With the rising global temperatures and energy shortages, countries and organizations are exploring alternate sources of energy. Among the many sources, solar energy is considered to be one of the robust solutions for the energy crisis. While the technology is mature enough, it’s still very expensive, and there’s considerable research going into improving its efficiency and producing a justifiable ROI.
The Internet of Things is one of the top solutions that can make solar energy systems more efficient. Using the granular data offered by IoT sensors, users can gain insights into their solar energy systems to make them more efficient. In this article, we explore the role of IoT in solar energy and how it can benefit users.
What Is IoT? How Can You Use the Internet of Things in Solar Energy Systems?
IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a network of devices connected to each other. These devices can communicate with each other, and since they’re usually connected to the wider internet, users can access and control them remotely. IoT devices are used commonly in smart homes, industrial automation, farming, and many new applications.
IoT devices are mostly either sensors or actuators or a combination of both. For example, a digital assistant device usually will have a couple of microphones to capture the commands of its users and speakers to reply back. Or a smart sprinkler used to water the garden will have a solenoid valve to control the water flow and moisture sensors to check the water content in the soil.
These devices send their data to an IoT gateway, which in turn may send commands directly to the device or send the data to the cloud for further processing. Users can then view the data and control the devices through their smartphone or desktop apps.
For any business or system, the Internet of Things offers a ton of granular data and control that was previously impossible. There are sensors that can collect heat, temperature, sound, vibrations, motion and other data from equipment and systems. Once analyzed, this data can reveal patterns, trends and inefficiencies affecting the system.
IoT can do the same for solar energy systems as well. Solar energy is a very complicated system with many different components. If any of these components are not working efficiently, it can bring down the energy output of the entire system. But due to its large size, operators often struggle to gain enough visibility into them.
This is what the Internet of Things can change. It can make the entire system more transparent and help operators spot issues and inefficiencies that may be holding them back from peak efficiency.
Applications of IoT in Solar Energy
The range of sensors and IoT devices available right now open up a whole world of applications in solar energy. They can transform how the energy systems are managed and offer more visibility to the operators and stakeholders. Here are a few applications of IoT in solar energy:
Solar energy systems are usually made of multiple solar panels all connected together to produce energy. For example, in a 1 MV solar farm, there may be around 2,500 solar panels.
It is simply not easy to manage these panels manually, particularly when even a minor issue with one of them can cut down energy production significantly. Besides the panels, there are other components that manage the systems and store and distribute the energy. To ensure uninterrupted energy production, these systems must work without a glitch; they have to be monitored constantly.
This is where IoT can help. IoT sensors can monitor the health of these panels constantly and send real-time updates to the operators. Sensors can collect temperature, heat, tilt angle and other data which the operators can then use to optimize the system.
With this, companies can significantly improve the uptime of their energy systems and ensure sustained energy production. Operators can also conduct automated tests regularly and use the data to make long-term plans.
Solar farms or even small solar energy systems require regular maintenance to function well. If the panels are covered with dust or if there is other debris on them, their energy efficiency can go down.
But performing this maintenance manually will be resource-intensive and can prove to be too expensive in the long run. With the Internet of Things, companies can streamline their maintenance process and reduce the associated cost.
If any panels or energy storage systems are facing issues, operators can detect them quickly and, to a large extent, diagnose the issue with the sensor data. If they detect low energy production or if the system goes down, the operators won’t have to go through individual components manually to figure out the issue. They can simply check out their dashboard and quickly identify the affected components.
Companies can also use IoT data to predict when a piece of equipment may fail or needs maintenance. Generally, organizations conduct maintenance activities at regular intervals, even if the components are working well. In some cases, they may opt to leave them alone until it breaks down. As you can imagine, both approaches have their drawbacks and can be costly. But with predictive maintenance from the IoT data, they can significantly reduce the maintenance expenditure without increasing the risk of a shutdown.
Improve the Security of the Panels and Infrastructure
Solar energy infrastructure is expensive. The median cost of solar panels in the United States is $24,742, in addition to batteries and other equipment. A large-scale solar farm takes a considerable investment to build and maintain. If these panels are stolen or vandalized, they can turn out to be very expensive for the company.
In these situations, operators can use IoT tracking and monitoring devices for their infrastructure. They can configure alerts that will go off if a panel or a component is disconnected or is not producing energy. This can help prevent theft or vandalism to a large extent. Additionally, they can use this same tech to track malfunctioning components and replace them.
Improved Energy Management
While solar energy produces enough energy output to make a sustainable ROI, there’s considerable variation throughout the year. Even minor inefficiencies can make a big difference over time. Previously, operators didn’t have enough data to optimize their infrastructure. With IoT, operators are able to get the complete picture of their infrastructure through IoT sensors.
Companies can collect granular data over their entire infrastructure and find patterns in energy production and usage throughout the year. They can better predict the energy outputs and use them to optimize their systems. If low energy production is predicted, they can adjust the pricing and even store more energy to ensure consistent supply.
Even small-scale solar energy systems, such as the ones at homes and offices, can use IoT to optimize their energy savings.
Use IoT in Your Solar Energy Systems To Get the Most Out of It
Generally, the Internet of Things helps optimize processes, systems and businesses with the data it collects. With its sensors, IoT can offer a microscopic view of systems to all the stakeholders who can then make them more efficient. And it can do the same for solar energy systems as well. It can offer operators a complete picture of their infrastructure and help produce more energy and prevent losses.
IEEE Education Society — Solar Farm Fact Sheet
Digiteum — 10 Benefits of Smart Energy Management Using IoT (Internet of Things)