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by Jeff St. John
November 08, 2018

California’s big utilities see enormous promise for smart inverters in managing the grid edge.

That value is only going to rise as California leads the country in requiring advanced inverter capabilities of all new solar installations, starting with simple autonomous functions, but eventually including real-time, two-way communications and control.

But California’s investor-owned utilities also want the solar industry, regulators and customers to know that advanced inverters aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the grid’s problems.

Sure, the simplest smart inverter functionalities — the so-called Phase 1 autonomous features required for all new California solar systems since September 2017 — can help reduce the local grid disruptions caused by increasing solar penetration. And the two-way communications capabilities required of all new solar installations starting in February 2019 will give utilities increased visibility into what’s happening.

But what about the most advanced smart inverter capabilities, like tapping fleets of rooftop solar systems for real-time reactive power balancing, or aggregating inverter-connected household solar-battery systems to serve as a replacement for traditional grid upgrades? These still need a lot of work before they’re ready for prime time, from solving key communications and controls technology challenges, to building the regulatory structures to balance DER values with keeping the grid safe and affordable for all customers. 

These are some of the key findings from a new report, Enabling Smart Inverters for Distribution Grid Services, that summarizes what California’s investor-owned utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric say they’ve learned from a multitude of smart inverter pilots over the past several years.