New tools to boost solar energy sector efficiency
European researchers have developed models and tools to boost the performance, reliability and lifetime of commercial photovoltaic (PV) systems. Their results, which are already being used by energy operators, were validated using data analysed from diverse installations across Europe.
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The EU-funded Performance Plus project studied current challenges the photovoltaic sector is facing from short-term forecasting, testing and diagnostics, advanced PV system monitoring techniques, through to long-term integrated energy management and storage control.
The findings from this effort have found their way into practical applications and marketable products. For example, project coordinator Mauricio Richter of 3E NV in Belgium says his firm has put the results to use providing commercial PV health scans as a software-driven service for plant owners, operators and asset managers to detect faults and deteriorating performance earlier.
Another project partner, Alitec, is commercialising a multi-directional irradiance sensor (ESA 1.0), which targets the market for environmental monitoring technologies. Other commercial applications of the projects results are in the pipeline, according to Richter.
The ESA sensors unique design allows it to measure both direct and indirect solar irradiation in a single device. Compared to conventional land-based stations, ESA offers a cost-effective yet reliable solution.
Full-scale testing was key
Consortium members collected solar energy (irradiation) and PV output energy data from 25 PV systems spread across Europe, ranging from small residential units up to large utility-scale installations.
Access to these installations, representing markedly different climatic, technical and market conditions, meant we could test and validate how well our models improved on existing designs, explains Richter.
The innovative tools and methods developed within the project boosted the reliability and energy output of the installations, as well as their ability to detect faults over the PV systems lifetime. The Performance Plus team also used novel ground-based cameras to film cloud density and gathered other data about the intensity of the Suns rays. They used the data to analyse and forecast irradiance levels through modelling.
The so-called sky images they captured also proved useful for tracking cloud distribution and motion, and how that relates to surface shadow and irradiance levels. The data helped the project optimise PV plant controls, together with other on-site operating systems. The goal was to streamline the way power is integrated into the electricity grid and energy management systems.
To complement these solutions the project researchers developed a web-based application for financial optimisation of PV systems at different development phases and conditions. An innovative remote fault-recognition system (the PV Health Scan) uses the monitoring data to provide real-time system health checks.
A unique user group, including such names as Danfoss, GeoSol, CEE and Oskomera, supported the project consortium with valuable input during the research. These findings and more are summarised in a booklet produced by Performance Plus, entitled Best practices for optimal PV performance, which is available on the project website.