ECE professor Rajiv Varma demonstrates new technology to 'wake up' solar farms at night.

Image of Professor Rajiv Varma

Western Engineering News | December 13, 2016

Western Engineering and Bluewater Power came together on Tuesday, December 13th to celebrate the culmination of a seven-year research partnership involving the utilization of solar panels at night.  Dr. Rajiv Varma, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at Western Engineering spoke to a group of industry partners at Bluewater Power headquarters in Sarnia, home to the largest solar panels in the world.

Professor Varma introduced PV-STATCOM, the name given to groundbreaking technology which provides a low-cost way of improving grid voltages, overall system performance and efficiency. This technology makes use of solar farms at night thereby increasing the stability of the electricity grid for preventing blackouts, and helping to connect more renewable energy sources like wind turbines to Ontario’s grid.

“Solar farms are sleeping in the night,” explained Dr. Varma.  “We wake them up with this PV-STATCOM technology.”

Wind farms increase their production in the night due to high winds, however, connection to the grid has not been possible in the past due to voltage fluctuations and lack of adequate transmission capacity.  This nighttime solar research will give solar farms the capability to provide several grid support functions at night, when they are normally idle.

“This technology brings significant cost savings for utilities in both transmission and distribution systems. It further opens up substantial new revenue making opportunities for solar farms in addition to sale of real power,” said Dr. Varma.  “After seven years of hard work, today we field-demonstrated this PV-STATCOM technology on a 10 kW PV solar farm in Bluewater Power, Sarnia.  This has been done for the first time in North America, and perhaps in the world. It is a great day for us.”

This groundbreaking research has been made possible with the support of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) as well as funding support from the Ontario Power Authority (now IESO), Hydro One, London Hydro, Bluewater Power Distribution Corporation, First Solar Testforce Systems and NSERC.

To learn more about Dr. Varma’s research, teaching and publications click here.

For more information on Solar Energy Research at Western click here.