Monitoring-software options in the market today provide a wide range of useful applications for developers, installers, and asset managers of PV systems.
By Robert Schaefer, President and CEO of AlsoEnergy
As the worldwide solar energy marketplace matures and evolves, several market forces are driving greater interest in software applications to monitor PV system performance. Investors who no longer receive immediate financial incentives are turning a more critical eye toward long-term ROI on solar power systems. Meanwhile, as existing installations grow older, asset managers are asking how they can maximize yield from aging systems. Finally, as the utility-scale solar market heats up, investors in this segment are adjusting to the scaled-up economic risks associated with downtime and other performance-related losses.
Monitoring-software options in the market today provide a wide range of useful applications for developers, installers, and asset managers of PV systems:
- Assessing solar resources at various proposed project sites
- Generating site-specific generation forecasts and baselines
- Performance modeling with variables (single-axis vs. dual-axis tracking, for example)
- Optimizing system design, layout, and wiring
- Commissioning and performance testing
- Executing control commands for optimized integration with power grid and battery system
- Improving efficiency and reaction time of O&M services
Monitoring software is an integral part of a successful O&M strategy for most solar energy projects. A monitoring program will collect data and perform an analysis using user-defined metrics. Then it will send email notifications to designated personnel. The software enables remote management for a full portfolio of PV projects.
Monitoring applications can provide timely, actionable insights to diagnose PV-system-performance issues including hardware failure and degradation, shading, soiling, snow cover and system damage resulting from storm, wildlife nesting, etc. Well-configured monitoring systems can often identify the root cause of performance issues, along with the severity and location of the problem, resulting in faster and more effective troubleshooting and resolution.
When planning a monitoring system, there are several factors to consider:
What level of analytic capabilities is needed for your project?
Every system may have particular needs for monitoring analytics. Variables that often determine monitoring needs include system size, market value of electricity, performance guarantees, O&M requirements, grid integration and more.
What level of analytic capabilities is needed for your portfolio?
Consider also the software application features to help manage your entire fleet. The need to efficiently operate and maintain a fleet of systems demands built-in analytic tools. Look into the software application’s ability to compare performance across the fleet while testing performance in real time.
What is the best solution to provide Internet access on site?
Considerations for scalability and data security have led most monitoring providers to offer web-based software hosting. This means that Internet access must be provided at the project site. Ground-mount projects typically use a cellular modem to communicate data to the web-based application. Roof-mount systems are often able to send data through the local area network associated with the facility. Using the LAN does save the cost of a cellular data plan, but this approach requires on-site configuration to ensure proper data transfer through any network security software, firewalls, etc.
Do your performance-monitoring goals require an environmental data source?
Stakeholders in many solar-energy projects demand some form of localized environmental data. Local irradiance data is a key factor to understand system performance adjusted for available sunlight and other environmental factors. Determine monitoring-software abilities to create real-time performance models that can chart reporting generation data alongside expected benchmark values based on site-specific environmental conditions.
Do your performance monitoring goals require DC-side data?
Another popular feature in most monitoring programs is the option for greater data granularity. Measuring current on the DC side of a PV system provides valuable insight into the health and efficiency of your inverter hardware. DC-side monitoring also contributes to efficient and effective troubleshooting for localized problems in the array, so you can spend less time working on site.
Does your project include wireless communications needs?
In some cases, wiring for data communications may be impractical or prohibitively expensive. A wireless communications solution may be deployed in these cases.
Is monitoring software a value-add for your project customers?
Various monitoring platforms include software features that may appeal to end users and system hosts, helping developers close bigger deals. Monitoring software features that may appeal to system hosts and owners include a branded kiosk display, energy-consumption monitoring and net-metering capabilities and power-quality monitoring, as well as accounting and billing software components.