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Grid-Connected Photovoltaic Systems: An


Overview of Recent Research and Emerging PV
Converter Technology
Article in IEEE Industrial Electronics Magazine March 2015
DOI: 10.1109/MIE.2014.2376976

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Grid-Connected Photovoltaic Systems:


An Overview of Recent Research and
Emerging PV Converter Technology
Samir Kouro, Jose I. Leon, Dmitri Vinnikov, Leopoldo G. Franquelo
Abstract: Photovoltaic energy has grown at an average annual rate of 60% in the
last 5 years and has surpassed 1/3 of the cumulative wind energy installed capacity,
and is quickly becoming an important part of the energy mix in some regions and power
systems. This has been driven by a reduction of cost of PV modules. This growth has
also triggered the evolution of classic PV power converters from conventional singlephase grid-tied inverters to more complex topologies in order to increase efficiency,
power extraction from the sun, reliability, while not impacting the cost. This paper
presents an overview of the existing PV energy conversion systems, addressing the
system configuration of different PV plants, and the PV converter topologies that have
found practical applications for grid-connected systems. In addition, recent research and
emerging PV converter technology are discussed, highlighting their possible
advantages compared with existing technology.
I. INTRODUCTION
Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy conversion systems have had a huge growth from an
accumulative total power equal approximately to 1.2GW in 1992 to 136GW in 2013
(36GW during 2013) [1]. This phenomenon has been possible because of several
factors, all working together to push the PV energy to cope one important position
nowadays (and potentially a fundamental position in the near future). Among these
factors, the cost reduction and increase in efficiency of the PV modules, the search for
alternative clean energy sources (not based on fossil fuels), the environmental
awareness and the positive political regulations from local governments (establishing
favorable feed-in tariffs designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy
technologies). In this way, it has become usual to see photovoltaic systems installed on
the roof of our houses, or PV farms next to the roads in the countryside. Particularly
grid-connected photovoltaic systems account for over 99% of PV installed capacity,
compared to stand-alone systems (that use batteries). In grid-connected PV systems

batteries are not needed, since all the power generated by the PV plant is uploaded to
the grid for direct transmission, distribution and consumption. Hence, the generated PV
power reduces the use of other energy sources feeding the grid like hydro or fossil
fuels, whose saving act as energy storage in the system, providing the same function of
power regulation and backup as a battery would deliver in a stand-alone system. Since
grid-connected systems do not need batteries, they are more cost effective and require
less maintenance and re-investment as stand-alone systems do. This concept together
with the cost reduction, technology development, environmental awareness, right
incentives and regulations has unleashed the power of the sun.
In Fig. 1, a typical configuration of a grid-connected PV system is represented [2]. In a
conventional PV system, the PV cells (arranged in a single module, a string of seriesconnected modules, or an array of parallel-connected strings) generate a dc current,
which greatly depends on the solar irradiation and the voltage at the terminals of the PV
system. This dc power is transformed and interfaced to the grid via a PV inverter.
Additional elements include a grid connection filter, a grid monitor or interaction unit (for
synchronization, measurements, anti-island detection, etc.) and a low-frequency
transformer (which is optional depending on local regulations, the converter topology
and the modulation used to control it [3]). Optionally, there is an intermediate dc-dc
power stage between the PV modules and the grid-tied inverter. This optional stage
decouples the PV system operating point from the PV inverter grid control. Additionally,
it can boost the PV system dc output voltage if required, or provide galvanic isolation
and perform the maximum power point tracking (MPPT) control.
The increase in PV installed capacity has also sparked a continuous evolution of the PV
power conversion stage. Gradually, PV power converters have become extremely
efficient, compact and reliable permitting to obtain the maximum power from the sun in
domestic, commercial and industrial applications [3], [4]. The PV converter industry
evolved rapidly from child- to adulthood in the last two decades, and has become a
distinct power converter category in its own right. One of the drivers behind this

progress is that the PV converter market demanded very hard-to-meet specifications,


among them: high efficiency (above 98%), long warranty periods (to get closer to PV
module warranties of 25 years), high power quality, transformer-less operation, leakage
current minimization (imposes restrictions on the topology or modulation), special
control requirements such as the MPPT, etc. Another driver behind this development is

Fig. 1. Generic structure of a grid-connected PV system (large-scale central inverter shown as


example)

the fact that, for long time, the power converter represented a small fraction of the cost
of the whole PV system, due to high PV module prices, allowing PV inverter
manufacturers room for development of higher performance and more sophisticated
topologies, which usually included more power electronics devices than classic

topologies used in general applications, which have added control degrees of freedom
that can be used to make the inverter operation more efficient, as will be addressed
later.
The development of new PV converter topologies has also been motivated by the
search of manufacturers of proprietary technology, in order to differentiate themselves
from competitors and achieve a competitive advantage in a growing PV converter
market. This has led to a wide range of new and different power converter topologies,
specially designed for PV applications, which will be presented and analyzed in this
paper.
II. USUAL REQUIREMENTS FOR PV CONVERTERS
Some decades ago, PV applications were not mature, PV modules were very
expensive to be produced and the efficiency of the PV modules was very low; the
impact of the PV power integration in the distribution grid was not perceptible. Besides,
safety requirements imposed by the electrical companies and the governments were not
present. Nowadays, in some regions PV installations are a relatively substantial part of
the electrical market and as it becomes a more relevant actor in power systems, leading
to face the definition of the corresponding requirements and regulations for PV systems,
in order to standardize achieving a safe and reliable use.
In general, two groups of requirements can be considered when a PV installation has
to be designed, built, tested and commercialized. These two groups are the
performance requirements and the legal regulations that the PV converters and the PV
installations have to meet.
A. Performance Requirements of PV Converters
1) Efficiency: The losses of the PV inverters have reduced in time, and the efficiency
achieves values above 97% (see for instance SunnyBoy 5000TL by SMA for domestic
applications below 5.25kW), even more for central inverters (see for instance
SunnyCentral 760CP XT by SMA, central inverter with nominal power up to 850kW with
98% of efficiency) [5]. So, it can be affirmed that the PV inverter efficiency for state-ofthe-art brand products stands around 98%. However, it has to be noticed that the

efficiency is expected to achieve higher values when SiC and GaN devices are vastly
used as the basic power semiconductor of the PV inverters in the next decade [6].
2) Power Density: This feature is always important but it is becoming critical mainly for
domestic and commercial applications (below 20kW). In this way, several solutions are
being recently presented such as the ABB PVS300 inverter, which is based on a
neutral-point-clamped topology achieving a very compact solution with very high power
density [7].

a) Costs in USD
b) Distribution of each component cost
Fig. 2 evolution of cost distribution of PV Systems (in the range of 2-50 kWp) [8]

3) Installation Cost: Figure 2 shows the evolution of each cost component of a PV


system in central Europe [8]. Comparing figures from year 2000 to figures in 2012, there
is an important reduction in the total cost (68%) but the most important reduction (78%)
is due to the cost of the PV modules. The inverter cost has been reduced by a 68%, and
the installation related costs have had the smaller reduction in the entire group (56%).
The installation costs may vary greatly from one country or region to another, as the
land, labor and other local factors may have a great influence in the total cost.
4) Minimization of Leakage Current: Leakage current appears because of the high
stray capacitance between the PV cells and the grounded metallic frame of each
module and the high frequency harmonics caused by the modulation of the power
converter. Galvanic isolation can help to interrupt the leakage path, but the use of a
transformer presents drawbacks such as higher cost and additional losses, leading in

general to a reduction of the efficiency. Nevertheless the transformer is


mandatory in some countries due to local regulations. If the transformer is not
mandatory, as a second solution, several power converter topologies have been
specifically designed to minimize the effect of the high frequency harmonics on
the leakage currents [9].
B. Legal Requirements of PV Systems
1) Galvanic Isolation: One important requirement for PV systems is galvanic
isolation for safety reasons. This feature is required only in some national codes,
such as RD-1699/2011 about the connection of PV systems to the low voltage
distribution grid in Spain. This requirement makes that the PV topologies are not
standardized and they have to be specifically designed to fulfill with this galvanic
isolation requirement, usually achieved by introducing a transformer (high
frequency or low frequency).
2) Anti-islanding Detection: Islanding phenomenon for grid-connected PV
systems occurs when the PV inverter does not disconnect after the grid has
tripped, and continues to provide power to the local load [10]. In the conventional
case of residential electrical system co-supplied by a roof-top PV system, the grid
disconnection can appear as a result of a local equipment failure detected by the
ground fault protection, or of an intentional disconnection of the line for servicing.
In both situations, if the PV inverter does not disconnect, some hazardous
situations can happen:
Re-tripping the line with an out-of-phase closure damaging some equipment.
Safety hazard for utility line workers that assume de-energized lines.
In order to avoid these serious situations, safety measures and detection
methods called anti-islanding requirements have been required in standards. In
IEEE 1574 it is defined that after an unintentional islanding where the PV system
continues to energize a portion of the power system (island) through the PCC,
the PV system shall detect the islanding and shall stop to energize the area within
2 sec [11].
3) Other Codes and Standards: Since PV applications are becoming more and
more important, codes and standards are continuously being defined by
international and national committees and governments in order to achieve a
safe high quality and normalized operation. International standards are normally
defined by the International

Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the European Committee for Electrotechnical


Standardization (CENELEC) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
(IEEE). Usually, the governments define their specific codes based on international
standards but they take into account local factors such as the geography, the grid
structure and the ratio between the renewable energy and the total installed power. For
instance, VDE-AR-N 4105 is applied in Germany as a local code defining the power
curtailment, the frequency and voltage support, and the dynamic grid support (ride
through capability). It can be noticed that a national code can become an international
standard if it is successfully accepted by the international commissions [12].
A summary of the current international standards for PV applications is included in
Table I (for large MW PV power plants, grid-connection requirements are in line with
wind power parks, connected to either distribution or transmission levels). It has to be
noticed that these codes are mainly recommendations and each country adapts these
codes to the specific national operation and regulations. So, manufacturers change
slightly the final design of their products in order to fulfill the requirements of each
country (a clear example of this issue can be found in the galvanic isolation requirement
existing in some European countries).

Gridconnected

IEC 60364-7-712,
IEC 61727, IEC
61683, IEC 62093,
IEC 62116, IEC
62446, UL 1741

Off-Grid

IEC 62509, IEC 61194


IEC 61702, IEC/PAS
62111, IEEE Std.
1526, IEC 62124

Rural
System
s

Scope and content of the standard

IEC/TS 62257

Small renewable energy and hybrid systems. Protection against


electrical hazards. Selection of generator sets and batteries.
Micropower systems and microgrids. Household lighting equipment.

Monitoring

Codes and Standards

Installations of buildings.
Utility interface and measuring efficiency.
Interconnected photovoltaic inverters.
System documentation, commissioning tests and inspection.
Use in Independent Power Systems.

IEC 61724
IEC 61850-7
IEC 60870

Measurement, data exchange and analysis.


Communication networks and systems for power utility automation.
Distributed energy resources and logical nodes.

Battery charge controllers.


Stand-alone systems.
Rating of direct coupled pumping systems.
Specifications for rural decentralized electrification.

EMC/EMI
Emission
s

EN 61000
FCC Part 15

EU EMC directive for residential, commercial, light industrial and


industrial facilities.
US EMC directive for residential, commercial, light industrial and
industrial facilities.

Table I. Summary of the typical international codes and standards for PV applications

III. PV SYSTEM CONFIGURATIONS


Grid-connected Photovoltaic power generation systems can be found in different sizes
and power levels for different needs and applications, ranging from a single PV module
from around 200W to more than a million modules for PV plants over the 100MW [13].
Therefore the generic PV energy conversion systems structure of Fig. 1 can vary
significantly from one plant to another. For simplicity, grid-connected PV systems can
be subdivided depending on their power rating: small-scale from a few watts to few tens
of kW, medium-scale from a few tens of kW to a few hundreds, and large-scale from a
few hundreds of kW to several hundreds of MW, as shown in Fig. 3. In addition, PV
systems can be further classified depending on the PV module arrangement: a single
module, a string of modules, multiple strings and arrays (parallel connected strings)
[14]. The PV module arrangement also gives the inverter configuration its name,
consequently: ac-module inverter, string inverter, multi-string inverter and central
inverter, as shown in Fig. 3.
The ac-module configuration uses a dedicated grid-tied inverter for each PV module of
the system [15]. Therefore this configuration is also known as module-integrated
inverter and micro-inverter, due to small size and low power rating of the converter. The
low voltage rating of PV modules (generally around 30V) requires voltage elevation for
grid connection. This is why ac-module inverters are only found with an additional dc-dc
stage, usually with a high frequency transformer to provide galvanic isolation and
elevate voltage. Because of the additional dc-dc stage and high-frequency isolation, this
is the configuration with the lowest power converter efficiency, which is compensated
somehow by the highest MPPT accuracy, due to the dedicated converter. This
configuration is useful for places with lots of partial shading, complex roof structures,
small systems or combinations of different roof orientations. The small size of the

converter allows a very compact enclosure design that can be attached to the back of
each PV module; hence the name module integrated inverter. Due to the low voltage
operation, mosfet devices are most commonly found in these topologies. Nevertheless,
this concept might benefit from new faster and more efficient semiconductor devices
(SiC and GaN), and therefore gain more importance in the future.
String inverters interface a single PV string to the grid [16]. They can be subdivided
into single- and two-stage conversion topologies, depending on the addition (or not) of a
dc-dc stage, used to adapt the dc voltage output from the PV string to the dc side
voltage of the grid inverter. In addition the dc-dc stage decouples the MPPT control from
the grid side control (active and reactive power), by enabling a fixed voltage at the
inverter dc-side. Furthermore, grid inverters can be found with or without galvanic
isolation. Isolation can be introduced at the grid side with low frequency transformers
(large and heavy) or within the dc-dc stage with a high frequency transformer (light and
compact, but with additional losses from several dc-dc converter semiconductors). The
different combinations between single or two-stage, with transformer or transformer-less
string inverters, leads to a wide range of different configurations as shown in Fig. 3.
Compared to ac-module inverters, the string inverter has a less accurate MPPT of the
PV systems, and under partial shading would reduce the energy yield. However, for a
PV system of the same power rating, the string inverter has lower cost per watt and is
more efficient. The string inverter is very popular for small- to medium-scale PV
systems, particularly for residential rooftop PV plants.
In order to add more flexibility to the string inverter and improve MPPT performance of
the PV system, the multi-string concept was developed [17]. The strings are divided into
smaller pieces (less modules in series) and connected through independent MPPT dcdc converters to the grid-tied inverter. The dc-dc stage also boosts the voltage of the
smaller strings. The additional dc-dc stages are a cost-effective solution compared to
having several string inverters. As can be seen in Fig. 3, multi-string inverters can also
be found with or without isolation. Since they reduce partial shading and mismatching,

they are suitable not only for rooftop PV systems but also for medium and large-scale
plants.
Finally, the central inverter interfaces a whole PV array to the grid though a single
inverter [2]. The array is composed of parallel-connected strings. A blocking diode in
series to each string is necessary to prevent them from acting as load when partial
shading or mismatch occurs. Because the whole array is connected to a single inverter,
this configuration can only provide a single MPPT operation, leading to the lowest
MPPT efficiency of all configurations. Nevertheless, it provides a simple structure,
reliable and efficient converter, making it one of the most common solutions for largescale PV plants. Since they operate at low voltage (<1000 V) the limit of IGBT
technology enables converters of up to 850 kW. To increase the power rating, some
manufacturers commercialize two central inverters connected through a 12-pulse
transformer, with a rating up to 1.6 MW. Nevertheless, very large PV plants can
currently reach several hundreds of MW. Therefore several hundreds of dual central
inverters are needed in large PV farms.

Table II. Grid-connected photovoltaic energy conversion systems configurations overview

IV. INDUSTRIAL PV INVERTERS


The evolution in power converter technology for PV applications, driven by the growth
in the PV installed capacity and the search of the ultimate PV inverter has led to the
existence of a wide variety of power converter topologies used in practice. Fig. 3 shows
several industrial PV inverter topologies for central, string, multi-string and ac-module
configurations, which will be analyzed as follows. Table III summarizes some of the
characteristics of some commercial power converter topologies for central, string, multistring and ac-module PV inverter applications.
A. String inverter topologies:
The most common string inverter topology is the full-bridge or H-bridge inverter.
Several modified and enhanced versions have found their way into the market [18]. The

H-bridge with grid-side low-frequency transformer features a simple power circuit,


galvanic isolation and voltage elevation provided by the transformer, which enables a
larger range of input voltages. This converter can be controlled with three-level carrier
based PWM techniques, since the common mode voltages cannot generate a leakage
current due to isolation. The bypass switching state (zero voltage level) prevents a
reactive current flow between the filter inductor and the dc-link capacitor. Nevertheless,
the bulky transformer brings along several disadvantages (low power density and lower
efficiency) making this topology less popular with time.
The transformer-less H-bridge, also known as H4 inverter (shown in a two-stage
configuration with a boost dc-dc stage), gets rid of the low frequency transformer by
splitting the grid inductor into the phase and neutral wires of the systems and using a
bipolar PWM (two-level) to solve the issues of the switched common mode voltage and
leakage currents, and by using a boost stage for a wider input voltage range. The
downside is that the two-level modulation reduces power quality at the grid connection
and it lowers the efficiency since there is a reactive current flow between the passive
elements of the circuit at zero voltage through the freewheeling diodes, since the dc-link
capacitor is not isolated from the grid at any time.
The H-bridge with the high-frequency isolated dc-dc stage is composed of a mosfet
full-bridge inverter a high frequency transformer and a diode full-bridge rectifier. This
approach reduces greatly the size of the converter improving power density compared
to low frequency transformer based topologies. However, the additional converter
stages introduce higher losses.
To overcome the problem of the reactive current transfer between the grid filter and
the dc-link capacitor in transformer-less H-bridge string inverters during freewheeling,
several proprietary solutions have been introduced by different manufacturers [18]-[20].
The H5 string inverter by SMA adds an additional switch between the dc-link and the Hbridge inverter to open the current path between both passive components, increasing
the efficiency and reducing the leakage current. The Highly Efficient and Reliable
Inverter Concept (HERIC converter) introduced by Sunways uses instead a bidirectional

switch that bypasses the whole H-bridge inverter, separating the grid filter from the
converter during freewheeling. The H6 topology introduced by Ingeteam [21], adds an
additional switch in the negative dc bar to the H5 topology. Two versions were
introduced, one with a diode connected in parallel to the dc side of the H-bridge of the
H6 topology, called H6D1; and the H6D2 which adds two auxiliary freewheeling diodes
instead of one. Both allow freewheeling without interaction between passive
components, while enabling a unipolar output compared to the H5. The difference
between H6D1 and H6D2 is that in the first, the additional switches block the total dc
voltage, while in the second they only block half.
The three-level neutral point clamped inverter (3L-NPC) has also several modified and
enhanced versions for PV string inverters [22]. The advantage of the 3L-NPC over the
H-bridge is that it provides a three-level output without a switched common mode
voltage since the neutral of the grid is grounded to the same potential as the midpoint of
the dc-link. This enables transformer-less operation without the problem of the leakage
currents and modulation methods that do not use the potential of the converter. The
main drawback compared to the H-bridge is that it requires a total dc-link of double the
voltage to connect to the same grid. Hence, more modules need to be connected in
series or an additional boost stage is required.
A full-bridge of two 3L-NPC legs was introduced by ABB, resulting in the 5L-HNPC
inverter [23]. As with the H-bridge, this converter also requires a symmetrical grid filter
distributed between the grid phase and grid neutral wires. A special modulation
technique can achieve a line-frequency common mode voltage, hence no leakage
currents are generated while enabling transformer-less operation.
The T-type or three-level transistor clamped string inverter was introduced by
Conergy. The converter can clamp the phase of the grid directly to the neutral to
generate the zero voltage level using a bidirectional power switch. For the same reason
as the 3L-NPC it can operate transformer-less. The main difference is that it does not
require the two additional diodes of the 3L-NPC. The bidirectional switches block each
half the voltage blocked by the phase-leg switches.

The asymmetric cascaded h-bridge (A-CHB) was introduced by Mitsubishi [24], and
features three series connected H-bridge cells operating with unequal dc voltage ratios
(1:2:4). The PV system is connected through a boost dc-dc stage to only one of the Hbridge cells, which is the only one processing active power to the grid. The other two
cells use floating dc-links for power quality improvement through the generation of 13
voltage levels. This enables a reduction of the switching frequency without
compromising power quality. The topology requires a bidirectional bypass switch
connected to the large cell, in order to reduce changing potential between the PV
system and ground to reduce possibility of leakage currents and enable transformerless operation.
B. Multi-string topologies:
The main difference between the multi-string configuration and string configuration is
that it is exclusively a two-stage system composed by more than one dc-dc stage [17].
Hence, all inverter topologies seen in previous section could be used in a multi-string
configuration. Like with string inverters, the same combinations of isolated and
transformer-less configurations, with or without symmetric grid filters apply.
One of the first multi-string inverters introduced in practice was the half-bridge inverter
with boost converters in the dc-dc stage by SMA [17]. Other topologies that have
followed include the H-bridge, the H5, the three-phase two-level voltage source inverter
(2L-VSI), the 3L-NPC and the three-phase three-level T-type converter (3L-T) [18]. Fig.
3 shows some examples of practical multi-string configurations. The most common dcdc stages used for multi-string configurations are the boost converter and the highfrequency isolated dc-dc switch mode converter based on an H-bridge, high-frequency
transformer and diode rectifier.

Fig. 3. Industrial photovoltaic inverter topologies for central, string, multi-string and ac-module
configurations

C. Central topologies:
Central inverter configurations are mainly used to interface large PV systems to the
grid. The most common inverter topology found in practice is the two-level voltage
source inverter (2L-VSI), composed of three half-bridge phase legs connected to a
single dc-link. The inverter operates below 1000 V at the dc-side (typically between 500
V and 800 V), limited by the PV modules insulation, which prevents larger strings. Gridconnection is done through a low frequency transformer to elevate voltage already
within the collector of the power plant to reduce losses. More recently, the three-phase
3L-NPC and the three-phase 3L-T converter have been also used for this configuration,
as shown in Fig. 3. The characteristics, advantages and disadvantages analyzed for the
single-phase versions of these topologies for PV string systems, also hold for the
central inverter version.

D. Ac-module topologies:
A commercial ac-module topology is the interleaved flyback converter, developed by
Enphase Energy [25], currently commercialized by Siemens, shown in Fig 3. The
flyback converter performs MPPT, voltage elevation and provides galvanic isolation,
while the H-bridge inverter controls the dc-link voltage (output voltage of the flyback),
grid synchronization and active/reactive power control. Several flyback converters are
connected in parallel, which enables a higher switching frequency, resulting in a further
reduction of the high-frequency transformer, hence a very compact inverter. It also
allows a reduction in the current ripple both at input and output of the dc-dc stage, due
to the phase-shifted carrier modulation, extending the lifespan of the capacitors.
Another commercial ac-module integrated converter, shown in Fig. 3, includes a
resonant H-bridge stage with high-frequency isolation transformer and diode bridge
rectifier as dc-dc converter instead of the flyback, developed by Enecsys [26]. The Hbridge dc-dc stage has better power conversion properties compared to the flyback.

Topology
Pros
&
Cons
Brand / model

Higher THD
Large trafo.
Poor MPPT
Satcon
Prism Platform
Equinox
Central

HERIC
No freewheeling
current losses
Transformerless

3L-NPC
Constant CM
voltage
Low THD

H-NPC
Low THD
Transformerless

1:2:4-CHB
High power
quality
Transformerless

HF isolation
High # of devices

No 5 level
waveform
High # of devices

Complex module
Complex control

Sunways
NT 5000

Danfoss
DLX 4.6

ABB
PVS 300 TL8000

Mitsubishi
PV-PN40G

Bidirectional
Bypass switch

H5
No freewheeling
current losses
Transformerless
Special PWM
modulation
SMA
Sunny Boy
5000TL

HF H-bridge dc-dc

HF flyback dc-dc

Small & compact


Easy installation

Small & compact


Easy installation

High input-output
voltage ratio
Soft switching
Power One
Aurora MICRO0.3-I
AC-module

High input-output
voltage ratio
Less efficient HF
trafo concept
Siemens
Microinverter
System

String

String

String

String

Multistring

Input voltage

550850 V

900 V

600 V

900 V

380 V

750 V

60V

45V

Rated ac power

1.5 MW

4.6 kW

4.6 kW

8 kW

4 kW

5250 W

200 and 300 W

Grid connection

Three-phase

Single-phase

Single-phase

Single-phase

Single-phase

Single-phase

Single-phase

Efficiency

98.5%

97.8%

97.3%

97%

97.5%

97%

96.5%

190260W
Single-, threephase
96.3%

Isolation

LF transformer

Transformerless

HF transformer

Transformerless

Transformerless

Transformerless

HF transformer

HF transformer

# Independent
MPPT

2 arrays

1 string

1 string

1 string

1 string

2 string

1 module

1 module

Configuration

Commercial example

2L-VSI
Simple &robust
Large capacity

AC-module

Photo

Table III. Summary of characteristics and examples of selected industrial photovoltaic inverter
topologies

V. RECENT ADVANCES ON GRID-CONNECTED PV INVERTERS


Last decade has seen marked progress in the research and development of new
power converter topologies for PV applications. Main research efforts have
concentrated on the highest possible efficiency, power density and reliability of the
converter in order to further increase the overall performance of the PV installation. In
the majority of cases the new emerged topologies are the full-power converters in which
the whole amount of the PV panel (or PV string) power has to be processed.
A. Advances in DC-AC Converters for PV Systems
As commented in Fig. 1, in a typical PV inverter the two-stage power conversion is
currently the most common approach to cope with a wide input dc voltage range
produced by the PV panel. In that case the PV power conditioning system consists of
the front-end dc-dc converter for the MPPT and the inverter to feed the power to the ac
load or grid [27]-[29]. However, this multiple-stage power conversion system could lower
the energy efficiency and reliability of the PV installation. To overcome these problems,
in 2003 the novel family of the single-stage buck-boost inverters was introduced by Prof.
F.Z. Peng [30], the most promising topology being the quasi-Z-source inverter (qZSI)
[31]. This buck-boost inverter is a combination of the two-port passive quasi-impedance

network with a two-level voltage source inverter (Fig. 4a). The distinctive feature of the
qZSI is that it can boost the input voltage by utilizing an extra switching state - the
shoot-through state. The shoot-through state is the simultaneous conduction of both
switches of the same phase leg of the inverter. This operation state is forbidden for the
traditional voltage source inverter (VSI) because it causes the short circuit of the dc-link
capacitors. In the qZSI, the shoot-through state is used to boost the magnetic energy
stored in the inductors of the quasi-Z-source network without short-circuiting the dc
capacitors. This increase in inductive energy, in turn, provides the boost of the voltage
across the inverter during the traditional operating states (active states). The qZSI has
the input inductor that buffers the source current. It means that during the continuous
conduction mode (CCM) the input current never drops to zero, thus featuring the
reduced stress of the input voltage source. Moreover, the properties of the qZSI allow
the energy storage (typically, battery) to be connected in parallel with one of the
capacitors of the quasi-Z-source network [32]. The state-of-charge (SOC) of the battery
is then controlled by varying the shoot-through duty cycle of the inverter switches.
Therefore, the simple energy storage system for covering the peak power demands
could be utilized in the qZSI without any additional circuits. The two-level qZSI could be
easily extended to the multilevel topology, as presented in Fig. 4b. The three-level
neutral point clamped qZSI has the advantages similar to those of the two-level
topology; moreover, it could be used with the single or multiple PV sources [33]. As in
the case of two-level qZSI the short-term energy storage (battery) can be connected in
parallel either with external (C2 and C4) of with internal (C1 and C3) capacitors of the
qZS-network. Thanks to all these advantages, the qZSI is referred to as one of the most
promising power conversion approaches for the future PV power conditioners.

Fig. 4. Generalized topologies of the most popular single-stage buck-boost inverters: two-level (a) and
three-level neutral point clamped (b) quasi-Z-source inverters

Another hot topic about recent PV inverters is the use of different multilevel converter
topologies to enable medium voltage grid connection. Most commercial topologies show
in Fig. 3 are in fact multilevel converters (3-level H-bridge, 3-level NPC, 3-level T-type,
and their derivatives). However, all these converters connect to low voltage grids, since
PV strings cannot surpass the 1000V limit due to module insulation standard. Therefore,
in order to be able to connect to medium voltage grids, the multilevel converters must
be able to support several individual strings at dc side and connect them somehow in
series through the converter power stages to the output. Several alternative topologies
have been introduced in order to achieve a high number of levels and reach medium
voltage operation [34]-[41]. An advantage of using multilevel converters as PV inverters
is related to the output waveforms high quality, reducing the grid connection filter needs,
leading to a compact design for low power applications (usually domestic roof-top). In
addition, the use of multilevel converters can lead to avoid the additional boost
converter in the input or the step-up transformer in the output eliminating additional

power conversion stages improving the efficiency of the system. On the other hand,
some multilevel converter topologies such as the cascaded H-bridge converter or the
modular multilevel converter can take advantage of splitting the PV array system in
order to achieve higher efficiency values using independent MPPT algorithms. This
could be interesting for central inverters of PV medium and high power plants [37]-[41].
Another research focus is located on developing PV inverters with additional energy
storage capability usually based on batteries. These hybrid systems present the
advantages of improving the frequency and voltage regulation and storing the energy if
it is not demanded by local loads and supply this energy when required increasing the
overall system operation (usually called peak load shaving). These systems are mainly
focused for stand-alone systems, household applications or weak grid-connected
applications of large PV plants [42]-[45]. The use of hybrid PV-batteries can be already
found as a commercial product (see for instance the Sunny Boy 3600/5000 Smart
Energy by SMA) for household applications [46]. This trend appears to be important in
the next future.
On the other hand, it is important to notice that the high penetration of PV systems
has led to consider future regulations following the path already written by wind energy
sector. In this way, future regulations about low-voltage ride-through and reactive power
compensation could be also applied to medium and large PV systems [47], [48]. This
issue will become particularly important for large PV plants normally using conventional
two-level three-phase central inverters. The future regulations probably will force to
upgrade the power conversion stage introducing multilevel converters and supported by
energy storage systems in order to meet the grid requirements.

B. Advances in DC-DC Converters for PV Systems


As was introduced in Fig. 1, The dc-dc conversion stage is usually introduced in order
to adapt the voltage range of the PV array to the DC-bus of the PV inverter and
simultaneously develops the MPPT control.

Related to this issue, another topic of growing interest in the PV topologies has
emerged in the field of Module Integrated Converters (MIC). Generally, MIC is a selfpowered high efficiency step-up dc-dc converter with galvanic isolation that operates
with autonomous control and is integrated to the PV panel for tracking the maximum
power point locally. The galvanic isolation is essential to reduce ground leakage
currents and grid current total harmonic distortion [49]. As in the case of previously
mentioned PV inverters, research trends here are directed towards the highest possible
power conversion efficiency and power density. According to our research survey, the
resonant power conversion with maximum possible utilization of the parasitic elements
of the circuit and the wide bandgap semiconductors is the most popular approach for
the MIC performance improvement.
Generally, MICs could be categorized as topologies either with a double stage or with
a single stage power conversion. In the first case, the auxiliary boost converter steps up
the varying voltage of the PV panel to a certain constant voltage level and supplies the
input terminals of the isolated dc-dc converter. In that case, the primary inverter within
the dc-dc converter operates with a near-constant duty cycle, thus ensuring better
utilization of an isolation transformer. In [50] the combination of a synchronous boost
converter with a series resonant dc-dc converter (SRC) was presented (Fig. 5a). The
SRC offers the advantages of high efficiency, as it can operate without switching losses
due to zero voltage switching (ZVS), and a high power density because of its
bidirectional core excitation. The two-stage structure could be simplified by the
replacement of a boost converter with the passive impedance network (Fig. 5b) [51].
The impedance network is a two-port passive circuit that consists of capacitors,
inductors and diodes in a special configuration. A specific feature of the impedance
network is that it can be short-circuited, which, in turn, will lead to the voltage boost
across the input terminals of the main converter [52]. Thus, the varying output voltage of
the PV panel is rst pre-regulated by adjusting the shoot-through duty cycle
(simultaneous conduction of both switches of the same phase leg of the inverter);
afterwards, the isolation transformer is being supplied a voltage of constant amplitude

value. The impedance source dc-dc converter [53] extended by the series resonant
network can minimize the switching frequency range of the traditional SRC and will lead
to high converter efficiency over a wide input voltage and load variation range.
Moreover, due to inherent short-circuit immunity, the reliability can be enhanced
substantially.
In a single stage power converter the primary inverter operates within the wide input
voltage range and the efficiency optimization could become an issue. Here different
approaches were recently studied. For example, in [54] the highly efficient multiresonant dc-dc converter was proposed (Fig. 5c). Despite its complex structure, the
converter has minimal number of the external discrete components in the design of the
resonant tank: the series and parallel inductances are realized by utilizing the leakage
and magnetizing inductances of the isolation transformer, respectively. The parallel
capacitance CP is mostly formed by the sum of the parasitic capacitances of the
rectifying diodes and the isolation transformer. In this converter the carefully optimized
resonant tank leads to high efficiency within a wide specified input voltage range.
The new resonant converter topology shown in Fig. 5e can operate in two resonant
modes adaptively depending on the panel operation conditions, thus maintaining a high
efficiency within a wide input range at different output power levels [55]. As in the case
of previous topology, the specific properties of the circuit components, such as parasitic
capacitances of MOSFETs, leakage and magnetizing inductance of the transformers,
were utilized as snubbers or elements of the resonant network. One of distinctive
features of this novel topology is a half-wave rectifier (formed by D3, S3, D4, and C3)
added to the secondary side of the transformer TX2. When the half-wave rectifier is
enabled, together with the voltage doubler rectifier of the main circuit, it will provide the
output voltage equal to their summed output voltages. The converter features ZVS for
primary side switches and zero current switching (ZCS) for rectifying diodes for both
resonance modes and achieves the maximum efficiency close to 97%.
Another approach to the high-efficiency resonant converter for PV MIC applications is
presented in Fig. 5d. With the simple addition of a bidirectional ac switch across the

secondary winding of the isolation transformer, the highly-efficient series resonant


converter is combined with both a phase-shift modulated full-bridge buck converter and
a pulse width modulated boost converter in order to provide input voltage regulation
over a wide input voltage and output power range [49]. The converter features the zerovoltage and/or zero-current switching of the primary side switches and the zero-current
switching of the rectifying diodes, which finally results in high efficiency within a wide
operation range of the converter. In all the above mentioned DC-DC converter
topologies, special attention was also paid to the reduction of circulation energy to
further increase the power conversion efficiency.
One of the significant advantages of the high-efficiency half-bridge LLC dc-dc
converter (Fig. 5f) is reduced number of primary side switches and, therefore, more
simple structure as compared to previous MICs. As in the previous cases, leakage and
magnetizing inductances of the isolation transformer together with external resonant
capacitor form the LLC resonant network. As a result, the main power switches can
achieve zero-voltage switching and the output diodes can realize zero-current switching
in a wide input and load range [56]. Traditionally, by help of the voltage doubler rectifier
the high voltage gain is realized with the optimal turns ratio of the isolation transformer.
The soft-switching current-fed push-pull converter presented in Fig. 5g is another
realization possibility of a simplified structure MIC. [57]. It has advantages of a
traditional current-fed push-pull converter, such as low input current stress, high voltage
gain and low conduction losses of switches. Moreover, thanks to the parallel resonance
between the secondary leakage inductance of the isolation transformer and a resonant
capacitor, the transistors are turned on and off at the zero-voltage and zero-current
conditions. The diodes of the voltage-doubler rectifier are also turned off at the zero
current.
An interesting topology of the low-cost MIC was presented in [58]. The classical twoinductor isolated boost converter was further improved by use of a nondissipative
regenerative snubber along with a hysteresis controller and constant duty cycle control
(Fig. 5h). Furthermore, a multiresonant tank formed by the magnetizing inductance of

the transformer, its leakage inductance, and the external resonant capacitor was
introduced. As a result of all these modifications, the proposed converter features low
input current ripple, zero-current swiching conditions for the input switches and output
rectifying diodes and improved light-load behavior.

Fig. 5. New emerged topologies of the PV module integrated DC-DC converters.

Input voltage
gain range

fsw
(kHz)

Effic.
(%)

#
switches

# diodes

Type of
resonanc
e

400

8.9 - 26.7

210 (boost)
350 (SRC)

97

Series

50 150

100

0.7 - 2

49.3

96

Series

244

20 - 35

700

20 - 35

215 - 268.5

96

LLCC

5d

300

15 - 55

320

5.8 - 21.3

130

97.4

Series

5e

240

22 - 40

400

10 - 18.2

76 - 185

96.5

LLC

5f

200

24 - 48

380

7.9 - 15.8

100

95.4

LLC

5g

250

20 - 40

400

10 - 20

50 - 100

96.6

Parallel

5h

210

26.6

350

13.2

100

93.6

LLC

Pmax
(W)

VPV
(V)

5a

275

15 - 45

5b

500

5c

# Fig.

VDCbus

(V)

Table IV. Specifications of some emerging DC-DC converter topologies for PV applications

Table IV summarizes the most important specifications of the experimental prototypes


of the discussed dc-dc converter topologies for PV applications (it has an indicative
character just to highlight the recent advances in the technology, more dateiled
information can be found from [49], [50], [53]-[58]).

C. Advances in Power Semiconductors for PV Systems


Power converters for PV systems are slowly taking advantage of the good
characteristics of WBG (Wide Band Gap) devices. WBG devices are built using nonsilicon materials like Silicon Carbide (SiC) or Gallium Nitride (GaN).

The main

characteristics that make WBG devices attractive as an alternative to silicon devices


are:
High voltage ranks, helping to build converters with larger nominal power.
Very fast commutation, enabling high switching frequency, reducing the size,
volume, weight and cost of passive reactive components, while reducing
switching losses.
High maximum working temperature, leading to an important reduction of size,
volume, weight and cost of auxiliary thermal management devices.

As an alternative for silicon devices, the cost of the WBG devices must be taken into
account, silicon industry takes advantage of 60 years (the first silicon bipolar transistor
was presented in 1954) of expertise, and consequently the production processes are
very mature and well optimized. On the other hand, the new processes are still far from
maturity, as they are in their first steps, being a very promising technology, as no doubt,
the cost reductions will come gradually. It is important to highlight that the extra cost of
the devices may be compensated by important reductions in costs related to passive
reactive components and heat management, of course for critical applications the
reduction of size and the increase of performances can make these devices very
attractive [59-61].

Table V. Commercial power semiconductor modules for grid-connected PV inverters

Solar power converters benefits greatly of the good characteristics of WBG new
devices and a large number of researchers present new developments both based on
SiC and GaN devices and the comparison with their counterparts made of silicon is
clearly favorable to the new devices [49], [59]-[67].

It seems that efficiencies over

99.5% can be reached with SiC devices for converters in the rank of 10 to 100kW.

Small converters in the range of 100W (suitable for panel integrated with the inverters)
have been demonstrated [64] to reach 1MHz of switching frequency. A summary of
some power modules with SiC diodes already in the market is shown in Table V.

VI. CONCLUSIONS
The PV market has experienced in the last decade an exponential growth, becoming
an important alternative and clean energy source in many countries. Along with the
decrease in price and the increase in efficiency of the PV modules, the PV converter
topologies have been continuously changing following more demanding requirements
and standards. These regulations are being adapted to a new power system scenario
where renewable energy sources are an important part of the energy mix. Nowadays,
and meeting these legal requirements, PV converter topologies deal with issues such as
high efficiency, high power density, grid code compliance, reliability, long warranties and
economic costs.
A good number of PV converter topologies can be found in the market for string, multistring, central and ac-module PV applications. Among all these converter topologies, it
can be affirmed that one of the most important appearances has been the multilevel
converters, mainly the NPC, the T-type and the H-bridge, not only for high-power
applications but also for residential applications in the kilowatt and low-voltage range.
In the near future, it is expected that a completely new family of PV converters will be
developed based on silicon carbide power semiconductors (there are some commercial
PV converters but only with SiC diodes). These new SiC-based PV converters and the
next generation GaN PV converters will reduce the compromise between performance
and efficiency enabling the next generation of grid-connected PV systems.

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