Demonstration of Essential Reliability Services by a 300-MW Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant

Vahan Gevorgian, Clyde Loutan, Peter Klauer, Sirajul Chowdhury, Stephen Hall, Mahesh Morjaria, Vladimir Chadliev, Nick Milam, Christopher Milan

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), First Solar, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a demonstration project on a large utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plant in California to test its ability to provide essential ancillary services to the electric grid. With increasing shares of solar- and wind-generated energy on the electric grid, traditional generation resources equipped with automatic governor control (AGC) and automatic voltage regulation controls -- specifically, fossil thermal -- are being displaced. The deployment of utility-scale, grid-friendly PV power plants that incorporate advanced capabilities to support grid stability and reliability is essential for the large-scale integration of PV generation into the electric power grid, among other technical requirements. A typical PV power plant consists of multiple power electronic inverters and can contribute to grid stability and reliability through sophisticated 'grid-friendly' controls. In this way, PV power plants can be used to mitigate the impact of variability on the grid, a role typically reserved for conventional generators. In August 2016, testing was completed on First Solar's 300-MW PV power plant, and a large amount of test data was produced and analyzed that demonstrates the ability of PV power plants to use grid-friendly controls to provide essential reliability services. These data showed how the development of advanced power controls can enable PV to become a provider of a wide range of grid services, including spinning reserves, load following, voltage support, ramping, frequency response, variability smoothing, and frequency regulation to power quality. Specifically, the tests conducted included various forms of active power control such as AGC and frequency regulation; droop response; and reactive power, voltage, and power factor controls. This project demonstrated that advanced power electronics and solar generation can be controlled to contribute to system-wide reliability. It was shown that the First Solar plant can provide essential reliability services related to different forms of active and reactive power controls, including plant participation in AGC, primary frequency control, ramp rate control, and voltage regulation. For AGC participation in particular, by comparing the PV plant testing results to the typical performance of individual conventional technologies, we showed that regulation accuracy by the PV plant is 24-30 points better than fast gas turbine technologies. The plant's ability to provide volt-ampere reactive control during periods of extremely low power generation was demonstrated as well. The project team developed a pioneering demonstration concept and test plan to show how various types of active and reactive power controls can leverage PV generation's value from being a simple variable energy resource to a resource that provides a wide range of ancillary services. With this project's approach to a holistic demonstration on an actual, large, utility-scale, operational PV power plant and dissemination of the obtained results, the team sought to close some gaps in perspectives that exist among various stakeholders in California and nationwide by providing real test data.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages67
StatePublished - 2017

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5D00-67799


  • active power control
  • automatic generation control
  • California Independent System Operator
  • First Solar
  • photovoltaic
  • PV
  • utility-scale power


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