Fiber Optics in Solar Energy Applications - Sponsored Whitepaper

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Introduction Solar energy has recently become a popular alternative energy source to meet demands around the world due to the fluctuation of oil/coal prices and global warming issues. Oil is a limited and diminishing resource, and because of this, the price surges when demand is high. Oil and/or coal powered generators, when converting fossil fuel into electrical power, produce enormous CO2 and other pollutants that are harmful to the earth. In a solar farm power generation system, large amounts of current are generated from the heat of the sun. In order to protect the equipment from huge current leakage, galvanic insulation becomes important to ensure the power system’s quality and reliability. Fiber optics offer insulation protection from high-voltage/current glitches

and unwanted signals into power equipment controls and communication. It is also feasible to use fiber optics to control the tracking capabilities of the solar panels. Fiber optics communication can cover longer link distance con- nections compared to copper wire. As the solar farms grow in size, monitoring and controlling all the solar panels requires long link distance connections, which is only possible with fiber optics cable. Key applications for fiber optic components in solar energy systems include: • Power electronic gate drivers for inverters • Sun tracking control and communication boards • Solar farm substation automation and protection relays

Figure 1. Solar Power Generation Block Diagram

Solar panels collect solar energy and convert it into electrical energy through photovoltaic modules or solar thermal collectors. In order to integrate the power generated from solar panels to the power transmission lines, the power needs to be converted into utility-grade AC power (Figure 1). An inverter is used in the solar energy system to provide AC power, while the transformer increases the voltage to medium/high for connecting to the power transmission lines. Circuit breakers are also installed to protect the system when there is a fault in the transmission lines. InordertoproducetherequiredACpower,thepo wersemi- conductor devices are turned on/off at the right frequency to ensure clean and reliable AC power. The turning on/off signal is usually controlled by a DSP embedded controller via a fiber optic link, which allows high galvanic isolation capability.

Examples of power semiconductor devices available in the market: • Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) • Gate Turn Off Thyristor (GTO) • Integrated Gate Commutated Thyristor (IGCT) • Symmetrical Gate Commutated Thyristor (SGCT) • Emitter Turn Off Thyristor (ETO) Fiber optic components are commonly used to control a high voltage and current switching device, with reliable control and feedback signals (Figure 2, Table 1).
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