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Canadian solar farm operator keeps panels spotless with thermal and IP cams

Canadian solar farm operator keeps panels spotless with thermal and IP cams
Canadian solar farm operators Firelight Infrastructure Partners and Great Circle Solar Management recently deployed a new security monitoring system comprising of Axis Communications thermal cameras, HD quality PTZ and fixed network cameras, and upgraded existing analog cameras to IP video system using video encoders at plants in Ontario. UCIT Online Security, an Axis partner and system integrator, recommended the solution to be implemented at the sites that each inhabits 100 acres of open ground outside of smaller population centers. So far, the systems’ greatest ROI has been as a day-to-day management tool to keep solar cells free from snow and dust to effectively convert sunlight to electricity.

Canadian solar farm operators Firelight Infrastructure Partners and Great Circle Solar Management recently deployed a new security monitoring system comprising of Axis Communications thermal cameras, HD quality PTZ and fixed network cameras, and upgraded existing analog cameras to IP video system using video encoders at plants in Ontario. UCIT Online Security, an Axis partner and system integrator, recommended the solution to be implemented at the sites that each inhabits 100 acres of open ground outside of smaller population centers. So far, the systems' greatest ROI has been as a day-to-day management tool to keep solar cells free from snow and dust to effectively convert sunlight to electricity.

Firelight Infrastructure Partners, a Canadian infrastructure fund with US$300 million in capital to invest in renewable energy projects, works with Great Circle Solar Management to finance, own and operate solar plants in Ontario.The province is eliminating coal-fired electricity plants by 2014. To encourage private enterprises to invest in renewable energy, Ontario offers fixedpriced 20-year electricity contracts for providers of renewable energy.In partnership with Great Circle Solar Management, a portfolio of three 10-megawatt solar plants have been built or are under construction throughout the province.The plants seclusion necessitates a real-time security and monitoring system that operates 24/7, yet is still cost effective. 

 A remote monitoring system was needed to provide security and check the status of the far-flung plants. A number of options were considered, including guards, motion detectors and the use of IR and/or PTZ cameras. UCIT's solution delivers three critical prerequisites: large coverage area, durability and reliability. UCIT, which monitors 4,000 surveillance cameras in Canada, provides year-round monitoring. UCIT specializes in short-term surveillance initiatives like construction sites; in contrast the solar plants had to operate for 20-plus years. “We needed cameras that are durable and cover a lot of space,” said Erik Mikkelsen, President, UCIT. “Many would recommend IR cameras, but typical IR illuminators burn out every three to five years, so over 20 years you would replace them multiple times. Also, with IR illumination you can only see 20 to 40 meters at night.”

“The Axis thermal cameras [chosen] can see up to 1,100 meters in complete darkness,” said Mikkelsen. “So we need fewer cameras, less cabling and a lot less maintenance.”

All three sites leverage thermal network cameras with varying lens options for outdoor detection, and then use a mix of outdoor PTZ domes and 1080p HD network cameras for detailed recognition. Fixed network domes were selected to secure building interiors, and existing analog cameras were digitized using video encoders. The entire system is controlled by UCIT's own VMS. Video is recorded locally and archived for a minimum of two weeks. During an incident, UCIT begins live monitoring and recording at its Mississauga office.

Staff have a clear view of the grounds if an alarm is triggered by in-camera analytics or motion sensors, and can contact law enforcement and warn intruders using loudspeakers and controllable lighting. “If motion sensors or in-camera analytics trigger an alarm and we see trespassers, we can use the PA system to announce that authorities have been notified and they should leave,” said Mikkelsen. “If it's a work crew, we ask them to call our office and explain why they're there.”

The systems' greatest ROI has been as a day-to-day solar cell management tool. Great Circle and Firelight personnel can monitor the condition of the panels remotely and in real time. Without the cameras, costly trips to these distant locations would be required. “Theft and security have not been an issue to date,” said Noel McDonald, Associate, Great Circle Solar. “In fact, the cameras have been most useful from an operational standpoint.”

“We started out looking for a basic security package, but we ended up with a tool that allows us to improve our operations,” Adam Reeds, Director, Firelight Infrastructure Partners. “This has actually turned into a project management tool, with security being the secondary consideration.“

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