Renewable energy regulations evolve at a rapid pace, which is to be expected given the similarly meteoric growth in power sources such as solar and wind over the last decade plus. Many of the most important standards are now at the state and local levels and affect all solar projects – commercial, utility-scale and residential – within those jurisdictions.
Net metering regulations and modern inverters
A few of the most important solar-specific regulations revolve around solar inverters, the devices that convert the direct current (DC) energy generated by solar panels into an alternating current (AC) that is usable by an electrical grid or off-grid network. Modern inverters ensure that the transfer between the solar installation and the grid is safe and reliable.
However, some states still have rules for generation distribution compensation that were formulated years ago, before today's advanced inverters were even available. Utilities may interpret these older standards as limitations or prohibitions on net metering, i.e., the practice of sending excess solar power back into the grid for a compensatory rate. States including Florida and Indiana have also recently attempted to further curtail net metering.
Despite today's string and central inverters being much more dependable than their predecessors, the regulatory landscape around net metering is still volatile. Most states allow some form of net metering, but solar project managers should continuously keep an eye on the changes. In February 2018 alone, both Maine and Connecticut took steps toward dismantling net metering and replacing it with either lower rates or specialized 20-year contracts.
California's rules governing "smart" solar inverters
Inverters are even more prominently featured in the guidelines of Rule 21 in California. This rule, which was formulated over several years and was phased in during 2017, requires the use of smart inverters in any solar projects within California that connect to investor-owned utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Smart inverters have more sophisticated capabilities than their predecessors, especially when it comes to how they connect to and disconnect from the grid. Older inverters were designed to disconnect at the first signs of a disturbance, an approach that is less practical now that the total amount of solar energy entering the grid is orders of magnitude greater than it was just a few years ago, and on track for additional growth. The California Energy Commission has a set a goal of getting half the state's electricity from renewables by 2030.
With advanced inverters in place, there is less likelihood of mass disconnections that would drain too much power, and of the numerous concurrent reconnections that would further strain grid infrastructure. Smart inverters can stay connected to the grid longer under a wider range of voltages and frequencies than more basic inverters. The current implementation of Rule 21 is designed to modernize and future-proof the state's grid while eliminating the need for costly retrofits down the line.
Selecting the best solar inverters for your solar projects
Inverters are like the brains of solar implementations: There are no practical uses of generated solar panel energy without them. Finding the right ones for your commercial or utility-scale project can determine the ultimate efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your infrastructure. As an experienced provider of solar solutions, Trina Solar can help you pick out the right inverters, trackers, accessories and much more, as part of our new, comprehensive TrinaPro platform. Contact us today to learn more about your options.