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IEEE Transactions on Power Apparatus and Systems, Vol. PAS-103, No. 9, September 1984
An Overview of the DC Wiring System Design Issues in the SMUD Phase I Photovoltaic Power Plant

Daniel Rosen Acurex Corporation

Edward J. Simburger, Member The Aerospace Corporation

Russell S. Sugimura Jet Propulsion Laboratory

ABSTRACT The DC wiring system of a photovoltaic power requires a number of safety features that result from This the unique aspects of. photovoltaic devices.

Municipal Sacramento the for design developed Utilities District (SMUD) Phase I photovoltaic power The specific challenges that photovoltaic plant. devices present to a power plant designer are identified along with the specific solutions adopted in the SMUD design.

paper presents an overview of the DC wiring system

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is constructing a 1 MW photovoltaic power plant on land adjacent to its Rancho Seco' Nuclear Power Plant. This plant represents the first phase of a planned 100 MW facility, to be constructed incrementally over the next '12 years. SMUD has projected. that the average cost of the project will be $2700 per kilowatt in 1980 dollars. While the cost of the first phase is expected to be approximately $12,000 per -kilowatt, the projected cost decreases to approximately $2000 per kilowatt for the last phase. To finance the first phase, SMUD has obtained, supporting funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)($6.8 million) and from the California Energy Commission ($2.0 million) to make up the difference between the .$3.2 million in 1983 dollars. ($2700/kW in 1980 dollars) provided by SMUD and'the projected total project budget of $12 million.
Acurex Corporation is SMUD's architect-engineer Personnel from The Aerospace the project, Corporation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory, all active participants within the DOE Program, have been providing advice and technical support to the SMUD/Acurex project team. This paper discusses factors influencing the design of the DC power collector system for the first megawatt.

b) the DC power collection system that transports the DC electricity generated by the arrays to a central point for conversion to AC electricity, c) the power conditioning, unit (PCU) that converts the `DC electricity generated by a subfield to AC electricity for delivery to the utility grid, d) the AC power collection system that collects and combines the power generated by the various subfields in the plant for delivery to the utility bulk power transmission and e) the plant control system 'that system, supervises the operation of the various subfields that make up the plant. This paper deals primarily with the DC power collection system and features of its design necessitated by the unique characteristics of photovoltaic devices. The DC power collection system is physically contained in the array field and its design is controlled by the configuration of the array field components.
The array fields of large photovoltaic power The plants are inherently modular in design. definitions of the array field elements used in this a) the basic building block study are as follows: unit is the module, which is- the smallest complete environmentally protected assembly of solar cells used to generate DC power, b) a. panel is a collection of modules,' factory preassembled and wired, forming a array an is. a c) field installable unit, mechanica.lly integrated assembly of panels together with support structure (including foundations) to form d). a .source a free-standing field installed unit, circuit is a group of arrays wired together to provide DC power at the DC voltage level of the xpower conditioning unit, e) a source circuit group is- a collection of source circuits that are connected together as a unit and f) a.subfield is the assembly of source-circuit groups that are connected to a single DC-to-AC power conditioning unit.


UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF PHOTOVOLTAIC POWER GENERATORS The output voltage and current photovoltaic devices are affected by irradiance level and cell Figure 1 (a) shows the variation in temperature. output current and voltage for various levels of irradiance.. An increase in the level of irradiance results in increases in current output. Note that the open-circ.uit voltage is essentially constant and not affected by irradiance level. This behavior lends to an important. safety consideration that the array should always be considered "on" since nearly full system voltage is present at very low levels of


photovoltaic device converts sunlight into station A central current electricity. photovoltaic power plant collects this direct current electricity and converts it into usable alternating current electricity for delivery to the electric utility grid. The major subsystems in a photovoltaic the array field that collects power plant are a) sunlight and converts it directly to DC electricity,


A paper recommended and approved 84 WM 243-2 by the IEEE Power Generation Committee of the IEEE Power Engineering Society for presentation at the IEEE/PES 1984 Winter Meeting, Dallas, Texas, January 29 - February 3, 1984. Manuscript submitted September 7, 1983; made available for printing December 28, 1983.

Figure 1 (b) illustrates the effect of cell The cell voltage is temperature on voltage level. inversely proportional to absolute cell temperature (OK); that is, a decrease in the temperature results in increased voltage. This effect is a factor in the selection of an array mounting scheme that optimizes thermal performance. by minimizing- cell operating It will also affect the design of the temperature. circuit insulation system in that the maximum open circuit voltage may be as much as 1.5 times the
nominal operating voltage.
1984 IEEE


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H--' 0.5



0L 0


Temperature Dependence


0'L 0

1.5 1.0 0.5 PER UNIT VOLTAGE

Irradiance Dependence

Fig. 1

Typical Voltage

Current/Performance Characteristics of Photovoltaic Devices

decision to utilize a center-tap resistance-grounded circuit configuration, a nominal system voltage of + 350 volts was selected. Since the open circuit voltage could be as much as + 500 volts for this system, the maximum voltage to ground during a ground The source fault on one pole could be 1000 volts. circuits produce 40 kW at typical operating conditions

The curves in Figure 1 make it apparent that the cell may be operated over a wide range of voltage and current. Specifically, the operating point can be established by simply varying the load resistance from zero, a short circuit, to infinity, an open circuit. The maximum-power point, the point on the I-V curve where the product of current (Ip) and voltage (Vp) is It is a maximum, lies near the knee of the curve. also interesting and important to note that a solar cell is inherently a current limiting device, having a short circuit current equal to only about 10 or 20 percent more than its normal operating current level.

in the SMUD 1 MW The photovoltaic arrays photovoltaic power plant track the movement of the sun throughout the day by rotating about a horizontal This single-axis tracking concept north-south axis. increases the output of the plant in the late afternoon, at the time of the utility system peak demand. Thus SMUD will realize maximum value from the plant with a modest increase in support structure cost The plant for a non-tracking system. over that utilizes one foot by four foot modules, manufactured by ARCO Solar Inc., which are assembled into eight Eight of these panels foot by sixteen foot panels. are mounted on a single axis tracking array structure that has the physical dimensions of eight feet by one The plant has a total of 112 hundred forty feet. arrays arranged in four groups consisting of 28 arrays each. Figure 2 shows the physical layout for the plant.


1 il

I uuuu

5 ft'

11 I

Commercially available modules are rated for a maximum open-circuit voltage of 1000 volts with respect to ground. Because of this limitation and the

Fig. 2

Physical Layout of the SMUDPV Phase I Power Plant

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of 1000 W/m2 total insolation (air mass 1.5) in the plane of the array, 200C ambient temperature and 1 meter/second wind speed. Each source circuit group contains seven source circuits and has a rating of 280 kW DC. The source circuits in each of the four groups are grounded via a neutral conductor at a single point via a resistance-grounding system. The source circuits are arranged in the group into three sub-groups of two source circuits each, with a fourth sub-group consisting of a single source circuit. Since the SMUD plant contains only one power conditioning unit, the entire array field consists of a single sub-field, as defined above. Figure 3 provides a two line diagram for the DC wiring system.



A number of unique failure mechanisms and safety hazards exist with PV power systems, that a plant designer must take into account. These are: a) the system is always energized when exposed to even low levels of light, b) ground faults in the photovoltaic modules can endanger personnel and damage equipment, c) hot-spot cell heating can result in a large amount of energy being dissipated in a cell, d) overcurrent protection is harder to provide than in conventional plants, and e) in-circuit arcs in the photovoltaic modules can pose a fire or safety hazard. The

_nC+C -fKK Kl I -=1 (DC)0 ~~~~(OC


110 V{AC} ;LtT t L

110 VAC


Jall ratings typical unless noted on drawing)









(electrically operated)

Fig. 3

Two Line Wiring Diagram for the SMUDPV Phase I Power Plant

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following sections address each of the above issues and the methods used to overcome them in the SMUD plant design.

impressed across a single cell to approximately 10 VDC.

Overcurrent Protection

Continuously Energized Source Circuits

The fact that the system is always "on" and cannot be turned off poses a unique shock hazard situation for field maintenance personnel that had to be overcome by the photovoltaic power plant design team. The SMUD design alleviates this problem by integrating the solution into the overall design of the DC power collection system. Specific system features are a) the very high resistance ground which is switched into the neutral circuit whenever personnel are present in the array field, b) ground fault detection for each subfield, c) solid grounding of all exposed metal the use of a load break contactor for parts, d) interrupting current for each subfield if maintenance is required, and e) plug type connectors for each panel so that voltages in the field can be limited to an open circuit voltage which is less than 30 VDC

Conventional fuses and circuit breakers used to provide overcurrent protection rely upon the fact that in conventional AC systems the maximum fault current is several times the current rating of the protected circuit. In contrast, a photovoltaic source circuit has a maximum short-circuit current which is only 10 to 20 percent higher than the normal maximum-power operating point. The current output is also a direct function of the irradiance level and therefore varies widely with weather changes. For these reasons, source circuit over-current protection devices must be set above the highest expected current levels of a single source circuit and are only required to prevent fault currents from backfeeding from other parallel source circuits.
In the SMUD plant design, each half of a source has a blocking diode to prevent reverse current and thereby limit the contribution to any fault within a source circuit to that of the source circuit itself. In addition, fuses are installed at the power collection switchboards to act as the overcurrent for primary protection the power collection wiring and secondary protection for the source circuits. Two source circuits are paralleled in the field at the blocking diode junction box, which contains four blocking diodes (one for each pole of the source circuits), and are then connected to the subfield power collection switchboard by two number 1/0 direct burial copper conductors.

during maintenance.


Ground Faults in Photovoltaic Modules

With a system voltage of + 350 VDC and nominal operating currents of 60 amperes, potentially lethal current levels exist for maintenance personnel who might contact a circuit element when working in the field. The method used to protect equipment from ground faults and personnel who might contact a circuit element is a resistance grounding system. During normal operations, this grounding system limits the maximum possible ground fault current to This current level will approximately 2 amperes. ground allow positive detection of faults by monitoring the current flow through the grounding resistor and permit a rough determination of the location of the fault in the array. In order to protect personnel, however, the maximum possible DC current to ground must be limited to a much lower value. For this reason, a switched grounding resistor is provided which increases the effective resistance to ground and limits currents to ground to less than 50 milliamperes when maintenance personnel enter the subfield. This approach provides the fault detection and diagnostic features that a low resistance value provides while furnishing the capability for current limiting for an additional degree of personnel protection during maintenance operations.
Hot Spot Heating Hot spot cell heating is an anomalous condition results from a loss in a particular cell's ability to generate and conduct current. Since the amount of current generated within a cell is dependent upon cell area and insolation level, any loss due to a crack or shadowing results in less than normal current output. Because the current generated by photovoltaic cells connected in series is limited by the cell with the poorest performance, the crack or shadowing will cause that individual cell to become reverse-biased. This occurs when the operating current of the series string exceeds the short-circuit current of the damaged or shadowed cell. In this condition the cell acts as a dissipator rather than a producer of energy, resulting in severe overheating of the cell that leads to module damage. In order to overcome this problem, the SMUD plant design includes a high degree of series-parallel connection of the modules in a panel. This allows alternate current paths when partial shadowing of the panel could still be a problem. In order to overcome this latter contingency, a bypass diode is used across each group of two modules in series to limit the reverse-bias voltage that could be

In-Circuit Arcs
A photovoltaic cell develops a voltage on the order of 400 to 650 millivolts and the overall system voltage is obtained by connecting a large number of cells in series. If an open circuit develops in the series connections (i. e. between cells within a photovoltaic module), a steady state voltage arc can develop across the open circuit. The arc may sustain itself because of the nature of a photovoltaic device which acts as a current source under these conditions. In addition to degrading the overall array performance, a sustained in-circuit arc is likely to destroy the module, or pose a fire or personnel safety hazard. The features in the SMUD project that ameliorate this problem are the electrical paralleling of the eight modules that are physically adjacent to each other across the width of each panel and the installation of a bypass diode across each group of two series modules. These measures will reduce the likelihood of developing a high enough voltage to produce an arc within an open-circuited module, in a source circuit and provide an alternate current path when the voltage across the module increases enough to cause the diode to turn on. CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY


protection issues identified in this paper can be addressed in a cost effective manner.


The unique characteristics of photovoltaic power generation give rise to a number of unusual problems in the design of the DC portion of a power plant using this technology. One set of solutions for these problems has been described in this paper, the solutions adopted in the design of the first 1 MW phase of the 100 MW SMUD plant. The estimated cost for the DC wiring system of the SMUD Phase I plant, including these protective measures, is $126,000 ( $0.10/Wp), a modest fraction of the total plant It is therefore concluded that the safety and

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The authors would like to acknowledge the efforts

in plant design of Mr. Robert Spencer of Acurex and Mr. Robert Daniels of SMUD. In addition to this, the contributions of the other TAT members who contributed to this effort are gratefully acknowledged.

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