In an increasingly distributed and digitised energy supply market, the role of wind and solar power in driving a decentralised model is immense.
An April 2017 study by BCC Research estimates that the distributed renewables market will grow from nearly $22.3 billion in 2016 to $30.4 billion in 2021 - or an annual growth rate of 6.4%.
Government policies particularly in Europe are supporting the growth of distributed generation and increasingly large solar and wind power plants.
And energy companies are seeking workable solutions that will allow fluctuating volumes of wind and solar energy onto national or pan-regional grids.
The promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) allows for the integration of operational and information technology but there are still pain points for network operators - how can they collect data from equipment in real-time?
Daniel Sun, Senior Product Sales Manager at Advantech, identifies that solar or wind power system integrators are struggling with the integration of multi-vendor controllers.
“They need to handle different protocols and migrate older technology into a single application,” says Sun in reference to photovoltaic (PV) power plants typically including multiple vendor inverters, convergence boxes, high/low AC/DC power distribution cabinets and other equipment.
“Compared to automating a high-voltage substation, which is a very turnkey solution with several decades of technology behind it, distributed and renewable energy is different especially for wind or solar power.”
Sun comments that when Advantech’s clients are faced with many different system brands within the renewable energy technology market, their challenge is “to integrate them into a single system. We help them to make a bridge to bring these older systems into one platform,” he says.
The Taiwanese industrial computing company offers an industrial communication gateway-based asset monitoring system for distributed solar monitoring.
The solutions aims to use communication gateways to collect field data from smart devices and classic hardwired I/O to monitor instrumentation that are often widely dispersed over a site, according to a company white paper on remote monitoring released in April 2017.
Relatively large quantities of power meters and inverters represent the smart devices at these sites.
There are also typically packaged controls for articulating solar panels or operating support systems, explains the paper.
And other instrumentation includes environmental sensors for temperature, wind and sunlight levels.
Advantech positions ECU-1152 Intelligent Communication Gateways (ICG) throughout the site to connect with the target devices and minimise the amount of field wiring.
The local ICGs interconnect on-site using Wi-Fi, and are concentrated to another ICG for uplinking to the cloud over 3G or GPRS cell communications.
Solar power plants data integration
Sun comments on a client project where Advantech integrated the OT and IT data from many different types of solar panels across 30 factory units into a single platform.
“Our solar power management system can integrate data from roof-top distributed solar panel for small generators up to large power generation systems in the same platform.”
He explains: “In China, network operators have integrated a geographic information system into our system to generate reports for each solar plant, and understand how much power each is generating and how much CO2 is being saved.”
Wind power management - extracting real-time data
And does the same IT/OT integration rules apply for wind power?
Yes, says Sun. “The architectural point of view is quite similar. Wind farm operators are each using different brands of turbines each with its own SCADA system. The challenge for an energy distributor is how do you collect all of this data into a single view then integrate it and generate visualisations.”
Advantech says its system helps wind power end users and owners to easily know all the key data on distributed generation installations.
This type of monitoring also helps with predictive maintenance whether it is for dirty solar PV panels or faulty turbine blades.
And the role of standards? “Advantech never uses any closed system. For integrated smart grid and microgrids, and also migrators for the medium or high voltage, we apply substation standards like IEC 61850,” he confirms.