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2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America).

Quito, Ecuador

Assessing the Performance of Smart Inverters in

Large-Scale Distribution Networks with PV Systems
M.J. Parajeles, J. Quirós-Tortós and G. Valverde
Electrical Power and Energy Research Laboratory
School of Electrical Engineering, University of Costa Rica
11501-2060 UCR, San José, Costa Rica;;

Abstract—The emergence of clusters of rooftop Photovoltaic may arise in secondary systems, and this is worsen by time
(PV) systems in Distribution Networks (DNs) might result into delays of voltage regulators and switching capacitors which
voltage rise that can exceed the voltage limits particularly in cannot follow the rapid changes of PV systems.
secondary systems. This paper assesses the performance of two
smart inverter controllers (Volt-Watt and Volt-Var) to mitigate Because of the aforementioned issues, there is an urgent
these technical problems. A large-scale DN fully modeled in need to assess the technical challenges associated with the
OpenDSS is used in the assessment considering realistic load integration of PV systems to propose cost-effective mitigation
profiles and irradiation for the area where the distribution measures. Among these measures, distributed control actions
circuit is located. Four penetration levels of PV systems are such as PV disconnection, active power curtailment, power
evaluated without and with smart inverters. Results demonstrate
that overreacting settings of Volt-Watt and Volt-Var controllers factor modulation and smart inverters have been proposed
can help reducing the magnitude of the problem; however, they in the literature. For example, the authors in [5] present an
show that the reactive power consumed or active power curtailed inverter-based voltage control that adjusts the inverters power
varies significantly among customers participating on voltage output as a function of terminal voltage. The work in [6]
regulation; thus highlighting that coordinated control actions are presents droop-based active power curtailment techniques for
needed in real DNs with thousands of customers.
overvoltage prevention in a typical Canadian LV system.
Index Terms—Distributed generation, distribution networks, im- Reference [7] illustrates the use of smart inverter’s con-
pact studies, OpenDSS, power system simulation, photovoltaic trollers in large PV systems installed close together in the
systems, smart inverters, volt-var control, volt-watt control. same region. However, different parameter settings and how
they affect each PV was not investigated.
I. I NTRODUCTION This paper assesses the performance of two smart inverters
For many years Distribution Networks (DNs) were consid- controllers, reported in [7] and available in OpenDSS [8], in a
ered passive with unidirectional power flows traveling from large-scale DN with high penetration of PV systems. The PV
substations to customer premises only. The biggest problem systems were sensibly allocated in the network based on an
faced by Distribution Network Operators (DNO) was the economic study such that unrealistic penetration scenarios are
correction or compensation of voltage drops along radial not evaluated. The main contributions of this paper are:
distribution feeders. The latter was generally overcome by • Demonstrating that the settings of smart inverters may
installing voltage regulators, shunt capacitors and using off- greatly affect customers who participate on voltage reg-
nominal tap positions of distribution transformers. ulation at secondary systems. This is, the application of
The installation of Distributed Generation (DG) at Medium the same setting to all customers without considering their
Voltage (MV) and Low Voltage (LV) systems is changing location in the system may lead to unfair participation,
the way DNs are planned and operated, as new technical as the measures are not proportionally shared among all
challenges arise: voltage rise, harmonics, flicker and increased the PV systems.
short circuit currents [1]. The particular case of rooftop • Showing that these control functions may not be enough
Photovoltaic (PV) systems, installed at customer premises, is to regulate voltages at secondary systems with high pen-
expected to result into voltage rise in LV systems [2]. etration of rooftop PV systems. Hence, more coordinated
Unlike utility-scale DG units, rooftop PV systems cannot control actions among inverters may be required to fully
directly control voltage, their power output are not monitored mitigate voltage rise problems at LV circuits.
by the utility and they cannot be dispatched by the DNO. Ac- The remaining of this paper is organized as follows: Sec-
cording to [3] and [4], the concentration of rooftop PV systems tion II introduces the control functions of smart inverters used
in particular areas (also known as clusters) will lead to voltage in this work. Section III explains the methodology used to
rise conditions that may violate the permitted voltage limits. define the location of the PV systems and the parameter
Unfortunately, classical equipment for voltage regulation at settings of the smart inverters, whereas Section IV presents
MV level may not detect, and correct, voltage problems that simulation results for different PV penetration levels in a real

978-1-5386-3312-0/17/$31.00 2017
2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America). Quito, Ecuador

(V1, P1) (V2, P2)

Active Power, p.u. (V1, Q1)

Reactive Power, p.u.

(V3, Q3)
(V2, Q2)

(V4, P4)
(V3, P3)
(V4, Q4)
Voltage Magnitude, p.u.
Voltage Magnitude, p.u.
Fig. 1: Generic curve of the Volt-Watt Control function.
Fig. 2: Generic curve of the Volt-Var Control function.
and large-scale DN in Costa Rica. Finally, key conclusions are
presented in Section V. functioni
Allocation of high
penetration of PVs No
Small secondary Simulation using Is it the most
Smart inverters can help regulating voltages. Two control distribution circuit control functioni adequate one? Yes
Stage 1
approaches are evaluated in this work: Volt-Watt Controller
Stage 2
(VWC), which adjusts the active power output of the PV Daily simulation using Large-scale
chosen control function distibution network
systems, and Volt-Var Controller (VVC), which manages the
reactive power being consumed or injected by the PV. Analyze results:
OpenDSS is an open source DN simulator [8] that includes -High voltage problems solved
-Energy Curtailement (VWC)
these two controllers through the InvControl object. For any -Reactive Power Consumption (VVC)

of these, an iterative procedure is performed to compute the Fig. 3: Methodology to evaluate performance of VWC and VVC.
action of the controller according to the voltage magnitude
until it reaches the permitted range of operation (or when the
inverter cannot change the terminal voltage any further). magnitude at the connection point reaches V3 . From there until
The control actions are taken following a piece-wise func- V4 it consumes reactive power using the following relationship
Q4 −Q3
V4 −V3 . When the voltage is larger than V4 , the VVC will
tion when the voltage changes [7]. For the VWC, the active
power output of the inverter is changed with the voltage absorb the maximum available reactive power. The reactive
magnitude at the grid connection point. Similarly, the reactive power consumed (or injected) depends on the percentage of
power consumption/injection in the VVC is related to the available VArs (defined as the amount of headroom between
voltage magnitude at the corresponding connection point. full kVA rating of the inverter and the active power output, in
The VWC follows the piece-wise function shown in Fig. 1, kW, at any moment in time).
where both the active power and the voltage magnitude are
defined in per unit values (pu), which are calculated using III. M ETHODOLOGY
the corresponding PV system maximum active power output This section presents the steps followed to evaluate the
and the nominal voltage at the grid connection point. The x,y performance of smart inverters in large-scale DNs. As depicted
points (Vi , Pi ) represent the set of voltage magnitude-active in Fig. 3, the first stage is carried out in an isolated secondary
power needed to characterize the controller in OpenDSS. system, and it is used primarily to define the most adequate
As shown in Fig. 1, the Volt/Watt control takes no action on settings of both the VWC and VVC. The second stage adopts
the active power output of the inverter if the voltage magnitude these settings in a large-scale DN with thousands of secondary
at the connection point is below V2 . If the voltage is larger than systems in presence of PV systems.
V2 , but smaller than V3 , the VWC will limit the active power
output using the following relationship PV33 −V−P1
. For voltages A. Performance Metrics
higher than V3 , the VWC fully curtails the power output. The performance of the VWC and VVC is assessed in terms
The behavior of the Volt-Var Control follows the piece- of three metrics: number of affected customers, daily energy
wise function shown in Fig. 2. Reactive power can be injected curtailment in VWC and reactive power consumption in VVC.
(capacitive behavior, when the terminal voltage is smaller than 1) Quantification of voltage problems: This measure is
V2 ) or consumed from the grid (inductive, when the terminal based on the Costa Rican power quality normative, better
voltage is larger than V3 ). Since PV systems can cause voltage known as AR-NT-SUCAL, which defines when a customer is
rise, this work focuses on the inductive part of the curve. As affected by voltage problems. The supply voltage magnitude
shown in Fig. 2, the inverter remains idle until the voltage should be above 0.95 pu and below 1.05 pu to be considered
2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America). Quito, Ecuador

normal. A high voltage problem is detected when 5 % of

the measurements taken every 10 minutes, during a whole VWC Function 1
week, are above 1.06 pu (tolerable limit), or when 2 or more VWC Function 2

consecutive measurements are above this limit. A successful

voltage control is the one that significantly reduces the number 1

of customers with reported voltage problems.

Active Power Output, p.u.

2) Energy Curtailment: The energy curtailment metric
quantifies how much energy production is curtailed, with
respect to unrestricted generation, as a consequence of the
limitation of active power output performed by the VWC.
In the ideal case, the voltage problem should be corrected 0
at minimum energy curtailment. In addition, it is desired
that control efforts are proportionally shared (with respect to
inverter capacities) by all customers with PV systems.
3) Reactive Power Consumption: This metric quantifies 1 1.03 1.05 1.06 1.1
Voltage Magnitude, p.u.
how much reactive power is drawn from the grid, with respect
to unity power factor operation of inverters, as a conse- Fig. 4: Functions defined for the VWC.
quence of the reactive power modulation performed by the
VVC. In the ideal case, the high (resp. low) voltage problem
should be corrected at minimum reactive power consumption modified in each simulation in order to find the parameters that
(resp. production). Note that reactive power consumption is reduce voltage rise problems, PV generation curtailment (in
associated with higher losses in the network and requires VWC) and inverter’s reactive power consumption (in VVC).
higher rating capacity of inverters. In the same way as for Figure 4 shows two piece-wise functions for VWC. Func-
energy curtailment, the reactive power consumption should be tion 1 resulted to be the most adequate set of parameters in this
proportionally shared among the customers with PV systems. circuit with high PV generation. When the terminal voltage of
These three metrics are considered when simulating the the inverter reaches 1.03 pu, the controller will curtail some
isolated secondary system and the large network. active power generation based on the slope shown in Fig. 4.
If the voltage reaches 1.06 pu, the smart inverter will fully
B. PV and inverter model curtail the generation. This setting option reacts to voltage rise
The PV systems and the smart inverters are represented before the maximum limit is reached. The idea is to anticipate
by the PVSystem and the InvControl models available in for problems before it is too late. This option is not reasonable
OpenDSS, respectively [9]. The PVSystem model is a sim- in secondary systems with very low penetration levels.
plified representation of the PV and the inverter, as a whole. Function 2 represents an alternative, and less aggressive,
This model considers the irradiation and PV’s surface temper- option aiming to act only when the voltage limit is violated.
ature as input parameters, along with the inverter’s efficiency This is, the inverter starts to curtail active power when the
curve, the PV’s temperature-power output curve, the PV and terminal voltage is higher than the maximum allowed (i.e.
inverter’s nominal powers and the inverter’s nominal voltage. 1.05 pu). Both functions will be used in the second stage of
The InvControl is the one that represents the smart features this methodology for comparison purposes.
of the inverter, as it modifies the active and reactive power Figure 5 presents the VVC Functions 1 and 2. Function 1 is
output of the PVSystem according to the VWC or the VVC. the control setting with the best metrics in the secondary circuit
simulations. In this setting, the inverter starts to absorb reactive
C. Parameter Settings power when the terminal voltage is greater than 1.02 pu. Note
Having in mind that voltage rise problems caused by rooftop that, similar as the VWC Function 1, this setting reacts to
PV systems are localized problems, the VWC and VVC voltage rise before the maximum limit is reached.
parameters were defined by running a series of daily power Function 2 represents an intuitive control setting, which
flow simulations of an isolated secondary system. The LV maintains a unity power factor operation when the terminal
system represents a typical residential circuit fed by a single voltage is within the normal band of operation (between 0.95
(split) phase transformer at 120/240 V . This circuit consists of pu and 1.05 pu). However, the slope of this curve is more
two phase and one neutral 3/0 AWG aluminum conductor in aggressive than in Function 1. Both control settings will be
an overhead vertical line spacing, and it serves 34 customers used in the large DN for comparison purposes.
connected through 2, 4 or 6 AWG triplex cables.
Each house was allocated with a PV system, equipped with
smart inverter, to build a high PV penetration scenario in the D. PV Allocation in large circuit
secondary circuit. This scenario allows to better assess the As presented in Fig. 3, the second stage of this methodology
settings of both control functions in extreme conditions. As tests the performance of the control functions in a large-scale
depicted in Fig. 3, the slopes of the control functions were DN. In order to present realistic scenarios, each PV penetration
2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America). Quito, Ecuador

      (a) 2 000 kW .


Fig. 5: Functions defined for the VVC.

level considers a sensible allocation of PV systems based on a

socio-economic study, valid for Costa Rica. This study results
in an optimal capacity and probability of installation for each
customer in the circuit.
The study carries out a cash flow to determine the PV
capacity that maximizes (resp. minimizes) the internal rate
of return IRR (resp. payback period) for different levels of
energy consumption and customer class. The estimation of the
payback period and IRR takes into consideration the initial in-
vestment values, the grid access fees and the electricity savings (b) 8 000 kW .
(according to the PV production, the PV size calculated and Fig. 6: Location of PV systems for two different penetration levels.
the monthly energy consumption of the customer).
Residential customers with very low montly energy con-
sumption (lower than 200 kW h per month) will not find IV. C ASE S TUDY
attractive to install a PV system as the price of electricity for
the energy block tariff they belong to is very cheap. For these A real DN in Costa Rica is simulated in OpenDSS to
customers, the optimal capacity and probability of installation illustrate the performance of the smart inverters. This 34.5 kV
was found to be zero. On the other hand, customers with very circuit supplies to 26 395 customers (most residential ones),
high monthly energy consumption are the ones who will likely and it covers over 80 km2 . The maximum demand of the
find more interesting to substitute the kWh that belong to the circuit without PV systems is about 17M W . The circuit was
most expensive energy block tariffs. built in OpenDSS from the Geographic Information System
of the local power utility, as explained in [2] and [10].
The probability of installation p was calculated considering Four different penetration levels of rooftop PV systems are
the payback period for residential customers. It was assumed considered: 2 000 kW , 4 000 kW , 6 000 kW and 8 000 kW .
that a customer with a payback period of 5 years or less Fig. 6 shows the topology of the circuit with the location of
will have probability of installation of 100%, as the economic the PV systems for two different penetration levels, Fig. 6a
benefit due to the installation of the PV is extremely high. for 2 000 kW and 6b for 8 000 kW . The allocation of the PV
From there on, p will decay according to a quadratic curve systems in the circuit was defined according to the financial-
until it reaches 0%, when the payback period reaches 25 years based allocation algorithm in Section III-D.
- the expected lifetime of the PV system. A series of base case simulations with all PV systems at
The PV capacities assigned to customers with p = 0 were unity power factor was carried out for each penetration level.
in the range of 0.5 kW and 40 kW , in steps of 0.25 kW . The Table I details the number of customers with voltage problems
allocation of PV systems in the circuit started in the customer (see section III-A for the metric). As expected, the greater the
with the highest probability of installation and followed in de- PV penetration, the greater the number of affected customers.
scending order until the desired penetration level was reached. Once the effects of each PV penetration level is known,
2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America). Quito, Ecuador

Table I: Number of affected customers in the large-scale DN.

Table III: Daily energy curtailment resulting from VWC function 1.
Penetration level, kW Affected customers
− Energy curtailment
2 000 1 Penetration level, kW 2 000 4 000 6 000 8 000
4 000 23
6 000 164 Maximum, kWh 22.50 47.98 58.06 72.53
8 000 392 Maximum, % 17.41 43.68 52.12 61.90
Average, % 4.02 6.29 8.34 9.89
Standard deviation, % 3.13 7.56 11.12 14.07
Table II: Performance of Function 1 of VWC and VVC.

Penetration Affected customers using: % corrected customers

Table IV: Consumption of VArs resulting from VVC Function 1.

2 000 1 1 0.00 0.00 − Reactive power consumption

4 000 12 8 47.83 65.22
6 000 32 62 80.49 62.20 Penetration level, kW 2 000 4 000 6 000 8 000
8 000 36 100 90.82 74.49 Maximum, kVAR 4.29 4.69 4.93 5.50
Maximum, % 21.46 25.65 28.75 30.65
Average, % 0.84 1.33 1.57 2.94
Standard deviation, % 1.72 2.40 2.74 2.94
the VWC and VVC are activated for each PV system in the
circuit. The following sub-sections describe the results.
A. Performance of VWC and VVC using Function 1
The study first assesses the benefits of using Function 1 (the
one with the best results in the small secondary system) for 16
the VWC and VVC. Table II highlights that the VWC and the 14
VVC are both effective in reducing the voltage problems in Active Power, kW
this circuit. On average, the percentage of corrected problems 12

using the VWC and the VVC was 73.0 % and 67.3 %, re- 10
spectively. For the largest PV penetration, it can be noted that
the adoption of the VWC results into more corrected problems
(90.82 %); the reduction achieved by the VVC is slightly lower 6
74.49 %. While this is beneficial for the network, there is an
impact on customers as the PV generation is being curtailed.
Table III shows that the larger the penetration level, the more 2
curtailment is required to mitigate voltage problems. For the
largest PV penetration, the maximum daily energy curtailment 0:00 6:00 12:00 18:00 00:00
is 61.22 % (with respect to unconstrained generation of the Time, h
same PV). This indicates that some customers are considerably Fig. 7: Power curtailment in some of the PV systems.
more affected by the adoption of the VWC. Table III also
presents the standard deviation to demonstrate that some
customers are participating more in the voltage regulation
(the standard deviation is greater than the average value). 20

For illustration purposes, Fig. 7 presents the power output of

some PV systems in the 8 000 kW penetration level; the power
Reactive Power, kVAR | Active Power kW

output in some PV systems is curtailed more often than others.
It has also been found that the VWC may curtail PV gen-
eration without solving the voltage problem. For a 2 000 kW 10
penetration level, Table III shows that an average daily energy
curtailment of 4.02 %, and a maximum of 17.14 %, has been
required, although Table II reported that the percentage of 5
corrected problems was 0. This behavior indicates that more
aggressive control settings might be needed; this, however, will
have a greater impact on customers (larger curtailment). 0

The reactive power consumed by the inverters under VVC

Function 1 is shown in Table IV for each penetration level.
In general, the larger the penetration, the larger the VAr 0:00 6:00 12:00 18:00 00:00
consumption. Table IV also highlights that the maximum Time, h
percentage of VAr consumption (30.65 %, i.e. a minimum Fig. 8: Reactive power consumption in some of the PV systems.
power factor of 0.96, with respect to the installed capacity
2017 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference - Latin America (ISGT Latin America). Quito, Ecuador

Table V: Performance of Function 2 of VWC and VVC. Table VII: Consumption of VArs resulting from VVC Function 2.

Penetration Affected customers using: % corrected customers − Reactive power consumption

level, kW VWC VVC VWC VVC Penetration level, kW 2 000 4 000 6 000 8 000
2 000 1 1 0 0 Maximum, kVAR 1.86 3.01 4.87 7.43
4 000 23 16 0 30.43 Maximum, % 9.30 15.07 29.97 42.14
6 000 141 100 14.02 39.02 Average, % 0.04 0.12 0.3 0.41
8 000 322 163 17.86 58.42 Standard deviation, % 0.20 0.42 0.91 1.15

Table VI: Daily energy curtailment using Function 2.

problems, which can be mitigated in the context of smart grids
− Energy curtailment using the capabilities of smart PV inverters.
Penetration level, kW 2 000 4 000 6 000 8 000
This paper has assessed the performance of two smart
Maximum, kWh 4.18 4.36 17.72 25.17 inverters controllers: Volt-Watt and Volt-Var with respect to
Maximum, % 3.01 3.9 17.99 23.81
Average, % 3.01 3.02 3.27 3.49 traditional inverter operation. A large-scale DN fully modeled
Standard deviation, % 0.011 0.077 1.42 2.09 in OpenDSS was used while considering realistic load profiles
and irradiation. Four PV penetration levels were evaluated, and
the corresponding PV locations were carefully defined in the
of the inverter) was needed for the largest PV penetration circuit based on an economic study. This has avoided assessing
level. The standard deviation indicates that some inverters unrealistic scenarios.
are consuming more reactive power than others. Indeed, the Simulation results have been carried out considering two
maximum percentage of deviation is 2.94 % with respect to different functions for each controller: Function 1, designed
the average percentage of reactive power drawn from grid. For to prevent problems, presents the best results but affects
illustration purposes, Fig. 8 shows the active power output and more customers due to higher energy curtailment and reactive
the reactive power consumption of some PV systems under power consumption; and Function 2, which operates in a more
VVC control, for a PV penetration of 8 000 kW . corrective approach, results in less effects on customers but
leads to more technical problems in the network.
B. Performance of VWC and VVC using Function 2 The results demonstrated that overreacting settings of Volt-
In order to understand the benefits or limitations of different Watt and Volt-Var controllers can almost mitigate the technical
VWC and VVC settings, this section adopts Function 2, problems posed by the PV systems; however, they showed that
and the corresponding parameters of each control type. It the active power curtailed or the reactive power consumed
must be remembered that the settings defined for Function varies significantly among customers participating on voltage
2 were based on the Costa Rican regulation (AR-NT-SUCAL regulation; thus highlighting that coordinated control actions
normative) and they make the VWC and VVC more corrective are needed in real DNs with thousands of customers.
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