Rooftop photovoltaic power station

rooftop photovoltaic power station, or rooftop PV system, is a photovoltaic system that has its electricity-generating solar panels mounted on the rooftop of a residential or commercial building or structure. The various components of such a system include photovoltaic modulesmounting systemscablessolar inverters and other electrical accessories.

Rooftop mounted systems are small compared to ground-mounted photovoltaic power stations with capacities in the megawatt range. Rooftop PV systems on residential buildings typically feature a capacity of about 5 to 20 kilowatts (kW), while those mounted on commercial buildings often reach 

Installation

Rooftop PV systems at Googleplex, California

The urban environment provides a large amount of empty rooftop spaces and can inherently avoid the potential land use and environmental concerns. Estimating rooftop solar insolation is a multi-faceted process, as insolation values in rooftops are impacted by the following:

  • Time of the year
  • Latitude
  • Weather conditions
  • Roof slope
  • Roof aspect
  • Shading from adjacent buildings and vegetation

There are various methods for calculating potential solar PV roof systems including the use of Lidar and orthophotos. Sophisticated models can even determine shading losses over large areas for PV deployment at the municipal level.

Feed-in tariff mechanism

In a grid connected rooftop photovoltaic power station, the generated electricity can sometimes be sold to the servicing electric utility for use elsewhere in the grid. This arrangement provides payback for the investment of the installer. Many consumers from across the world are switching to this mechanism owing to the revenue yielded. A public utility commission usually sets the rate that the utility pays for this electricity, which could be at the retail rate or the lower wholesale rate, greatly affecting solar power payback and installation demand.

The FIT as it is commonly known has led to an expansion in the solar PV industry worldwide. Thousands of jobs have been created through this form of subsidy. However it can produce a bubble effect which can burst when the FIT is removed. It has also increased the ability for localised production and embedded generation reducing transmission losses through power lines.

Hybrid systems

Rooftop PV hybrid system.

A rooftop photovoltaic power station (either on-grid or off-grid) can be used in conjunction with other power components like diesel generators, wind turbines, batteries etc. These solar hybrid power systems may be capable of providing a continuous source of power.

Advantages

Installers have the right to feed solar electricity into the public grid and hence receive a reasonable premium tariff per generated kWh reflecting the benefits of solar electricity to compensate for the current extra costs of PV electricity.

Disadvantages

An electrical power system containing a 10% contribution from PV stations would require a 2.5% increase in load frequency control (LFC) capacity over a conventional system – in issue which may be countered by using synchronverters in the DC/AC-circuit of the PV system. The break-even cost for PV power generation was in 1996 found to be relatively high for contribution levels of less than 10%. Higher proportions of PV power generation gives lower break-even costs, but economic and LFC considerations imposed an upper limit of about 10% on PV contributions to the overall power systems.

Technical Challenges

There are many technical challenges to integrating large amounts of rooftop PV systems to the power grid. For example:

  • Reverse Power Flow
The electric power grid was not designed for two way power flow at the distribution level. Distribution feeders are usually designed as a radial system for one way power flow transmitted over long distances from large centralized generators to customer loads at the end of the distribution feeder. Now with localized and distributed solar PV generation on rooftops, reverse flow causes power to flow to the substation and transformer, causing significant challenges. This has adverse effects on protection coordination and voltage regulators.
  • Ramp rates
Rapid fluctuations of generation from PV systems due to intermittent clouds cause undesirable levels of voltage variability in the distribution feeder. At high penetration of rooftop PV, this voltage variability reduces the stability of the grid due to transient imbalance in load and generation and causes voltage and frequency to exceed set limits if not countered by power controls. That is, the centralized generators cannot ramp fast enough to match the variability of the PV systems causing frequency mismatch in the nearby system. This could lead to blackouts. This is an example of how a simple localized rooftop PV system can affect the larger power grid. The issue is partially mitigated by distributing solar panels over a wide area, and by adding storage.