Solar energy generation is not problematic, but efficient solar energy storage has proved challenging for decades. Most solar energy systems are huge and high-priced with inefficient storage in locations outside of the power creating generators. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $3 million to engineering researchers at the University of Texas (UT), Austin, to work on improving solar energy storage. The UT's solar farm is located on the Pickle Research Campus UT Cockrell School of Engineering Communications.
Experts from the Cockrell School of Engineering have combined solar power generation and storage into one single-system delivering significant cost savings. The UT project will develop next generation utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also known as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters. Collectively, the combined technologies are known as an M4 Inverter, which convert the Direct Current (DC) output of solar panels to a medium-voltage Alternating Current (AC). According to Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at the UT, Alex Huang, the single-system solution reduces capital costs as well as operation costs which will enable the future power grids to host a higher magnitude of solar energy. The solution will also provide fast frequency control that prevents blackouts during obstruction of solar farming by cloud cover.
New silicon carbide power electronic switches will be used in the M4 Inverter to acquire the efficiency needed in the conversion of AC to DC. A modular building block concept will also be used to construct the system to facilitate reliable operation through a power backup and reduce manufacturing expenses. The project team will collaborate and partner with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Argonne National Lab, Wolfspeed and Opal-RT, and Toshiba International.
Aspiring to halve the cost of electricity for a solar energy system by 2030, the DOE is funding the advancement of early-stage solar power electronics technologies that can lower the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and tackle solar photovoltaic reliability challenges.