Renewable energy sources—solar and wind in particular—are hot right now, with a lot of talented engineers trying to make them mainstream energy sources for a wide range of applications. Economics aside, this is more easily said than done, for both large-scale projects and small-scale applications.
For residential and commercial installations, solar and wind power sources are highly complementary, since each is primarily available when the other isn’t. However, integrating these two intermittent power sources into a reliable source of energy requires some sophisticated power electronics: maximum power point trackers (MPPT), microinverters, DC-DC converters, and specialized power management techniques—and that's before you even consider connecting to the grid.
If you’re planning a stand-alone solar system, say for your cabin in the mountains, you have some serious system-level design ahead of you, starting with calculating the supply of and demand for energy as well as how much storage capacity you’ll need to compensate for imbalances between the two; in many cases, the cost of storage will constitute a significant percentage of your total system cost. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to put your excess capacity back into the power grid to be drawn against later, you’re taking on some additional technical and regulatory challenges.
For starters, EE Times and Texas Instruments have a couple of free online courses that can help bring you up to speed on both the problems and solutions that revolve around solar power: Fundamentals of Solar: Off-Grid and Fundamentals of Solar: Grid-Connected. Each takes about 45-60 minutes to complete.
Also, on Thursday, November 10 EE Times is presenting a virtual event, Power Solutions: Smart Energy Technologies and Techniques, that is directly on point. One of the panels—Power Electronics and Alternative Energy—will address the issues we’ve raised here. The panel takes place from 2:00-3:00 PM EST and includes experts from Power Integrations, Microsemi, Cymbet, and Powercast. I’ll be asking them some leading questions, and you’re welcome to submit some of your own. This is a chance to ‘grill the gurus’ in real time.
Earlier on Thursday there’s a panel that addresses the use of alternative energy sources on the micro level, Energy Harvesting and Micropower Sources (11:15 AM – 12:15 PM EST). Ultra-low-power wireless sensor networks must work for years on tiny batteries, supplemented by local ambient power sources such as light, heat, vibration, RF, and more. This panel will explain how to harness, store, utilize, and manage the small amounts of power available from these alternative energy sources. Here’s your chance to learn from and directly question energy harvesting experts from Texas Instruments, Microchip, Linear Technology, and Digi-Key.
If you’ve read this far you’re definitely the person for whom this event was intended. I hope you’ll join us on Thursday for a lively and informative series of sessions. Please click here to learn more and to register.
About the Author:
John Donovan is editor of low-powerdesign.com