Today in Cleantech

New York Times reporter Matthew Wald takes a dive into one of my favorite wonky topics today, with an article about Petra Solar’s plans for utility pole solar panels complete with smart inverters that help balance the grid. Wald uses the “Veg-o-Matic” as an analogy for the voltage and reactive power adjustments that Petra’s microinverters do to keep solar panel output in balance with the grid power they support. There’s no doubt that high penetration of solar PV will require a lot more thought into how it interacts with the grid. Most rooftop solar panels are built to disconnect from the grid when it gets unstable, mainly to avoid shocking a utility worker working on downed wires. But if solar PV is to grow beyond today’s single-digit percentage penetrations, it will need to be managed to avoid destabilizing the grid — a possibility that could put solar advocates and stability-seeking utilities at loggerheads. Beyond that, inverters have characteristics that could make them ideal grid balancing devices, and it would be a shame if we didn’t take advantage of them. The Electric Power Research Institute and others are working on standards to make that possible in the future. I’m hoping to do some reporting on this topic, among many others, at DistribuTECH 2011 in San Diego next week — let me know if you’ve got any ideas for me.