IoT Blog
IoT Blog

The Future of IoT in Solar Energy: How Innovative Technology is Expanding the Solar Sector

by Olivier Amiot, Director of Marketing, Energy
Solar is the fastest-growing renewable energy source in the world, increasing in worldwide capacity by an average of 40 percent every year. Many energy companies are expanding to offer solar, which is among the most energy-efficient and lucrative sources of renewable electricity on the market. 

Today, solar energy companies have more options than ever for making the most out of their equipment. Harnessing the power of digital transformation with IoT can resolve common challenges associated with complex energy grids and make it far easier to manage panels and energy output. For solar energy companies, installing an IoT system will help meet customers’ demands and improve overall efficiency. It is no longer a question of whether to attempt IoT digital transformation, but rather how to do it successfully.

Asset Management Can Be a Challenge 

While it has many advantages, solar power can be a challenge for energy companies when it comes to management. Gathering data from the edge, across a diverse and distributed range of solar assets can be a major obstacle even for tech-savvy organizations with large budgets and engineering resources. 

IoT applications are incredibly complex and require significant end-to-end infrastructure in order to transmit and process the data they produce and integrate it into systems, such as their enterprise web platform. To begin, you need to connect solar panels to the utility grid. You also need to ensure that your cellular modules, gateways and web platforms are all integrated properly, without breaks in connectivity or vulnerabilities in data security. Supposing that your system is fully integrated, you still need this equipment and software to tell you in real-time whether your solar station is delivering sufficient energy levels and maintaining load balance on the grid. Any renewable energy source, such as solar, wind, or biomass, experiences fluctuating energy generation in response to changes in the weather and other environmental factors. Your power grid needs to adapt to these changes to ensure you’re maximizing grid usage and load at all times. 

These factors are complicated by the fact that renewable energy plants, such as solar and wind, tend to be clustered and widely distributed. When an energy system becomes too complex, it can cause a logistical nightmare for technicians and other grid managers. For example, making sure that each panel is running efficiently becomes more difficult as you add more panels to the mix. What’s more, if you have thousands of panels in a grid, there’s a higher potential for vulnerabilities in the system. Generally, the more complex your system is and the more devices you have in your grid, the more likely you are to have holes in your system’s security. I recommend choosing an all-in-one edge-to-cloud IoT solution to connect your solar assets to minimize security risks, simplify your project and speed up time-to-market.  

Simple, Integrated Systems Are the Future of IoT in Solar Energy 

While some challenges do exist, they do not need to be debilitating for solar companies. Using IoT in solar energy can solve many of these issues with little effort and investment. The key to success is to eliminate the complex hardware integration, certification and security concerns and allow your businesses to seamlessly access operational data in your cloud infrastructure and integrate it with your IT systems. You will then be able to securely extract, orchestrate and act on data from your remote assets at the edge to the cloud. 

The main benefit of using IoT in solar energy is that you can see exactly what’s happening with all your assets from one central control panel. By connecting your devices to a cloud network, you can identify where the problem originated and dispatch a technician to fix it before it disrupts your entire system. For instance, you may see that your network is running perfectly, but there is a problem with one of your devices. Without IoT, it would be difficult to determine whether the problem was network-related or hardware-related. The IoT provides the intelligence for you to identify issues in real time, as the error occurs so the source can be located and resolved quickly.

Using the IoT, your system will be less susceptible to outages and productivity issues (resulting from downtime) and potentially costly security breaches. By installing an all-in-one edge-to-cloud IoT solution to connect your solar assets, you can manage the largest solar grids in the world, even with thousands of individual devices connected to your network. 

In addition to providing companies with real-time alerts, leveraging IoT in solar energy can lead to improvements in power quality and performance by collecting historical data for modelling. This makes energy production more efficient both in terms of cost and logistics. 

On the edge side, companies can install additional OEM equipment to the solar panels, such as battery Energy Storage Systems, to adapt to solar production so that stored energy can be delivered at peak times, while tracking any data that the company needs to enable new services. On the network side, using cellular connectivity in a solar energy array allows you to accommodate 2G or LPWA LTE-M networks for more reliable connections with low-power requirements. 

When it comes to your smart grid, power metering can improve your system’s efficiency in a number of ways. You can choose to place the edge device in a grid asset in front of the solar inverter for maximum efficiency. 

Octave is the Perfect Solution

Every solar company should focus on simplifying the development of their connected products. This makes it far easier to focus on what’s important—producing electricity in the most efficient way possible—without spending years creating an integrated IoT architecture system to handle the equipment and data. That’s where Sierra Wireless Octave™, the all-in-one edge-to-cloud solution for connecting industrial assets, comes in. By providing all the infrastructure you need for an IoT application, including edge devices, wireless network connectivity, and cloud APIs,in a single, integrated package, Octave cuts through the complexity that has often slowed the development and deployment of IoT applications. Octave makes it much easier for companies to extract the right IoT data from their edge devices, at the right time, and then transmit it to the right system.

Octave can help solar companies accelerate IoT development, de-risk their IoT deployments and free them to focus on their IoT data, rather than the infrastructure. With interfaces to all major cloud service providers, Octave turns the energy IoT into a cloud API that companies can merge with their existing IT systems.

To get started with Octave, or to find out more about how to optimize your solar energy system using IoT technology, Start with Sierra.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.