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The Western Electric Industry Leaders (WEIL) Group, a coalition of regional utility companies and electricity sector stakeholders, is urging the installation of "smart inverters" on all new solar generators in the western U.S. The group says the devices are essential to ensure the smooth integration of solar onto the electric grid.

WEIL has released a report detailing the immediate need for smart inverters and a letter urging all relevant state public service commissions and/or legislatures to act decisively on this issue.

Many WEIL member utilities have been called on to integrate large amounts of renewable energy into the interconnected electric system. The challenge is that these forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, tend to be intermittent by nature. WEIL says the key, then, is to seamlessly integrate them onto the grid without sacrificing reliability during these unpredictable fluctuations. That is where the smart inverters will play a vital, transformative role, WEIL continues.

If smart inverters are not installed, WEIL says voltage swings can potentially damage utility equipment and residents' home appliances; increase overall cost of maintaining the grid; require installation of larger, more expensive alternatives; and could even contribute to distributed outages.

According to WEIL, this problem is a major concern for U.S. utilities and regulators, and it has already caused the government of Germany, where renewable installations are particularly common, to order a mass retrofit of smart inverters on solar installations at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. WEIL says western U.S. utilities have the opportunity to avoid this scenario by planning ahead and installing the smart inverters before reliability is affected on the grid.

With well over 100,000 solar arrays already installed in the region, WEIL Group member companies say they have studied this issue and found significant improvement in power quality when smart inverters are placed on the system. WEIL says this change is well worth the cost to the consumers who choose to use solar installations. For a solar installation costing $12,000, WEIL says the new smart inverter technology will only cost about $150 more than the current inverters, approximately 1% of the overall cost.

Mike Niggli, president and chief operating officer of SDG&E, says, “As more and more solar generators are placed on the regional electric grid, we need to work together to smoothly bring these clean resources onto our system. …”




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