Regional Real-Time PV Spinning Reserve Estimator

Mengmeng Cai, Vahan Gevorgian, Govind Saraswat, William Hobbs, Clyde Loutan, Mahesh Morjaria

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Curtailed photovoltaic (PV) generation is a zero-marginal-cost spinning reserve that can be used for a number of active power control services. Unlike traditional spinning reserve providers, however, i.e., fossil-fueled generators, which have well-defined operating characteristics, e.g., available headroom or potential high limit (PHL), PV plants have by nature variable and uncertain operating characteristics. To ensure the effective coordination between PV plants and the system operator during an active power control event, accurate knowledge of the PV PHL is essential. It ensures that enough headroom is reserved by the PV plants to deliver the award services in real time and informs feasible dispatch decisions made by the market operator. To tackle this challenge, a novel reference-control grouping-based PV plant reserve estimation method has been proposed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory under past projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. The estimation method separates inverters within a plant into two groups: a control group and a reference group. While the reference group is reserved to operate at its PHL, the control group can be curtailed to provide the grid services. Real-time outputs from the reference inverters are used to estimate the PHL for the whole plant based on the ratio between capacities of the reference group and of the plant. This work further enhances the methodology by (1) improving the model accuracy through machine learning; (2) automating the reference inverter selection through correlation analysis; (3) considering estimation look-ahead windows; and (4) applying to regional spinning reserve estimation. Significant performance improvement has been observed based on real-world data collected by CAISO, Southern Company, and Terabase Energy. Compared with the original scaling method, the newly proposed machine learning-based approach reduces the estimation errors by 30% and 13% at the plant level and region level, respectively. Results obtained from this project are intended to be used by grid operators, market operators, balancing authorities, and PV plant owners and operators to facilitate PV participation in ancillary service markets. Regulators, policymakers, and system planners can also consider the results of this work in their decision-making processes. In addition to the performance improvement on the existing reference-control based grouping method, we also investigated how the variability of PV generation from a single PV inverter can be used to represent the variability of PV generation at the plant level.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages47
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5D00-86932


  • machine learning
  • PHL estimation
  • PV plant


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