Advanced technology has given rise to a new role for monitoring software. In the world of the Internet of Things, for instance, innovative startups like Hologram are combining the security benefits of using software and hardware to build a defense layer against cyber-attackers.
A similar principle holds true when converting sunlight into usable energy efficiently. Software-defined solutions, paired with hardware innovation, are the key to creating a monitoring solution that pays for itself in terms of reducing losses.Every strategy begins with a data-driven approach. Real-time data, analyses over short time-frames, and longitudinal studies are all necessary for solar installers and operators looking to reduce potential losses. As the renewables market continues to mature and gain continued competitive advantages in terms of innovation, storage, and cost, more organizations are thinking about how to use this data prior to installation, to minimize the potential for losses.
The benefits of a methodical, structured approach to solar analytics speak for themselves. Investors develop a deep degree of responsiveness into project planning, can make informed pivot decisions, increase their responsiveness, and keep a closer eye over risk alerts.
The challenge is that every solar project is unique. From the materials you choose to the scale at which your organization delivers renewable energy solutions, the analytics that you need and value will vary.
What best practices can organizations employ to convert solar rays to energy more efficiently? We interviewed Robert Magyar, 35-year-veteran of renewables industry and founder of Navitus Strategies to share his perspectives on this topic.
Boviet Solar USA: Robert, can you tell us a bit about the company that you’ve founded and what sparks your interest in the solar efficiency monitoring?
Robert: My consulting services company, Navitus Strategies, assists renewable energy and battery manufacturers in determining where best their engineering solutions can play a role and be successful in the energy markets at large.
I’m passionate about this challenge, if I may borrow from the popular Game of Thrones phrase, “Winter is coming.” Today, we have millions of commercial and residential property owners who have to deal with the long-term effects of more extreme weather, localized flooding due to severe rain storms, and the increasing realities of sea levels rising.
Despite the nay saying rhetoric of special interests who claim climate change is a hoax and sea level rise will be decades in the future, we are seeing more and more people today dealing with this changing environment. Distributed energy resources, as in solar and wind, along with the batteries to store this energy for when needed, provide an expansive list of individual benefits which many people today are only beginning to learn about.
I believe it worthwhile and of merit to be a resource to people to learn about what these technologies can do for them.
Boviet Solar USA: What are some challenges that exist with optimizing sunlight efficiency today, from your perspective?
Robert: Perhaps the biggest single challenge to obtaining increased sunlight efficiency lies in the fact that many properties only allow a certain number of solar modules to be installed.
In the U.S., the typical American property owner is using far more electricity than what can be produced by a property specific sized solar system. This is not an issue throughout the rest of the world where property owners use much less electricity than an average American. So while a localized solar system might provide 80% to 90% of the average German property owner's needs, this same-sized physical system might only provide 35% to 40% of the average American property owner's electrical needs.
A second challenge lies in the fact that many state governments, under pressure from the oil, gas, nuclear, coal and electric utility industries, do not have level playing field public benefit regulations which facilitate the installation of solar, wind, and battery storage resources within a given electric utility grid.
Boviet Solar USA: How can data help?
Robert: Data is starting to and will continue to play a huge role, both in leading to a wider adoption of renewable energy technologies, as well as assisting electrical equipment manufacturers to continue to innovate and improve the technical efficiency of their distributed energy solutions.
For the clients, having their solar, wind, and battery storage arrays constantly recording performance data and tying this information back to any number of operating environment variables, such as a given day's weather, humidity, temperature, or storm patterns, informs the buying clients where their electricity production stands. Community renewable energy installations, wherein one large installation feeds a small community of users, is enabled by monitoring data, not just in terms of electrical output, but also in terms of property owners becoming more aware of how much electricity they are using on a daily basis.
For the manufacturers, performance data is king. Solar module manufacturers now have increasing access to an ever expanding database of solar installations informing these manufacturers not only know how their product is performing, but also that of their solar module competitors.
Real-time and in-field data assist the manufacturers in their incessant drive to squeeze out more electrical performance per module cell, allowing the inverter manufacturer to minimize power conversion losses and operate at much higher output efficiencies while data assists the battery manufacturers to know what is the best operating environment for their products and how they increase duty cycles of charging, discharging and then re-charging.
Boviet Solar USA: What are some innovative ways that companies are using long-term, short-term, and real-time data to better improve resource allocations?
Robert: Software is rapidly becoming the driving force within the renewable energy industry for the express purpose of improving company and client business benefit value propositions. New systems are now taking a holistic data set approach. To date the industry has focused on monitoring modular efficiency performance and related financial performance to market their solutions.
Robert: The wild card in the energy business is the weather and we can clearly see it is becoming more extreme throughout the world. In 2014 The Harvard Business School published perhaps one of the first pivot strategy pieces titled, Resilience in a Hotter World. In this publication, Harvard researchers began to challenge companies to think in terms of disruptive ‘what if’ scenarios as in Black Swan type of events, such as Hurricane Sandy which ravaged the U.S. Northeast Region of the country in 2012.
Such companies as Schneider Electric, a worldwide leader of a wide-variety of sophisticated electrical equipment, now offers 24/7/365 weather data to owners of renewable energy generating assets to aid in short and long-term weather pattern visibility. This one critical data set variable, the weather, affects everything from knowing when and for how long local electrical grids might be down or when they have a high probability of going down, and to how much stronger a renewable energy manufacturer might need to reinforce their products to operate effectively in a more demanding climate.
PowerTag wireless energy sensor for panels. Image via Schneider Electric
Data also plays a key role in assisting commercial clients to inform sooner rather than later how they should plan to expand their renewable energy assets in the face of their company’s growth plans as growth for a company requires increased demand for electricity.
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