The European Union’s commitment to produce 20 percent green energy by 2020 has led to a scaling up in solar projects across the continent. Photovoltaics (PV) alone could generate 12 percent of
European power demand by 2020, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. To
accommodate this increasing amount of distributed solar power, European nations need to upgrade
their aging power grids.
Many projects reinforce grids with additional cables, but these upgrades are costly for utilities.
MetaPV, a project run by a consortium of renewable energy companies, research institutes and
universities, intends to offer a new approach. The pilot project, based in Limburg, Belgium, hopes
to increase the amount of solar power the grid can handle by 50 percent—at 10 percent of the cost
of adding grid reinforcements.
The project will also help European cities stabilize their grids, which are not properly equipped
to manage the variable influx of renewable energy, says Carlos Dierckxsens, project engineer and
MetaPV project coordinator for 3E, Brussels, Belgium.
“Typically with a grid, it has a certain limit on the amount of PV it can host. When the voltage lim-
its are repeatedly exceeded and power quality standards are not met, the grid operator takes action,
typically with expensive grid reinforcements,” he says. “MetaPV is investigating how PV inverters
with reactive power, accompanied by storage, can counteract voltage profiles in the grid and keep
them within the available limits.”
The project’s unique technology goes beyond simply monitoring smart grid data and gives large-
scale grid operators centralized control of distributed energy inputs and storage systems, Mr. Dier-
“We’re the first ones who have PV-based controls on this scale,” he says. “We’re not just observing
the network. We also have the ability to control reactive power in these plants.”
To test the new inverter technology, MetaPV offered a low inverter price in homes and businesses
in exchange for their participation in the project. However, the project hit a snag during the instal-
Because MetaPV is a public European project, the team had played a limited role in selecting the
installer. The company contracted to be the project’s installer specialized in PV but was less experienced with installations involving additional IT for communication. Poor installations led to interruptions in data and control, and the extended trouble-shooting process created project delays.
While the delays limited the amount of data the team has been able to collect thus far, the team
has been able to validate its technical approach. However, more data is needed to demonstrate how
effective it is compared to traditional grid reinforcements, Mr. Dierckxsens says.
To obtain enough data to prove the impact of the controlling mechanisms, the team received
permission from the European Commission to extend the project until 2015. Because of the delays,
some of the project’s € 9. 5 million budget is still available, which means the extension will not incur
With more conclusive data, the initiative could help other grid operators increase both the reliability and renewable capacity of their grids, Mr. Dierckxsens says.
“The project is leading by example by showing that one distribution grid operator can actually
handle some of the problems it’s having with PV,” he says. “This can be an incentive for other grid
operators to follow.”
Order From Chaos
A Belgian smart grid project aims to bring centralized control
to a distributed energy grid.
PV inverters with
by storage, can
profiles in the
grid and keep
them within the
—Carlos Dierckxsens, 3E,