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Can a SCADA System Optimize Solar PV Plants?

By Morgana Siggins

August 27, 2020


If you are planning to use a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, or already uses this system, then it's important to make sure you know how much energy is being produced.

Small utility companies tend to use a meter to record and bill the end-users for the kilowatt-hours consumed. Over the course of some months, you can compare these bills to determine the average monthly consumption. While this represents usage consumption, it's different for monitoring production with PV systems.

A meter is also used to measure the energy produced but we are not interested in the total per month. We are interested in the amount of energy produced during small time frames, such as every hour or even every 5 minutes.

For that, many experts agree that putting in place some sort of performance monitoring system is critical in order to keep an eye on the amount of energy being produced and to be sure the to react immediately when problems happen.

That's where a SCADA system comes in. It is a system that links together numerous hardware and software elements of a solar site in order to easily monitor, control and analyze performance.

In this article, we'll take a look at how SCADA systems can help optimize solar PV plants.

Solar plant
SCADA systems can help you monitor the performance of your solar PV plants.

The Basics of SCADA

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems allow you to monitor data from many different devices, such as meters, inverters, weather stations, trackers, and substation equipment. Basically speaking, SCADA systems give technicians actionable information so they are able to:

  • Know whether or not the solar plant equipment is running as expected.
  • Make sure no equipment is malfunctioning or even offline.

With insight about your network health, you and your team can analyze what's going on and determine when and where to send technicians to fix problems. This saves your company a great deal of time and money as truck rolls will be performed only when necessary.

Especially if your company has multiple plant sites, it's very important to have a way to automatically remote monitor and control all these locations at the same time. Some SCADA systems will be able to automatically take action when a performance issue is detected, such as automatically turning on a generator.

Another point that makes SCADA important is that these systems are able to provide trend analysis reports. With this, you can investigate and determine the root causes of recurring issues.

The architecture of a SCADA system for solar plant

When we talk about the SCADA system architecture, we're referring to all the elements (hardware and software) that these systems usually have in order to efficiently work and give you visibility over your remote sites.

The solar plant SCADA system architecture will include the following elements:

  • One or more remote terminal units (RTUs).
    RTUs are devices deployed at your solar plants to collect information from sensors and from your monitoring equipment. They can control the processes of this equipment, gather their data in real-time, and send it back to the master station.
  • A human-machine interface (HMI) master station.
    The HMI master station is what technicians will use to monitor the plant, send control commands to RTUs, and overall interact with remote devices. Efficient HMIs will give you a graphical representation of your solar plant sites, such as maps or pictures. This way, you can easily know what's going on at all times.
  • The communication network.
    The communication network is what will allow the HMI, RTUs, and the monitored equipment throughout the plant to exchange information. One of the most common communication transport is Ethernet.

How SCADA Data Can Help You

SCADA systems will keep an eye on the equipment at your sites at all times and keep a record of it for later analysis. HMI screens will show this real-time data and you can use it to assess alarm conditions. Having a system that can gather information in real-time allows for performance problems at plants to be more addressed in a timely manner.

Also, most systems will provide you with a summary of all the gathered data, as well as queries and reports. This is extremely helpful to detect trends and identify underlying issues, and to optimize network maintenance and management.

Usually, SCADA systems already collect plant operational information, so it makes sense to find a system that will let you get the most out of this - with advanced analytics and performance management functionality.

The monitoring and control of solar PV plants have become very important to help decrease the costs of operation and maintenance as well as to help control performance degradation during the lifespan of plant equipment. This all means that the use of a competent monitoring system is essential to ensure high performance, low downtime, and fault detection of a solar PV power plant.

Management of Solar Plants Made Easy

Usually, in order to know how a plant site should perform, an analysis is done before and after its construction. With this information, you can calculate the actual and projected plant performance for detailed financial management reporting.

SCADA data will allow you to collect the plant's actual performance information and then compare it against the expected performance. The trend analysis provided by SCADA systems is important to let you analyze your site's performance in relation to what's desired. This will give you an insight into what you need to do in order to optimize your solar plants.

Beyond the trend analysis tool, there are other functions that an effective SCADA system will give you. These functions are:

  • Device-level monitoring
    SCADA for a solar power plant will monitor and analyze the performance of individual pieces of equipment. This way, it can alert you and your team when device performance issues occur as well as how severe they are.
  • Lost energy monitoring
    The lost energy is something you need to keep a close eye on, as it impacts your bottom line. The lost energy is the measure of the amount of energy that would have been produced if all devices were functioning optimally. This provides a way for you to analyze equipment that is not performing as expected.
  • Rate schedules
    Solar SCADA systems that include rate schedule awareness allows you to know the value of the energy being produced by the plant or the value of the energy not produced. With this, you can evaluate your plant's financial performance.

With complete, real-time information, plant technicians and operators won't need to constantly and manually look for issues at a plant site. An efficient solar SCADA system will be able to provide notifications alerts to let operators know when a site or individual equipment in that site is not performing as expected.

If you have multiple sites to manage, it's important to have an advanced master station that will be able to handle the great load of alarms. It should filter what's important and what's not, and send notifications to you in a timely manner, while also send automatic control commands to RTUs.

A good example of a competent master station is the T/Mon LNX. It gives you these and many more features for complete visibility over your remote sites. Some of these features include:

  • A graphical user-friendly interface that shows alarms in layered geographic maps in real-time
  • Plain English alarm descriptions and specific instruction for correcting alarm conditions
  • Detailed history, trending, and root cause analysis
  • Support for over 25 different protocols
The T/Mon LNX helps you reduce costs and gives you visibility of all your remote sites. It allows you to monitor a variety of equipment at multiple sites. This full capacity master station monitors, mediates, and forwards alarm data in over 25 standard and proprietary protocols, including existing legacy equipment.

Choose a SCADA System That Can Integrate With Your Current Gear

A SCADA system for solar PV power plants needs to be more than just that. It should not only monitor critical plant functions in real-time and control equipment, but it should also be part of your general SCADA system.

This means that if you have remote monitoring systems for other aspects of your network, such as building access control, you should be able to manage it all under one unified screen. This is possible by investing in multiprotocol monitoring devices.

A multiprotocol master station, like the T/Mon, is able to present the information of all elements of your solar plants under one network management platform.

T/Mon, however, is able to take you a step further. It can be customized in order to accommodate all your integration requirements. It will be able to support even the oldest piece of equipment you have. With T/Mon's protocol conversion capabilities you'll be able to have complete visibility over anything you wish.

The Importance of Trend Analysis

A SCADA system that provides you with the trend analysis feature will give you valuable insight into your network's performance. Presenting this data visually through graphs and reports on intuitive interfaces helps outline information and makes it easier for you to spot possible pain points. For example, the efficiency of all your equipment can be reviewed and compared, with the information sorted by type and equipment.

Being able to organize both historical and real-time information in a variety of ways, such as by type, model, and efficiency will make it possible for you to immediately adapt to recognizable trends. Investing in a SCADA master station that can give you advanced analytics features will optimize your solar plants' management, enabling the possibility of proactive maintenance and increasing revenue.

Choose a SCADA System That Will Bring You Lasting Benefits

In a nutshell, SCADA systems can optimize solar PV plant applications. But, in order for that to happen, it's important to take into consideration multiple aspects of your potential SCADA solution. These include a dynamic configuration, a user-friendly graphical interface, historical and real-time trend analysis, as well as advanced alarm management settings.

However, it's critical to keep in mind that not all SCADA systems will be able to keep your solar plants running well. A SCADA system is only as good as its manufacturer. A manufacturer that makes a system that provides alarms as they appear on the site without any context is not giving you any value.

It's up to you to find a good vendor who will listen to your needs and deliver a good solution.

As a vertically integrated SCADA solutions manufacturer, we make sure to provide a system that is sure to bring you lasting benefits. Our specialty is to listen to your pain points, designing and engineering your solution, and then manufacturing it in-house.

Today's solar PV plants are all about flexibility and scalability, and that's what we aim for. Call us today to learn more.

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins is a marketing writer, content creator, and documentation specialist at DPS Telecom. She has created over 200 blog articles and videos sharing her years of experience in the remote monitoring industry.