Solar Builder

MAR-APR 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 31 of 47

32 M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 8 Functionality proliferates The sum of available monitoring func- tionalities are difficult to count in one breath. Lior Handelsman, vice president of marketing and product strategy for SolarEdge, attempts the feat: "PV monitoring platforms now offer a wide variety of functionality such as granu- larity down to the module-level and entire PV fleet management, automatic alerts, comparative energy graphs [on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis, also including estimated energy], analysis of a module's power and voltage, performance ratio infor- mation, site-level reports on commission- ing and maintenance, inverter performance comparison reports, system performance reports, remote operation of the inverter and much more." While new functions have emerged, some older functions have been refined of late. "Greater inverter automation and alerts to installers that enable improved and more efficient O&M are now common place," suggests Stefan Grosjean, the CEO of Kortrijk, Belgium-based Smappee. One way inverter monitoring functions have grown is with the shift to module- level power electronics. SolarEdge, a pio- neer in power optimizers, offers a DC optimized solution that manages and mon- itors energy to maximize power generation. With such module-specific monitoring, array designers have increased flexibility with array design, including more ability to work around the problem of shading and uneven irradiance. MPP tracking over time can also help inform O&M considerations. "Detailed data points such as voltages and current per MPP tracker help to identify potential problems in the system. With the inverter being the heart and brain of a solar system, any state or error code shown by the invert- er and its monitoring platform help iden- tify errors throughout the entire system," Baldinger says. The wealth of module-specific data has brought a substantial shift in the commer- cial and utility market for inverter monitor- ing. For example, the increase in informa- tion granularity permits more string invert- ers to be used in place of a central inverter, notes Cedric Brehaut, the executive consul- tant at San Francisco-based Solichamba Consulting. "Going one step further in innovation, Huawei is now offering three-phase string inverters with built-in IV curve tracing functions," Brehaut says. IV curve tracing, which identifies the maximum power point for captured irradiance, is the best way to measure the performance of a panel or an array. Traditionally, IV curve tracing requires on-site work that now is being built into the inverter and accessible remotely via the monitoring software. More data more frequently Beyond module- and chain-specific data, the frequency of data in monitoring has risen to time units of minutes in place of hours or days. This avalanche of data enables monitoring systems to consider utility peak rate or time-of-use rates to curtail the consumption of energy from the grid during higher cost periods. "By simply visualizing the consumption in real time, the so-called Prius effect can occur, meaning that the raised awareness for energy consumption can lead to chang- es in behavior and, with that, a decrease of consumption," Baldinger says. "Consumption monitoring makes energy more visible, and visualized real-time data is more tangible than the numbers on the utility bill." Fronius recently re-designed its monitoring platform Solar.web, with improved usability and new analysis fea- tures for this very reason. Encompassing data feeds also provide the ability to drive advanced analytics to predict component failure so that O&M can be strategically planned. Advanced analytics involve benchmarking perfor- mance against similar plants, normalized for capacity and weather, as well as against a modeled plant that is based on historical operating data and weather conditions. However, such a capability is far from mainstream adoption yet, Brehaut suggests. "Monitoring software provider QOS Energy reports that only 10 to 20 percent of its clients currently use the benchmark- ing and digital twin functions built into the platform," he says. Customer, supplier relations As such rich functionality developments add more value to monitoring, the relation- ship between the customer and the moni- toring system provider changes substan- tially. This new possibility of customer ser- vice and interaction is the next big oppor- tunity for the solar industry to evolve. "Upselling strategies throughout the life- time of a system make a solar system sale less transactional and more based on long- term relationships, creating win-win situa- tions for both installers and system own- ers," Baldinger says. A solar monitoring platform is the key in this new frontier of customer relationship, lead management and upselling, including opportunities in solar system expansions, storage and energy efficiency. Fronius re-designed its Solar.web monitoring platform, improving usability and analytic features.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Solar Builder - MAR-APR 2018