IoT: Powering Smart Solar Farms for Asset Management and Beyond

Pravallika Kandakatla -
Illustration: © IoT For All

Solar farms are increasingly becoming viable investments for energy production compared to traditional energy production. In a bid to boost cost-effectiveness, businesses in the solar energy industry focus on asset management and monitoring.

Currently, most of the energy companies are moving towards IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to manage solar power production better. Although solar farms are typically metered in real-time to identify the overall revenue, individual panels are usually not monitored.

IoT empowers businesses to directly manage every solar panel in the farms to identify faulty devices. With the IoT technology, sensors are attached to panels for workflow automation and asset monitoring.

Solar Farm Asset Management

The traditional way of managing assets in companies has proved to be more time-consuming, less efficient. It requires more human resources to do the job manually – which is also error-prone. The need for asset management is growing stronger as the world is currently adding 70,000 solar panels an hour (report by IEA).

IoT sensors are attached to every asset to keep track of their asset health information actively. These sensors send information like the current location, health, running status, and possible malfunctions of the assets in an automated process.

This process reduces human effort and the need to check & maintain each asset constantly. It allows the connected devices to communicate more effectively between themselves and automatically send information to the required destination.

Advantages of IoT

Cost

By automating functions, IoT helps lower energy bills and reduces the carbon footprint, saving you a lot of time & money in the long run. Maintenance costs also drop down drastically with connected assets. Asset management with IoT also results in better uptime of systems. Businesses can also improve their compliance as newer regulations are introduced in the industry; with effective asset management, the risks of fines and penalties for non-compliance drop.

Real-Time updates

IoT sensors on the panels enable businesses to get real-time updates easily. The IoT sensor monitors parameters like temperature, energy output, cardinal direction, and tilt angle. These energy companies get a visual overview of the panels’ output through location and color. Due to this visual granularity, businesses can access status updates and correct the issues in real-time.

Maintenance

Once companies have real-time updates of the panels, they will know which panel has an issue and needs quick maintenance. Businesses can identify the specific issue that leads to a decline in the farm’s overall performance, whether it is an incorrect tilt angle, low energy output, or any other issue. Maintenance teams can swing in action to prevent major failures and downtimes occurrences.

Predictive Analytics

IoT-enabled monitoring uses historical data to forecast energy output and predict the best ways to manage solar farms based on the projected conditions. Therefore, solar energy companies predict the amount of solar energy that would be produced on a particular day. They can also anticipate how best to adjust other energy resource inputs for improved demand-supply balance.

Enhanced Worker Productivity

Another way IoT helps solar farm owners is by ensuring the productivity of workers. As stated earlier, IoT technology is capable of instantly identifying and troubleshooting error sources. Rather than inspecting every panel manually, automation helps in sending notifications to maintenance teams regarding error-specific panels. Hence, field trips are significantly reduced, and technicians are freed to do more important tasks.

Theft Prevention

Smart farms, especially those in rural areas, can greatly benefit from the Internet of Things. Solar panels feature an IoT-based monitoring system incorporated to protect solar panels against vandalism and theft attempts. Every solar panel has an IoT sensor that detects any suspicious activity around it. The sensor can also detect if the solar panel is removed from its supporting structure and notify the operators in time.

Implementation and Challenges

Since IoT involves the connectivity of a network of physical objects with sensors and software to exchange data, IoT implementation can be challenging for businesses doing it the first time. IoT implementation involves 5 components: sensors, networks, standards, intelligent analysis, and intelligent actions.

While IoT positively impacts smarts farms by automating things to save time and cost, there are concerns to be taken care of:

Security

The biggest concern for most users is security. The fact that it connects all devices/panels to the internet, makes it prone to security threats which can limit or affect the performance of the systems put in place.

Revenue and Affordability

Another challenge of IoT-based solutions is that it comes at an inherently high cost which can be a challenge for organizations with a low budget. Owing to their low margins, they’re less likely to invest in this new technology than large-scale companies.

Power Consumption

Unlike wired systems, wireless devices have limited battery life and can consume more power. There’s a need to design IoT systems with low power sensors to reduce the electricity bill.

Network Issues

In most cases, panels powered by IoT may fail because of the poor network in the area. This is particularly true when they are installed in urban settings.

Conclusion

IoT’s breakthrough in smart solar farms has empowered energy companies to manage without large-scale human effort. With a focus on solar energy growing, IoT has a bigger role to play.

With decreased sensor costs and better connectivity, energy companies can introduce IoT for asset monitoring and management at different scales of solar farms. Critical data gathered can also throw several insights that help in decision-making to enhance the efficiency and reliability of solar farms.

Author
Pravallika Kandakatla - Technology Blogger for IoT, Cloud, & Analytics, Saviant Consulting

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Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...