NREL and SMUD Launch Revolutionary Automation Tool to Interconnect Customer Solar to Grid

PREconfiguring and Controlling Inverter SEt-points (PRECISE) software developed by NREL helps utilities identify optimal inverter modes and settings for distributed solar power. PRECISE is a self-contained system that allows utility engineers to seamlessly interconnect photovoltaic generation, dramatically reducing wait time and costs for customers. PRECISE: Reduction of costs and delays for rooftop PV

Automation tool: PRECISE: reduction of costs and lead times for rooftop PV

Every day, utilities across the country receive requests from customers wanting to connect their rooftop solar systems to the grid – up to hundreds a day and thousands a week. This high volume of interconnect requests shows no signs of slowing as the price of photovoltaic (PV) systems declines and states and local governments set higher renewable energy targets for their communities.

This increase in solar interconnect requests has created a new challenge for utilities, as each request received requires a technical assessment to assess the potential grid impacts of the new solar installation. This technical assessment evaluates impacts on power quality and infrastructure assets and is a key part of a utility’s interconnection approval process. Currently, utilities are manually evaluating interconnect applications, which means there is a growing demand for already overstretched distribution engineers.

To manage the growing volume of demands, utilities are increasingly turning to hosting capacity analytics to provide public visibility into the ability of their networks to accommodate solar power. The resulting accommodation capacity maps provide customers with broad insight into whether their local grid can accommodate – or house – new solar generation. These maps, while useful for high-level planning, still do not answer the question of whether individual solar applications can interconnect to the grid, as each interconnection can trigger unique local distribution system constraints.

Automation of the customer interconnection process

Network researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) partnered with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to solve this problem in the interconnection process.

“Our project team sought to understand how a utility can evaluate solar applications in a fast and robust way while being technically thorough,” said Killian McKenna, principal investigator at NREL’s Grid Planning and Analysis Center and principal investigator of the ‘effort.

Their solution was PRECISE—PREconfiguring and Controlling Inverter SEt-points—a tool that performs fast, automated interconnect assessments and integrates seamlessly with SMUD’s existing enterprise interconnect workflow.

“PV interconnection assessment becomes a time-consuming process as each proposed solar power system must be individually reviewed in detail to ensure that it works safely with our grid,” said Sheikh Hassan. , Senior Distribution Engineer at SMUD. “PRECISE greatly reduces this evaluation time by instantly determining the optimal inverter settings for a given location.”

PRECISE went live at SMUD on February 26, 2022 and has processed over 1,700 requests in its first six months of operation, an average of 13 requests per business day and up to nearly 30 requests in one day. The tool itself can scale to handle any number of applications: through automation, data integration and fast computing techniques, PRECISE can easily handle hundreds of applications per day.

“This is a great result for our team, helping staff get the help they need while speeding up the interconnection process and reducing costs for our customers,” Sruthi said. Nadimpalli, IT project manager at SMUD. This feature earned PRECISE an R&D 100 award in 2019, helped customers safely and efficiently install more solar power in SMUD’s service areas, and has global potential.

Automating this workflow is complicated. To be technically rigorous, PRECISE automates the modeling of all of SMUD’s more than 40,000 distribution secondaries – or low-voltage distribution system connected to homes and rooftop solar – and extracts data from the infrastructure of advanced measurement (AMI) as required. The tool also uses local irradiance measurements in SMUD’s service area and creates mathematical models of each incoming PV system. This involves modeling each component of the solar panels and their orientations, as well as the capacities of the inverters and smart inverters, to perform the assessment.

The entire process is automated to ensure that PRECISE pulls data as soon as a customer’s interconnect application is created and updates downstream business teams (i.e. planning, metering , line design) once its calculations are complete, creating a streamlined solar interconnect process tailored to meet SMUD’s unique local needs.

Finding solar solutions for everyone

A common scenario for SMUD customers involves demands for interconnecting solar power systems larger than the grid could accommodate in a specific location. PRECISE automates an assessment of the size of the system the network can accommodate and how advanced UPS features can support approval. In these scenarios, planning engineers have this information and can work with the customer to find a solution for the PV system to interconnect successfully.

For each residential solar PV interconnect application, PRECISE evaluates the impact of the interconnect proposal and assesses the need to use smart inverter features.

“The task of determining the optimal settings for smart inverters to maximize our PV hosting capacity will become more complex and time-consuming as the number of PV interconnect applications increases,” Hassan said. Smart inverter features can be the deciding factor in determining whether or not an interconnect should be downsized, and PRECISE enables this assessment, leveraging inverter features as needed, to help accommodate more solar power on the network.

Partnering for breakthrough results and future opportunities

To make PRECISE happen, NREL worked closely with a SMUD team that included more than 20 people working across multiple departments of the utility, including geographic information system (GIS) experts, infrastructure managers from advanced measurement, distribution engineers, database administrators, application administrators, information technology project managers and business process experts.

NREL’s project team included Kapil Duwadi, who acted as application developer, Aadil Latif, who automated the modeling of SMUD’s entire distribution system, and Killian McKenna, who oversaw the effort.

Close collaboration between NREL engineers and a diverse SMUD team was critical to the successful integration and automation of PRECISE. The project was the first interconnection technical evaluation process automation of its kind, which could serve as a model for many utilities that want to automate the growing challenge of evaluating new interconnection applications. “PRECISE is a cutting-edge PV interconnect assessment tool that enables utilities to cost-effectively host more solar power,” Hassan said.

Given this achievement, NREL and SMUD are exploring future collaborations together, now that PRECISE has linked the various utility datasets (e.g., meter data, GIS, interconnect applications) needed for automated utility assessment. new distributed energy resources. PRECISE could now be applied to large commercial solar sites, to assess battery energy storage or to assess the impact of electric vehicles when they connect to the grid.

“The future of grid planning and operations is increased automation to assess the health, impacts and opportunities of increasing levels of distributed energy resources,” McKenna said. “PRECISE is a first step among many to reach this future.”

Learn more about NREL Network Modernization Research, energy analysis researchand solar search, or contact Principal Investigator Killian McKenna at Killian.McKenna@nrel.gov.

Originally posted on NREL.

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