More often than not, having a customized monitoring solution for a solar power plant has been considered an add-on or a luxury by most developers in India. In most solar power plants, developers typically go for monitoring systems which take measurements only at the inverter level. Some developers also employ monitoring at the string level as well as at weather stations. But, as is seen in India, they fail to provide the kind of rigorous analytics, insights and observations that would be required for a MW-Scale solar power plant.
It is in this context that DataGlen, a Remote Monitoring System (RMS) for solar plants developed by a team of former IBM Researchers with background in Energy, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT – a concept that has gained prominence over the past decade and refers to the interaction between physical objects that are equipped with intelligence through computing devices), gains prominence. This cloud-based software built on IoT and advanced analytics makes managing solar plants easy and economical.
It compiles, analyses and manages massive quantities of time-series data generated by sensors such as pyranometers, string monitoring units, energy meters, inverter data units, etc.
The benefits of DataGlen essentially trickle down to three stakeholders,
- Investor, who can maximize her ROI by ensuring that the power plant generation is as expected
- O&M provider, who gets a bird’s eye view of the different power plants he is operating through a single-login portal
- Site Engineer, who can reduce turnaround time by detecting the fault early and troubleshooting the problem before it escalates
What problem does it solve?
Consider this scenario.
A 1 MW AC rooftop solar power plant with dozens of string inverters is faced with loss of energy production. This energy loss is detected by the conventional remote monitoring solution employed by the developer. But, in order to troubleshoot the problem, how does the developer, EPC or O&M provider identify if the losses are from the AC-side or DC-side? If one of the inverters is at fault, how does the stakeholder determine the respective inverter?
This is precisely where DataGlen brings in its merits. The benefits that stakeholders enjoy from DataGlen are two-fold:
- Actionable Insights
- Minimal energy losses
- Reduced turnaround time
All the above factors translate to higher revenue generation for the investor.
As illustrated above, the data acquired from the inverters and string monitoring units is transferred to the DataGlen data logger through the MODBUS protocol. This data is sent to the DataGlen Cloud over the HTTP REST protocol. The data gathered on the cloud can be organized, analyzed and modified according to the end-user requirements that can eventually be viewed on a computer or an android device.
DataGlen currently uses a single-board Linux computer as its gateway hardware.
Figure 1: Gateway Hardware
The intelligent data collection gateway can integrate with inverter or SMU manufacturers and interact with many of the popular inverters in the market.
What are the features that add to the uniqueness of DataGlen?
Alerts and Analytics
The distinguishing feature of DataGlen’s monitoring solution is the advanced alerts and analytics capability that it provides. By providing updates in the form of emails and SMSes, the stakeholders receive real-time alerts on errors, recommendations on maintenance schedules etc.
DataGlen provides an excellent performance analytics platform through provisions for the following:
- Calculation of performance parameters like Performance Ratio (PR) and Capacity Utilization Factor (CUF)
- Spatiotemporal analysis of generation
- Root cause analysis to evaluate factors that impact energy production
- Offline analysis in case the data has to be downloaded to your system for a much more in-depth analysis
Analysis of generation of panels placed in different directions and thereby providing useful analytics for optimizing solar panel layout.
As seen in the pictures below, a spatiotemporal analysis of energy generated by panels placed along the north and west for a particular rooftop plant helped in identifying the reduced generation among the panels placed west. Providing the site engineer with such insights can significantly reduce the time required for maintenance.
Figure 2: Spatiotemporal analysis of Energy Generation
Apart from the existing data analytics capabilities, DataGlen plans to offer a more diverse range of features to expand the analytical database. As the industry matures and market gaps are identified, much more sophisticated features are planned to be implemented.
White Labeling is another key feature offered by DataGlen, as part of their sales strategy. It allows companies who buy the product to rebrand it and sell the product under their own company name. White Labeling improves the attractiveness of the product as the purchasing companies can now attach their own logo onto the dashboard. This page also provides a single-window login facility from where the EPC/O&M provider can use a single platform to view the generation details from all plants operated by them. It also provides appropriate access management so that the investors or site engineers get access to the plants only relevant to them.
Figure 3: White Labeling
Intuitive Interfaces for Data Visualization
A summary page is provided for each plant that provides the generation status for the current day. This page is fully customizable where stakeholders can view plant and inverter level details graphically, get a weather forecast and effect a certain degree of customization to obtain a better analysis of data.
Figure 4: Data Visualization Features
DataGlen also provides a phone application where generation details, historical data, status of inverters or SMUs can be checked.
Figure 5: Android App for Status Updation
Although DataGlen is currently focusing on the solar sector, the scope of application of the product is extensive with various other industries including energy, transportation, healthcare, construction etc. set to benefit from it. In fact, they have focused the business operations to grow steadily within a niche before contemplating an expansion.
With projects totaling close to multiple MW under their belt, the DataGlen team is gradually reaching out to customers with their unique and high quality product. This IoT platform is reforming solar monitoring capabilities by making DC and AC monitoring SMART.
Interview with the CEO
Solar Mango, recently interacted with Mr. Deva P. Seetharam, CEO and founder of DataGlen Inc. A short excerpt from the interview that discusses his motivations, perspectives and ambitions for DataGlen has been provided below.
Solar Mango: Tell us briefly about your educational and professional background.
Deva P. Seetharam: My expertise is in networked embedded systems and energy systems. I founded and led the smarter energy research group for IBM India. Prior to that, I led the pervasive media group for France Telecom Research in Boston. On the entrepreneurial side, I co-founded RadioSherpa and was instrumental in having the company acquired by RadioTime, a Google ventures company. I have an MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and BE from Bharathiyar university.
SM: What got you and your team interested in developing a custom software for solar monitoring?
There is increasing awareness and interest for renewable energy, and especially solar, in Indian as well as global market. We realized the need for an affordable and reliable solar plant management solution for plant’s efficient operations. We are delighted to work on that solution since solar plants address arguably the most important problem – access to clean and cheap energy sources – faced by Indians and humanity in general.
SM: What have been the experience so far for the project developers who have used your solution? What have been the key benefits, according to them?
DS: We have received a very positive feedback since our solution provides a good user experience combined with solid analytics.
The key benefits are:
1. Using our easy-to-use dashboard, they are able to get a consolidated view of their plants and all the components (inverters, string monitoring units, energy meters, etc) in those plants at a single place.
2. SMS/Email alerts about important events generated by our system help them quickly address the issues.
3. The results produced by our rich spatiotemporal analytics engine helps them to a get a clear understanding of the performance of their solar assets and operate the plants efficiently.
SM: What are the future additions and improvements that you plan to incorporate in your solution?
DS: Our platform will be the one stop solution for all the stake holders in the solar space starting from plant engineers, EPC , O&M and Investors for their respective needs.
SM: As you work across multiple industries, what key differences do you find in the solar power plant sector when compared to others?
DS: Solar plants have two characteristics that are not common in other sectors:
1. The utility scale plants are spread over vast areas. Managing them without proper tools can be very difficult, if not impossible.
2. The performance of the plants are affected by unpredictable and uncontrollable external factors such as weather, grid availability, dust, etc.
Moreover as the PPA prices are falling, solar plants are expected to squeeze the last joule out of the panels to maximise ROI.
SM: Do you also plan to implement your software in other renewable energy segments as well? What are your plans and ambitions for DataGlen?
DS: Yes, our IoT platform is industry agnostic. We have had a few initial discussions with wind farm owners. We would like to enable all clean energy generation plants to run effectively and efficiently.
Additionally, we are also providing IoT cloud solution in transportation and healthcare verticals.
For more details on DataGlen, please contact Mr. Guruprasad.