We take a closer look at this question from various perspectives. What sort of solutions are offered by PV monitoring? What are the benefits for plant owners and installers? And what does the future look like in this area?
What is PV monitoring?
But let’s start from the beginning. What exactly is PV monitoring? A PV plant generates electricity, which in turn is fed into the grid or consumed directly. The monitoring system now tracks whether the expected electricity is actually generated or whether there are losses. If a fault occurs, i.e. less PV electricity is generated than is possible, the system reports this problem. Electricity production forfeited in this manner is also known as a yield loss.
Irrespective whether it is the PV plant owners, installers, EPCs and portal operators or the investors, asset managers and insurance companies, everyone expects to have faultlessly functioning photovoltaic plants without yield loss. But how can these expectations be met? A sophisticated Operation & Maintenance (O&M) solution and a PV plant monitoring service provide the answers.
What is O&M?
Operation & Maintenance is a process designed to help PV plants achieve the highest possible efficiency. It can already start when planning or financing a PV plant and extends beyond the operating period. During operation, the aim is to keep the number of faults in PV plants as low as possible and to rectify any faults quickly. If, for example, a problem occurs with a plant, the plant monitoring system detects the fault. If necessary, the system forwards this error message so that it can be corrected promptly. O&M therefore ensures that the plant’s downtime is minimised and its running time is maximised.
Advantages of external PV system support
This information is forwarded if, for example, plant monitoring is required and the operator of the plant does not want to carry out the necessary work itself. In this case, it passes on the monitoring to a third party, a so-called external portal operator.
At Solare Datensysteme, the external portal operator’s job is carried out by the Solar-Log™ WEB-4U team under the direction of Dirk Gabel, Manager Operations. He, together with Christian Schack, Marcel Herzmann and Manuel Badalucco, form the core team for plant monitoring. With the Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ platform and the Solar-Log™ WEB-4U service, they have almost 1,200 PV plants in view. The spectrum ranges from domestic systems just under 3 kWp to 2 MW industrial plants.
Fast information flow & analysis of error messages
The experts from the WEB-4U team monitor PV plants on behalf of portal operators. They analyse and evaluate all incoming error messages. Part of the service includes the proactive flow of information between experts and portal operators. If the worst comes to the worst, they immediately initiate measures to solve the problem. These include a comprehensive information package. This contains, for example, information and details about the respective problem as well as recommendations for finding a solution. This facilitates the work of the installers and gives them more time for their core tasks.
Who benefits from the service besides the portal operator?
- The provision of detailed information and empirical values enables, for example, potential for improving PV plants to become clear. This in turn improves the performance of the plants. Plant owners therefore doubly benefit from professional monitoring: with more service, because problems with the plant are resolved promptly, and with more security, because they know the plant is monitored at all times.
- Transparent reporting is important for investors. The continuous monitoring and logging of plant data ensures that the reporting is straightforward.
- In the event of damage, it can be helpful to submit logs to the insurance companies to speed up the settlement process. In addition, comprehensive forecast values help, for example, asset managers select a suitable time for maintenance work.
- Qualified and neutral PV plant monitoring plays a decisive role in the O&M process. Because without this it wouldn’t be possible to take any further steps in solving a problem – or a problem would only be noticed at a late stage.
Future steps for improved PV monitoring
Holger Schroth, Chief Product Officer at Solare Datensysteme GmbH, has in-depth knowledge of the PV industry and knows which developments would support installers and plant supervisors. Mr Schroth gives us a small glimpse into the future of photovoltaics and the innovations it could bring with it:
Automated fault detection
One of the most interesting areas is certainly automated fault detection. The new Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4 offers context-related error analysis that provides plant operators/supervisors with all the necessary data. This information already makes troubleshooting faster and easier.
This area will certainly offer considerable potential in future. It is conceivable, for example, that in-depth data analyses will make it possible to recognise and localise fault patterns even faster and more effectively. These intelligent analyses would not only be able to reproduce specific fault patterns, but also provide plant operators with targeted options for eliminating the faults.
In practice, this could then be applied as follows: the monitoring system reports a communication problem between the data logger, PV plant and portal. The portal then automatically triggers a test routine and checks various sections in the communication chain. The result is passed on to the user and, depending on the location of the fault, the user is given various options for correcting the fault. The system therefore recognises that a connection to the gateway is available in the PV plant and passes this information on to the user. This eliminates the need for time-consuming troubleshooting along the entire communication chain.
These and other tools are conceivable and offer the O&M partner the ability to save time during troubleshooting, which in turn increases the operating times of the plant and ensures its cost-effectiveness.
Directly order spare parts
Another area with potential for development is the ordering of spare parts. A particular problem with existing older plants is that it is often difficult to find the right spare parts.
This is especially evident with modules. Here the output classes have developed massively over the last five years. If module problems occur in an older PV plant, there are hardly any suitable models available should any replacements be needed. Some suppliers have already recognised this and offer products and services for this.
If the necessary component information were available via a suitable interface, the O&M partner could search for a suitable replacement immediately after detecting the fault and have it delivered directly to the PV plant. This saves time and minimises the error rates caused by manual transfers. Ultimately this would in turn minimise the PV plant’s downtime and maximise the yield.
Early yield forecasts
Let’s go back to the deeper data analysis and thus, for the time being, to the last aspect in our glimpse into the future. This is essentially about identifying faults before they even occur. This is certainly the highest level of plant monitoring and thus also the most complex, as a large number of factors are involved here. The greatest work here lies first of all in creating a suitable data structure so that the volume of data can also be specifically examined for the desired results.
“Solare Datensysteme has so far always focused on plant monitoring, and this will remain one of our important cornerstones in the future. That’s why we’re already very busy with these topics today and are sharing ideas with our customers and partners in the market. We’re looking forward to an exciting future with renewable energies,” Holger Schroth continues.
Thank you for this exciting glimpse into the future.