With the global push for sustainable renewables, the fastest growing electricity source in the world today is solar photovoltaics (PV). The nearly “139 GW of global capacity” added in 2020 hiked the total to close to 760 GW, producing “almost three percent of the world’s electricity.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last year that electrical generation from renewable energy sources accounted for 21.02 percent of the total U.S. electrical generation. EIA’s Electric Power Monthly (with data through December 31, 2021) cites an over 25 percent increase in utility-scale and residential solar, making it the nation’s fastest growing source of electricity in 2021.
By the end of Q3 2020, the U.S. had enough solar panels installed to power 16.4 million American homes. According to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), through 2021, the U.S. had over 121 gigawatts (GW) of cumulative installed solar electric capacity – enough to power over 23.3 million average American homes and offset over 136 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The mainstreaming of PV as one of the top and most common renewable technologies for an electricity source is promising. The use of PVs helps reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while diversifying energy supply, not to mention reducing dependence on volatile imported fuels.
Even with the 6.7 percent decline in solar industry related jobs last year, in 2020 the American solar industry employed over 231,000 workers, and anticipates a sharp rebound in the coming years.
Solar Operations Monitoring Ensures Optimal Performance
With spikes on both residential and commercial solar installs, there’s a critical need for 24×7 operations, maintenance and asset monitoring of solar PV generating systems to secure optimal performance and ROIs for owners and operators. To maintain peak performance of solar systems, operators need affordable methods to remotely ensure full efficiency of their systems for preventative purposes and also in the event of failures.
Enter the world of remote management solutions, which are commonplace in other industries. By harnessing these remote management technologies, solar solution owners can quickly manage PV systems’ energy consumption and generation, optimize energy usage, and quickly be informed of and remediate damage. Until recently, remote monitoring systems (RMS) were considered costly and cost-prohibitive for smaller solar installs. This has been changing quickly.
Colorado-based SolarSCADA has been disrupting the solar asset monitoring market with its industry-first, standalone, fully integrated RMS system specifically designed and built for the PV industry, from the ground up. The system exceeds IEC 61724 specifications for such systems, and readily meets the needs of the commercial and industrial solar sectors as an alternative for all sizes of operations. Its low-cost asset monitoring package is easy to install and tailor to unique operational needs. The solution integrates an innovative hardware package to simplify sensor install, calibration, communication, data feeds and maintenance for common instrumentation used for solar system monitoring. As part of this package, the Radix IoT, LLC – Mango software is used to allow for automation, remote management and triage, and the ability to scale from one to tens of thousands of solar install sites without significant overhead expense.
Solutions, such as this, end the need for walked fields stretching out hundreds and thousands of miles and manually recording systems’ operations. Another advantage to this style of solution is the fact that renewable energy infrastructure is growing ever more complex. To be most effective, solar remote monitoring solutions must capture and use data from various sources in real time, and allow that data to be transformed into actionable outcomes for preventative maintenance. An IoT platform enables this functionality across one to thousands of sites. Data analyzed from this data lake allows for business insight into investments that are necessary to mitigate risks, boost uptime, improve cost efficiency and operational continuity. Distributed use of Mango’s platform allows for built in redundancy, just as faster data polling rates allow for much easier classification as to “why” a problem is occurring, not just “that” a problem is occurring. Polling data faster than the current industry practice of 15-minutes on average, Mango allows real-time visibility while other systems just average out.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasts residential, retail electricity prices will “continue to rise in 2022, although at a slightly slower rate” with average nominal price to “increase by 3.9 percent to 14.26 cents/kWh.” American households and businesses are already facing energy price hikes in their high energy bills. This is not foreseen to stop.
Utility companies are commonly tapping solar and other renewables to supplement customer needs. Expanding solar fields and other alternative renewable energy sources are proving to meet the ever-growing residential and commercial electricity needs so long as this source of energy can be seen as reliable and resilient in operations.
Integrating an IoT platform for RMS is the most effective path to this resilience goal. Operators at a central command station are alerted to real-time potential problems and triage them accordingly to prevent downtime. When problems can’t be fixed remotely, technicians arriving at the site are well informed of the problem beforehand and equipped with supplies to fix the problems efficiently.
Unlike other monitoring solutions, IoT platforms are built for dynamic and evolving requirements. These systems are not about rip and replace, but work with what is already there and are easily compatible and interoperable with existing industry protocols, systems and equipment, such as battery storage devices, sensors, meteorological equipment, transformers and grid technology. Additionally, the simplicity of modern IoT solutions naturally scales with solar assets. Sites no longer need a single large server as a point of failure, as each small part of a larger site can get a full-featured SCADA historian and system allowing for higher resolution distributed data and increased system reliability. This type of infrastructure thwarts a full solar SCADA outage since numerous hardware failures must happen simultaneously to cause a full data outage.
With management and operational staff often located afar, unable to have an on-site constant presence, monitoring solutions are becoming a necessity to the financial success of PV. IoT platforms bring this ability at a cost point that is ideal for operators looking to maximize their efforts on generation and uptime while minimizing their operational costs.
In an ever-expanding renewables world, SolarSCADA and Radix IoT’s intuitive, out-of-the-box flexible IoT platform turns disjointed data into business solutions for the growing global PV industry which is expected to rise from this year’s $184.03 billion to $293.18 billion in 2028.
Headline photo courtesy of SunShare’s Uncompahgre Community Solar Garden.SunShare’s Uncompahgre Community Solar Garden in Weld County, Colorado, uses SolarSCADA/Radix IoT remote monitoring to manage the over 30-acre solar farm.
Greg Linder is the founder of SolarSCADA which specializes in all-inclusive solar Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) offering. He holds an MSEE from Clarkson University, a BSEE from University of Illinois. He has designed over 2GW worth of SCADA for renewable energy projects since being introduced to the challenges of PV control while working on University of New South Wales’ Sunswift III solar race car in 2005. Linder is an IEEE member and Amateur Radio Operator, callsign KC9OPU.
Michael C. Skurla is the chief product officer of Radix IoT – offering limitless monitoring and management rooted in intelligence – and has over two decades’ experience in control automation and IoT product design with Fortune 500 companies. He is a contributing member of CABA, ASHRAE, IES Education and USGBC, and a frequent lecturer on the evolving use of analytics and emerging IT technologies to foster efficiency within commercial facility design.