Grid Islanding in PV systems


Islanding refers to the condition in which a distributed generator continues to power a location even though power from the electric utility is no longer present. Islanding can be dangerous to utility workers, who may not realize that a circuit is still powered, even though there’s no power from the electrical grid. For that reason, distributed generators must detect islanding and immediately stop producing power; this is referred to as anti-islanding.

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In the case of a utility blackout in a grid-connected PV system, the solar panels will continue to deliver power as long as the sun is shining. In this case, the supply line becomes an “island” with power surrounded by a “sea” of unpowered lines. For this reason, solar inverters that are designed to supply power to the grid are     generally required to have automatic anti-islanding circuitry in them.

In intentional islanding, the generator disconnects from the grid, and forces the distributed generator to power the local circuit. This is often used as a power backup system for buildings that normally sell their power to the grid.

There are two types of anti-islanding control techniques:

  • Passive: The voltage and/or the frequency change during the grid failure is measured and a positive feedback loop is employed to push the voltage and /or the frequency further away from its nominal value. Frequency or voltage may not change if the load matches very well with the inverter output or the load has a very high quality factor (reactive to real power ratio). So there exists some Non Detection Zone (NDZ).
  • Active: This method employs injecting some error in frequency or voltage. When grid fails, the error accumulates and pushes the voltage and/or frequency beyond the acceptable range.

Anti-islanding protection can be improved through the use of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition  (SCADA) systems already widely used in the utility market. For instance, an alarm could sound if the SCADA system detects voltage on a long where a failure is known to be in progress. This does not affect the anti-islanding systems, but may allow any of the systems noted above to be quickly implemented.

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