Don't Let Storm Damage Leave Your Monitoring in the Dark.
By Brad Micallef, President and Managing Director & President
Originally commissioned in May 2012, the Sandy Cross Solar facility has operated for seven-and-half years prior to being struck by lightening August 15th, 2019. While the solar generating equipment was unharmed, the lightening strike irreparably damaged the monitoring system’s data-logger, weather station, and several protocol converters. The original monitoring system provider no longer in business, and a solar facility with more than 13 years of operating life left, the inability to operate the facility needed to be addressed quickly.
Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Sandy Cross Solar, nor due to lightening strike events. A large number of monitoring system providers have either gone out of business, merged with other providers, or simply exited the market; often leaving customers with no means for repairs, service, or any way to continue using the system they already have. Once its broken, it can’t be fixed.
As a long term operator of utility-scale solar facilities, Solar Operations Solutions, LLC (Solar-Ops) saw this situation as symptom of an immature and underserved area of the solar market. The need for robust and reliable facility monitoring solutions, designed to operate for the life of the solar facility’s commercial operation, is extremely important for daily operations as well as billing and financial reporting. After several years of development and testing Solar-Ops developed a solution they call myPV IQ.
“We wanted a solution that met our own needs as solar operators”, said Brad Micallef, Managing Director of Solar-Ops. “It had to be flexible, cost effective, and extremely reliable.”
myPV IQ is a collection of hardware products and software platform that are designed specifically meet the unique needs of solar monitoring and control applications. Built to adhere with UL 508a industrial control panel standards, using wide temperature range industrial components, and thoroughly tested in Solar-Op’s managed portfolio of over 100MW of commercially operating PV solar facilities; all myPVOriginally commissioned in May 2012, the Sandy Cross Solar facility has operated for seven-and-half years prior to being struck by lightening August 15th, 2019. While the solar generating equipment was unharmed, the lightening strike irreparably damaged the monitoring system’s data-logger, weather station, and several protocol converters. The original monitoring system provider no longer in business, and a solar facility with more than 13 years of operating life left, the inability to operate the facility needed to be addressed quickly.
Damage from electrical surges such as lightening is common in monitoring equipment, especially along unprotected RS485 twisted-pair chains. These copper paths connect several devices in a daisy-chain allowing for two-way serial communication. When a surge occurs anywhere along these chains, the surge can travel to every connected device crippling communications and even damaging the connected device as well.
“Throughout our managed fleet, we have taken steps to isolate these RS485 chains by installing ground-bonded-surge arrestors to limit the damaging effects of electrical surges, or have used alternative communications methods whenever possible. The overall reliability in our monitoring program has experienced a significant reduction in surge related failures.”
Using a myPV IQ MET Station enclosure, a new plane of array (POA) irradiance sensor and Back of Module (BoM) temperature sensor were installed in the array, replacing the previously damaged sensors and protocol converter.
120V AC power was pulled to the new enclosure using existing conduit that previously housed a 24V power supply run. The MET Station arrived with an integrated battery backup, was pre-charged, and ready to run. Running on battery power, the new sensors were fully tested for proper operation and communication at the time of installation.
Through a surge arrestor, a separate shielded Cat6 ethernet cable was then run between the existing ethernet switch to enable communications between the MET Station, inverters, and existing cellular modem. Additionally, a new isolated protocol converter was installed to convert the meter’s RS485 connection to Modbus TCP/IP allowing everything to communicate on the solar plant's LAN. To complete the retrofit installation, all monitoring equipment, including the existing network switch and cellular modem, are now powered from the MET Station’s battery backup supply for power loss ride-through.
With the previous monitoring system’s data-logger being damaged, and the company’s online portal disabled years ago, Sandy Cross Solar's retrofitted monitoring system needed a new brain too. The myPV IQ Monitoring & Control software platform delivers.
Running locally on a special hardened computer installed inside the MET Station, the myPV™ IQ software instantly began monitoring, logging, and reporting data from the connected devices. Within a few short minutes of adjusting configuration parameters using the web-based interface, the entire solar facility was fully monitored once again.
“Sandy Cross Solar is a great example of how the myPV™ platform of hardware and software can be used to easily retrofit solar facilities that have become distressed due to damage or commercial supplier failures,” said Micallef.