Muhammad Atteeq

Muhammad Atteeq

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How can IoT be leveraged to optimize solar management systems?

The world needs a swift transition towards renewable energy sources given the climate change emergency. The adverse impacts of traditional energy generation are looming large on the environment leading to alarming climate conditions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), approximately two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to CO2 from fossil fuel combustion for energy generation.

Although amid all the crisis, some significant changes in the energy sector have been witnessed in the last few years. Following the global pandemic and massive supply chain disruptions, the renewable energy market is expected to plunge 10% this year.  According to the Guardian, global supplies of renewable electricity could increase by 50% in just five years. 

The Internet of Things has given rise to an ecosystem where regular daily items are connected through sensors leading to a new type of communication known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. The major disruptive effects of IoT can be seen across a variety of market sectors. The advantages of this technology in the renewable sector are boundless. It has successfully made a breakthrough in the world of technology making possible the emergence of innovative connectivity.

This article will give you an overview of how IoT can be leveraged in solar energy management and optimize solar management systems. So let’s get started

What is IoT enabled-solar management system?

IoT-enabled sensors are attached to the generation, transmission and distribution equipment across the solar farms. These sensors help with:

  • The collection and management of data
  • Monitoring the status of the equipment
  • The optimization of collection and distribution of the energy

Hundreds of individual solar panels can be monitored and managed from one central location with these connected sensors. Hence making it easier for grid managers to keep track of the solar energy systems and make informed decisions.

Market Size of Smart Solar management systems:

The smart solar market has seen a surge from USD 6.47 Billion in 2015 to USD 13.26 Billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.4% during the forecast period.

The global energy management system market size was USD 19.96 billion in 2019 and is projected to succeed inUSD 41.97 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 9.9% during the forecast period.

According to the research study, the global Internet of Things (IoT) in the Energy Market was estimated at USD 15 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach USD 85 billion by 2026. The global Internet of Things (IoT) within the Energy Market is forecasted to grow at a compound annual rate of growth(CAGR) of 25% from 2019 to 2026.

How does a smart solar management system works:

Ever considered utilizing solar power for your home or other energy needs on a big scale? As the cost of traditional energy is growing people are more inclined towards opting for renewable energy resources which are cost-efficient. It is estimated that in the coming few years over  70,000 solar panels will be installed every hour worldwide. Woah! That’s a huge number.

In 2015, the Isles of Scilly (UK) partnered with Hitachi to scale backthe island’s reliance on fossil fuels and cut electricity bills by 40%. to satisfy the goals, the island council installed 400 kW of solar panels on administrative and residential buildings and deployed Hitachi’s IoT platform to distribute the electricity harvested from renewable sources and monitor carbon emissions.

Smart solar monitoring solutions will make solar energy a more reliable and less resource-demanding source of energy. Every solar energy installation comes with a solar power monitoring device. This means thousands of devices in a solar farm. To ensure the efficient generation and management of solar energy, it is necessary to keep track of the performance of these devices which can only be made possible with IoT. Whether you are producing this energy for your home or selling it for a fixed price to a utility company, in both cases you need to be able to address the problems quickly and leverage the benefits out of your investment.

Let’s explore how a solar power monitoring system using the IoT works.

A solar farm is made up of thousands of panels each producing some amount of electricity independently. These panels are wired back to a central point where solar inverters come into action converting the direct current (DC) into alternative current(AC) which can be used for powering different components.

A smart solar power monitoring system consists of wired sensors monitoring the various aspects of the process. To make the most of your monitoring system it is important to ensure a stable communication network. This is necessary for the efficient transmission of data by the gateways to the cloud. If for some reason the networks fail to transmit data, it is highly likely to miss some of the crucial data indicating performance issues or misinterpret other available data.

You must be wondering how do these sensors communicate or transmit data? Well, there are two popular options i.e. cellular network and WIFI. Cellular coverage is prioritized by most of the vendors for its extensive coverage geographically, but it’s also fairly costly. And WIFI presents its own set of challenges the reinmany IT departments hesitate to permitthird-party IoT devices on their networks thanks to security concerns. Solar energy systems for commercial use often accompany a subscription component for a monitoring service and/or cellular connection as a part of the package.

What is being monitored by the systems?

Smart solar monitoring systems provide extensive sets of information about the performance of solar energy systems. External conditions that can be monitored for instance with the help of these sensors are:

  • Radiance of the sun
  • Temperature
  • Cell Temperature
  • A buildup of dirt and debris on panels

They can also be used to measure elements surrounding system performance, such as:

• String voltage

• Inverter performance

• Actual vs. modelled energy production

• System output (the AC electric energy)

• Battery voltage levels to work out battery health

Challenges Related to Utility-Scale Solar Farms:

The installation and operation of a utility-scale solar farm are challenging feet to achieve. Despite the huge advancement in technology, photovoltaic (PV) solar energy still comes with high unpredictability. The weatherlike radiationand ambient temperature can cause fluctuations and instability in power outputs increasing the pressure on the grid to take care of a uniformelectricity supply. Only a reliable monitoring system can save the users from the hassle of continuous environmental monitoring at solar farms providing an accurate forecast of power generation rates and respective adjustments in the grid.

The second challenge after the dependence of environmental factors is the optimization of the overall efficiency of a solar farm. It is necessary to ensure each panel is operating at peak capacity. Tracking the performance of individual modules is the real challenge, especially with hundreds or even thousands of on-field PV panels. Wired sensors are common among existing monitoring systems, but the high hardware and installation costs limit a scalable deployment. Therefore, albeit inefficiencies are pinpointed on a network level, it’s difficult for operators to trace their root causes. The shortage of visibility also causes maintenance to be done either too late or too frequently.

The Solution: IoT-enabled Solar Monitoring System

With the emergence of affordable and innovative connectivity, the deployment of granular monitoring networks at large-scale solar farms has become cost-efficient. The collection of important parameters panel-by-panel has led to easy access to data from a central user interface. This has resulted in endless opportunities of improving the efficiency and reliability of solar energy systems.

Here’s how IoT can help optimize solar energy systems at a large scale:

  • Enhanced Asset performance:

The different sets of data gathered with the help of smart sensors can help grid managers to uncover some potential threats and low performing units. This ultimately leads to enhancing reparation and maintenance planning beforehand. For Example, low air quality can be one of the causes of reduced energy production as dust accumulates on the panels. This can be avoided with smart sensors resulting in the regular cleaning of the panels.

  • Improved Worker’s Performance:

The automated data collection spares the workers from visiting the site without purpose. Instead, the time is utilized for more important tasks as the granular visibility gives full control to the technicians to locate and troubleshoot error sources.

  • Better Production Forecasts:

Smart solar monitoring systems can not only be utilized for preventive measures but also effective production forecast and grid stability. The data accumulated can help energy companies to predict and analyze the amount of energy produced on a certain day beforehand given the metrics at hand. This also improves the demand-supply chain and load management at grids.

  • Vandalism Prevention:

In rural areas, solar energy systems are prone to theft. This can be prevented with the help of IoT from vandalism threats. The sensors can detect suspicious movements around a panel or if it is dismantled from the supporting structure. This automatically triggers alarm alerting operators to timely intervene.

What does this all boil down to?

The potential of IoT in renewable energy is growing by leaps and bounds, specifically in the solar energy sector. The smart sensors are fueling the grids with critical data on energy supply for effective load balancing and demand responses.

It also provides transparent visibility of the asset performance enabling grid managers to tackle any trouble beforehand. So IoT can altogether facilitate a smooth transition towards a sustainable, renewable-driven energy grid.

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