Best Practice

The Adoption of an Edge Computing and IIoT Solution to Optimise the Performance of Large Photovoltaic Plants

By improving the management of the many heterogeneous photovoltaic systems available, as well as the different solar parks, and being able to manage them from a single monitoring platform, we can optimise the service and avoid possible disruptions. With this priority in mind, one of the leading European renewable energy groups in Italy has decided to implement an IoT and edge computing-based architecture on its solar plants. The idea behind the solution is to ‘normalise’ the data collected from the different solar parks, cleaning up and ‘translating’ the raw data locally and subsequently sending only the key information to the cloud. This way it is possible to facilitate not only the storage but also an intelligent analysis of the information collected from different sustainable sources.

The company currently controls 30 photovoltaic plants located in eight regions: a ‘heritage’ of green energy as a result of progressive integration of plants associated with different manufacturers, managers and suppliers. This variety has therefore produced a significant level of management complexity, made even more difficult by the very nature of the plants, for which a targeted optimisation is needed (particularly when exceptionally large areas are involved, where even ensuring that a grid connection is available is a challenge in itself).

For this very reason, thanks to the advice provided by Concept Reply Italy, the Reply Group company specialising in IoT innovation in the industrial field, the energy group decided to develop an architecture that facilitated the intelligent monitoring of panels by making use of the IoT. Moreover, thanks to edge computing, it has enabled data to be analysed near the source, optimising the transmission of key information to the cloud through a non-capillary internet network.

Indeed, widespread connectivity is an important aspect of such open spaces. Due to exposure to different weather conditions, copper cables must be replaced by optical fibre. However, the costs for wiring the entire area would be excessive. With this in mind, Concept Reply has installed an IoT edge gateway within each internal distribution site where groups of inverters are present, which then communicate with the panels. In addition to the individual gateways, a ‘master’ gateway has also been installed to collect data already filtered on the edge and pertaining to the individual distribution sites, subsequently sending the data to the cloud via a fibre internet connection.

This intelligent system has enabled the company to obtain detailed information on the production levels of the solar parks and on the reliability of the parameters defined, as well as making it possible to monitor the performance of individual panels. Moreover, the data collected will also become important for reorganising the work conducted by other plants. The IoT edge gateway supplied by Concept Reply has made it easier to consult the data and brought a significant reduction of cloud-related costs while increasing security. But this is only the starting point. A great deal of future potential has been introduced thanks to the IoT edge solutions. By equipping the panels with ‘smart’ sensors and allowing them to communicate with the gateway, it also becomes possible to collect strategic information such as irradiation data and to cross this with meteorological data to facilitate better energy forecasts.

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