Non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas are being consumed at a brisk pace while greenhouse gases contribute to atmospheric pollution. A global shift is underway toward the inclusion of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, for generating electrical and mechanical power. To meet this emerging demand, a solar based electrical microgrid study is underway at Clemson University. Solar energy is harvested from photovoltaic panels capable of producing 15 kW of DC power. Compressed air energy storage has been evaluated using the generated solar power to operate an electric motor driven piston compressor. The compressed air is then stored under pressure and supplied to a natural gas driven Capstone C30 MicroTurbine with attached electric power generator. The compressed air facilitates the turbine’s rotor-blade operated compression stage resulting in direct energy savings. A series of mathematical models have been developed. To evaluate the feasibility and energy efficiency improvements, the experimental and simulation results indicated that 127.8 watts of peak power was delivered at 17.5 Volts and 7.3 Amps from each solar panel. The average power generation over a 24-hour time period from 115 panels was 15 kW DC or 6 kW of AC power at 208/240 VAC and 25 Amps from the inverter. This electrical power could run a 5.2 kW reciprocating compressor for approximately 5 hours storing 1,108 kg of air at a 1.2 MPa pressure. A case study indicated that the microturbine, when operated without compressed air storage, consumed 11.2 kg of gaseous propane for 30 kW·hr of energy generation. In contrast, the microturbine operated in conjunction with solar supplied air storage could generate 50.8 kW·hr of electrical energy for a similar amount of fuel consumption. The study indicated an 8.1% efficiency improvement in energy generated by the system which utilized compressed air energy storage over the traditional approach.

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