Implications of Wide-Area Geographic Diversity for Short- Term Variability of Solar Power

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Worldwide interest in the deployment of photovoltaic generation (PV) is rapidly increasing. Operating experience with large PV plants, however, demonstrates that large, rapid changes in the output of PV plants are possible. Early studies of PV grid impacts suggested that short-term variability could be a potential limiting factor in deploying PV. Many of these early studies, however, lacked high-quality data from multiple sites to assess the costs and impacts of increasing PV penetration. As is well known for wind, accounting for the potential for geographic diversity can significantly reduce the magnitude of extreme changes in aggregated PV output, the resources required to accommodate that variability, and the potential costs of managing variability. We use measured 1-min solar insolation for 23 time-synchronized sites in the Southern Great Plains network of the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program and wind speed data from 10 sites in the same network to characterize the variability of PV with different degrees of geographic diversity and to compare the variability of PV to the variability of similarly sited wind. The relative aggregate variability of PV plants sited in a dense 10 _ 10 array with 20 km spacing is six times less than the variability of a single site for variability on time scales less than 15-min. We _nd in our analysis of PV and wind plants similarly sited in a 5 _ 5 grid with 50 km spacing that the variability of PV is only slightly more than the variability of wind on time scales of 5-15 min. Over shorter and longer time scales the level of variability is nearly identical. Finally, we use a simple approximation method to estimate the cost of carrying additional reserves to manage sub-hourly variability. We conclude that the costs of managing the short-term variability of PV are dramatically reduced by geographic diversity and are not substantially different from the costs for managing the short-term variability of similarly sited wind in this region.

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Findings from this report were presented at the 2011 IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting in Detroit, Michigan in July 2011. To see the proceedings posted online, please click here.

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