Solar plants: Turning to IoT for output optimization

Solar plants: Turning to IoT for output optimization
Globally, demands for clean energy have led utilities to focus more on alternative ways to produce electricity. One of them is photovoltaics, whereby power is produced by way of converting sunlight into electric currents. With a subsequent increase in solar power generation facilities, which can be spread across a vast area of land, how to manage them effectively has becomes a major challenge. The Internet of Things and data generated by connected devices can help in this regard.
 
More and more, people are looking for alternative means to produce electricity aside from traditional coal- or gas-fired power generation, which emits more pollution and carbon dioxide into the air. Against this backdrop, solar power has gained popularity in recent years and likely in the years to come. According to GTM Research, GTM Research currently projects the annual global solar market to reach 85 gigawatts in 2017 – more than double the installed capacity in 2014. The research further points out that while global solar installations are expected to grow by less than 1 percent from 2017 to 2018, the market is expected to take off again in 2019 as tendered projects from earlier years reach their completion, and as new markets begin to take off.
 
With the solar industry taking off, there are certain challenges facing operators as well. Luckily, those challenges can now be addressed by the Internet of Things and data generated by connected devices. “The rising fortunes of the solar industry have created a critical need for scalability. Specifically, this means achieving the implementation and management of sprawling solar installations, the total infrastructure of which resides across many disperse and remote locations,” said Steve Cummins, Senior Director of Marketing at Opengear. “The Internet of Things (IoT) offers effective solutions to the industry’s scalability needs. As the increase in solar installations creates ever more endpoints that must be monitored and maintained, IoT sensors throughout these installations can serve to deliver proactive performance monitoring and real-time insights, allowing site management teams to easily oversee vast solar infrastructure.”
 
“The convergence of new-age technologies such as IoT is opening a world of possibilities in the energy landscape including the solar systems space. For instance, the age-old challenge of solar power generation – that is, the high dependency on weather can be addressed to a large extent by an IoT framework that allows connectivity of multiple plants for them to share key data on weather conditions thereby giving a realistic projection of generation output,” said Keshab Panda, CEO and Managing Director at L&T Technology Services. “Furthermore, individual plants can collect data from sensors installed to remotely monitor the health of PV units and predict unplanned maintenance.”
 
Naturally, IoT deployment in a solar plant setting is seen more in countries/regions with a booming photovoltaics industry. “In 2016, China and the Asia-Pacific led the way in installations of new solar photovoltaic capacity. At the same time, the United States has become one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic electricity markets, due in large part to rising consumer interest in clean energy, as well as available tax incentives and declining commodity prices. Worldwide, solar energy firms are rapidly expanding into those regions that provide the best opportunities for the growth of their businesses, regardless of distance from their previously existing installations. As a result, these firms are increasingly relying on IoT technology to make the monitoring and management of these vast new remote installations possible,” Cummins said.
 
“Due to combination of extremely fast paced innovation and a regulatory push by governments and environmental agencies, we are seeing that existing utilities and new incumbents based in Europe and North America are embracing IoT implementation in solar power,” Panda said. “Clients are demanding solutions that are integrated with a certain degree of maturity with respect to Industrial Internet of things. We have received various requirements where the tasks have ranged from creating new controllers to collect data at a higher rate from existing sensors on devices to come up with a complete remote monitoring framework for the plant.”
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