Predicting the future for smart PV

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As renewable energy penetration increases to account for a greater proportion of total energy production, efforts to ensure safety, reliability, and cost-effectiveness across power generation assets will become a bigger priority for the solar PV industry. And with the quickly evolving world of digitalization and intelligence, Huawei is leveraging its telecom expertise to predict the future of the industry. The world’s top-ranked inverter manufacturer has engaged with experts in the field and expects 10 technical trends to emerge for a smarter PV industry by 2025.

Huawei says that future industry trends span four dimensions: a lower levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), grid friendliness, intelligent convergence, and security and trustworthiness. These trends will start to drive the industry toward intelligent, green solutions, and they provide insight into innovation and soaring growth in the new energy industry.

Digital shift

“More than 90% of global PV plants will be digitalized,” says Samuel Zhang, vice president of Huawei Smart PV. Despite a booming global PV market and promising outlook, there are still many PV plants that have not been optimized for intelligence – ranging from power generation to communications. “These devices cannot be effectively monitored, nor can they provide fault alarms,” says Zhang. But this is expected to change. With the rapid development of digital technologies such as 5G and cloud services, Huawei projects that more than 90% of PV plants will be fully digitalized by 2025, making it possible for PV plants to become simplified and intelligent, with efficient management.

AI upgrades

The in-depth integration of AI and PV will facilitate mutual sensing and interconnection between devices, and will improve power generation and O&M efficiency through collaborative optimization. AI techniques can offer promising new avenues for PV systems, including: proactive identification and protection of PV module and device faults with AI diagnosis algorithms; tracker algorithm optimization with massive plant data and self-learning for higher yields; and AI-aided solar-storage synergy to automatically optimize PV-storage plant revenue. As LCOE continues to decrease and O&M complexity increases, AI techniques are likely to be widely adopted in PV plants. “More than 70% of PV plants will apply AI techniques,” predicts Zhang.

Unmanned plants

Huawei predicts that by 2025, more than 80% of the work conducted on solar PV plants will be unmanned.

“With the continued emergence of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent products and services will bring convenience to the whole PV solution,” says Zhang. By integrating expert experience and continuous self-learning, the company suggests that aggressive AI deployment will replace O&M experts in many diagnostic and decision-making functions. Drone inspection and robot-based automatic O&M will handle dangerous and repetitive O&M work, which requires a continual high degree of accuracy, for enhanced productivity and safety in PV plants. In the future, Huawei says it expects that PV plants will be fully unmanned.

Grid support

The increasing penetration level of power-electronic-interfaced energy will undermine the strength of the power grid, which will also hindering the broader application of PV systems. Over the next five years, PV plants must gradually evolve from adapting to the power grid to supporting the power grid. To this end, “inverters should possess capabilities such as wide short circuit ratio (SCR) adaptability, capability to control harmonic current within 1%, consecutive high/low voltage ride-through, and fast frequency regulation, which are necessary for grid connection,” says Zhang.

Solar+storage

The marriage of solar PV and battery energy storage technology has already begun to show its promise for the clean energy future. And this trend has no sign of slowing down in its trajectory. “Projections indicate that by 2025, the proportion of PV systems with energy storage will exceed 30%,” says Zhang. With greater penetration of renewables, power grids will have increasingly stringent requirements for frequency regulation and peak shaving. Simultaneously, battery costs are decreasing with the technology’s advancement. “Energy storage will work in tandem with PV systems, and become a critical component,” argues Zhang.

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VPP outlook

Over the next five years, ICT technologies – such as 5G, blockchain, and cloud services – will be widely applied in distributed power plants, forming virtual power plants (VPPs) for collaborative management. Such tech will also facilitate scheduling, transactions, and auxiliary services for power systems. “The development of VPP technology will inspire new business models and attract new market players in distributed PV scenarios, serving as an engine of growth for distributed PV,” says Zhang. The tech giant predicts that more than 80% of residential systems will connect to VPP networks by 2025.

Active safety

“Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) will become a must-have feature in distributed-generation PV systems, and will be incorporated into international industry standards,” predicts Zhang. With the broader application of distributed PV, building and personal safety has become a major concern. PV arcing risks caused by the poor contact of nodes in PV modules, poor connections from PV connectors, or aged or broken cables, have become a pressing matter in the industry. To mitigate such risks, Huawei says that AFCI will become a standard function for rooftop PV systems.

Higher power density

With decreasing subsidies and incentives, the forecast for solar is trending toward lower LCOE. “This calls for high power requirements for single modules and easy inverter maintenance,” says Zhang. To achieve this, higher power density is required. With research breakthroughs in wide-bandgap semiconductors, such as SiC and GaN, as well as advanced control algorithms, Huawei projects that inverter power density will increase by more than 50% in the next five years.

Modular design

Inverters, power condition systems (PCS), and energy storage devices are key components of future smart PV plants. As the capacity and complexity of PV plants increase, Huawei argues that the traditional, expert-driven approach for onsite maintenance will be too costly. “Modular design will become mainstream to enable flexible deployment, smooth expansion, and expert-free maintenance – which will greatly reduce O&M costs and improve system availability,” says Zhang.

Security and trust

The increase in the cumulative capacity of global PV plants – and the greater complexity of network architecture, according to Huawei – increases security risks for PV plants. Additionally, increased stringency requirements for user privacy are adding to the complexity of security for distributed PV plants. Huawei says that solar PV plants will increasingly need to possess security and trustworthiness capabilities in terms of reliability, availability, security, safety, resilience, and privacy.

“Our common desire to explore as human beings knows no limits. We are always looking to soar to new heights, plunge to deeper depths, and seek out new truths,” says Zhang. The cloud, 5G, and AI technologies are converging to create a world in which everything is becoming sensed, connected, and intelligent at a speed that is faster than we may think – and the PV industry as we know it will quickly evolve. “Huawei hopes to play its part in inspiring the creation of a green, intelligent world,” Zhang says. “The boundless potential of new energy solutions can be broadly shared across society.”

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