realistic PV location projections
Achieving an understanding of the frequency impact on the grid
Developing and testing options for low system inertia and reduced frequency response problems
The team, led by joint UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair and Deputy Director of CURENT (the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks) Yilu Liu and including ORNL’s Aleksandar Dimitrovski and Stanton Hadley, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Yingchen Zhang, and General Electric’s Maozhong Gong, will run tests on three North American interconnection models and GE’s Hardware-in-the-Loop facility, giving them an unprecedented amount of data.

Once complete, those steps and tests will help prepare the United States for solar power generation of up to 14 percent of the nation’s total electricity demand by 2030 and 27 percent by 2050. … More Research Taking a Shot at Improving Solar Energy

Scientists Store Solar Energy in Desert Sand

While some research teams are spending long hours, trying to develop the ultimate solar energy storage system, others just have to look out of their window and they have it all in front of their eyes. A team from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) in United Arab Emirates, found that desert sand is the perfect mean to store solar energy. … More Scientists Store Solar Energy in Desert Sand

Business Owner Uses Solar Energy to Power Food Truck

Steve Peto was born and raised in Chicago, and moved to Reno in 2000. After moving back and forth, he decided to open a food truck, two years ago. Now, “Taste of Chicago” can be found in various locations around the Biggest Little City, serving up food like hot dogs, Polish sausages, and Italian Beef Sandwiches. … More Business Owner Uses Solar Energy to Power Food Truck

U.S. should stop subsidizing solar energy

Why should Congress eliminate subsidies for solar energy? The most powerful reason is that solar energy has come of age and is ready to compete on its own terms without help from the government. No energy industry in the past century has benefited so much from technological innovation, with the costs of solar panels plunging 80 percent within the past decade. … More U.S. should stop subsidizing solar energy