Researchers design cost-efficient utility-scale solar plant that enhances grid stability 

Clover Creek solar project, Utah. Credit: AES

Contributed by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory

A team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a utility-scale design and control system for a hybrid solar power plant that can operate with both direct and alternating current — providing more flexibility, security, and reliability than similar plants operating today. Hybrid plants include not only solar arrays, but also batteries, to store energy captured from the sun. 

The multi-port autonomous reconfigurable solar power plant, or MARS, project integrates a complete suite of power electronics, electrical architecture and cybersecurity software in one package, simplifying deployment. ORNL and industry partners are working toward an initial field demonstration of MARS components that support grid stability or a scaled-down version of the full design. 

The majority of the U.S power grid uses alternating current, or AC, which constantly switches the direction of electron flow. In contrast, solar arrays and batteries use direct current, or DC, flowing in a single direction. The American electricity transmission system includes a smaller number of high-voltage DC lines, which are more efficient at delivering bulk power over long distances or to remote regions. Converting current between DC and AC requires specialized power electronics. 

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ORNL researchers were challenged to find a cost-effective way to integrate large hybrid renewable energy plants that can provide power to both AC and DC high-voltage lines. This could support decarbonization goals by making it easier and

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