By Vassilis Papaeconomou, managing director, Alectris
Inverters are a vital part of any solar project, ensuring that plants produce the optimal amount of power at all times and providing the key link between photovoltaic systems and the grid or energy offtaker. But despite their increasing sophistication and importance to solar plant electricity production, inverter data is often misunderstood by project owners and operators. This is due to a lack of investment in sophisticated software that can handle complex data — resulting in decreased energy production.
In contemporary solar PV plants, inverters are multi-functional, assisting with grid support related to voltage, frequency, communications and controls. On top of this, smart inverters can use Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) to hold voltage and current at the optimal point on a solar module performance curve to maximize power extraction and revenue.
But these additional functionalities are of no benefit to a solar project owner if the inverter is not performing correctly, and in fact can have the opposite effect. In 2019 alone, 27% of total lost productivity was caused by offline inverters.
Little attention has been paid to this, and while advanced inverter technology has become more commonplace in solar projects, legacy operations and maintenance software is still being used. Sophisticated software combining enterprise resource planning (ERP) and asset management platforms are available on the market and solar project owners and operators now have an opportunity to effectively manage smart inverters and minimize solar losses.
High-quality data is fundamental to optimizing inverters
By performing multifaceted data analysis, combined ERP and asset management software platforms can draw high-quality information from inverters to identify both how they are operating and if they are enabling solar projects to operate at maximum capacity.
In this way, sophisticated systems can uncover the root cause and scope of solar asset failures — whether mechanical or electrical — and track where solar projects are losing revenue. By establishing when and how often inverters are malfunctioning, project owners can be proactive in taking action to avoid future failures and ensure safe system operation.
Aggregating performance monitoring and financial data
To fully understand the impact of solar project failures on the financial performance of an organization, solar PV monitoring data must be combined with wider financial data. More basic asset management software has historically fallen short in this area as it has focused primarily on asset performance without taking into consideration broader trends across the business. This has led to decisions being made on the basis of an incomplete picture, which could lead to further asset damage and revenue loss.
When used alongside ERP software, project owners can centralize data across monitoring, financial and operational aspects of their organizations and draw macro-trends between inverter failures and low solar asset productivity. By identifying correlations between failure rate, asset downtime and expected revenue estimates, sophisticated software can accurately calculate the financial implications of different failures. As a result, ERP software can enable project owners to more effectively prioritize which failures to repair and minimize revenue impact and asset damage.
By centralizing data, project owners can gain a greater understanding of the operational and financial impacts of inverter and other solar component failures on the broader organization and take swift action to tackle the issue and reduce the risk of it occurring again.