Advanced Monitoring at UK’s Largest PV Farm

Innovative switches enable remote monitoring at the UK’s Southwick Estate Solar Farm.
Published: Thu 23 Apr 2015

There is a growing need for the solar industry to supply up to date information on the generation of power and the identification of potential faults. Since the majority of solar farms are unmanned, remote monitoring is critical to measure variations in the power output and for identification of potential faults.

One such solar farm is the 48MW Southwick Estate Solar Farm near Fareham, Portsmouth-currently recognized as the UK’s largest and most environmentally friendly solar farm. The project has just reached completion and is now being connected to the grid and generating enough renewable electricity to supply the equivalent of approximately 14,500 average homes in the surrounding area. To enhance its operations, the farm has installed inbuilt metering and communications.

Switches for advanced monitoring

There is growing demand for technology that enhances the operation, monitoring and maintenance of solar farms. In response to this, Southwick developers chose power and automation technology group, ABB’s latest generation intelligent fuse switches to enable advanced monitoring of its operations. The switches have inbuilt metering and communications capabilities and will enable constant monitoring of the unmanned solar farm from a control centre in London.

ABB’s Slimline XR ITS2, which is a switch disconnector fuse fitted with an intelligent metering and communication unit inside its casing, can monitor voltage, current and power, and communicate with a high-level management system using the Modbus communications protocol.

By choosing ABB’s Slimline XR ITS2, the solar farm operator can be kept informed about the solar farm’s productivity. Should a fault arise, the tool can identify the precise location so that it can be resolved quickly, helping to reduce maintenance costs.

The solar farm has a total of 340 Slimline XR ITS2 switches in 20 cabinets that also contain inverters and miniature circuit breakers as well as a 400V/33kV transformers and switchgear, which control power injected into the local distribution network. The switches monitor voltage of key infrastructure, which is transmitted to a remote control centre in London.

Enhanced operational efficiency

As well as having high environmental standards, Southwick solar farm is also one of the first to use this latest low voltage technology for remote monitoring, an innovation that will lead to enhanced operational efficiency within the solar industry.

ABB’s Slimline SR ITS2 is the second-generation intelligent monitoring switch. It was introduced for simple and reliable remote control and monitoring. It has applications in commercial and industrial buildings as well as data centres, hospitals and solar farms.

In the event of a fault or a blown fuse at a solar farm, the ITS will detect a voltage drop and transmit its readings to a control centre. The voltage drop will set off an alarm and will identify exactly where the fault lies, prompting a technician to visit site with the right equipment and spares to rectify the fault and with no need for on-site investigation.

Another benefit of the switch is that the plant’s operator will be able to monitor production in real-time and this knowledge gives security and confidence in the plant’s operation, setting a new standard for environmental sustainability in solar farm operation.

There are over 80,000 data points being monitored at Southwick in near real-time.