As smart PV and renewable energy assumes a more prominent role as a main power source for power grids, safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness across power generation assets will become higher priority. Emerging technologies such as AI, cloud, big data and 5G, coupled with the latest trends in power electronics technology, is driving a lower levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), power grid stability, intelligent convergence, and security.
Trend 1: Digitalisation
Despite the booming global PV market, there are still many dumb devices in PV plants, from power generation to communications. These devices cannot be effectively monitored, nor can they provide fault alarm. With the rapid development of digital technologies such as 5G and cloud, it is expected that more than 90 percent of PV plants will be fully digitalized by 2025, making it possible for smart PV plants to be simple, intelligent, and efficient management.
Trend 2: AI-driven Smart Upgrades
Over 70 percent of smart PV plants will apply AI techniques. The integration of AI and PV will facilitate mutual sensing and interconnection between devices, and will improve power generation and operation and maintenance (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, as well as tracker algorithm optimization with massive plant data and self-learning for higher yields. AI-aided solar-storage will automatically optimize PV-storage plant revenue and as LCOE continues to decrease and O&M complexity increases, AI techniques will be highly likely to widely apply in PV plants.
Trend 3: Unmanned PV Plants
Within five years, more than 80 per cent of the work in PV plants will be unmanned. The use of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) will bring more efficiency to PV plants. AI will be widely deployed to 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 that requires a continual high degree of accuracy, for enhanced productivity and safety in PV plants. As is estimated, it is expected that PV plants in the future will be fully unmanned.
Trend 4: Proactive Support for Power Grids
Smart PV plants will shift from grid-adapting to grid-supporting. The increasing penetration level of power-electronic-interfaced energy will undermine power grid strength, hindering the broader application of PV systems. Over the next 5 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 percent, consecutive high/low voltage ride-through, and fast frequency regulation, which are necessary for grid connection.
Trend 5: Solar + Storage
The proportion of smart PV systems coupled with energy storage will exceed a third. With the greater penetration of new energy sources, power grids will have increasingly stringent requirements for frequency regulation and peak shaving. In the meantime, battery costs are decreasing with technology advancement. It is projected that energy storage will work in tandem with PV systems, and become a critical component. Projections indicate that by 2025, the proportion of PV systems with energy storage will exceed 30 per cent.
Trend 6: Virtual Power Plants
Over 80 percent of residential systems will connect to Virtual Power Plant (VPP) networks. Over the next 5 years, ICT technologies, such as 5G, blockchain, and cloud services, will be widely applied in distributed power plants, forming VPPs for collaborative management, and participating in the scheduling, transaction, 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.
More smart PV trends
Trend 7: Active Safety
Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) will become a must-have feature in distributed PV rooftop systems, and will be incorporated into international industry standards.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, AFCI will become a standard function for distributed PV rooftop systems, and will be incorporated into international industry standards.
Trend 8: Higher Power Density
Inverter power density will increase by more than 50 percent. With the trend of lower LCOE of solar, there calls higher requirements in higher power of a single module and easy inverter maintenance. To achieve this, higher power density is required. With increasing use of wide-bandgap semiconductors such as silicon carbide SiC and hgallium nitride GaN, as well as advanced control algorithms, inverter power density is expected to increase by more than 50 percent in the next five years.
Trend 9: Modular Design
Core components such as inverters, PCS and energy storage devices will adopt modular design. These are key components in a PV plant and greatly affect the availability of the entire PV plant system. As the capacity and complexity of smart PV plants increase, the traditional, expert-driven approach for onsite maintenance will be too costly. Modular design will become mainstream, as it enables flexible deployment, smooth expansion, and expert-free maintenance, greatly reducing O&M costs and improving system availability.
Trend 10: Security and Trustworthiness
Security and Trustworthiness has become a necessary requirement for smart PV plants. The increase in the cumulative capacity of global PV plants, and greater complexity of network architecture, which makes the network security risks of PV plants increasing. In addition, there are more stringent requirements for user privacy and security for distributed PV plants. All these trends suggest that smart PV plants need to possess security and trustworthiness capabilities in terms of reliability, availability, security, safety, resilience, and privacy.