By: Adam Baker
Our most-loved solar SCADA blog posts.
We’ve published over 50 blog posts on a variety of subjects, ranging from solar tracker monitoring, fiber optic termination, and granular plant data, to string monitoring, bad DC health, and more.
To give you an inside look into what others are reading, we pulled together a list of our most-loved solar SCADA blog posts.
It’s interesting what our most popular solar SCADA blog posts say about our readers. Almost all posts in this list revolve around heavy hitting industry trends, like virtual voltage control and solar insurance. Others tend to cluster around better ways to enhance the SCADA system for operators, definitely signaling optimization as a big concern to readers.
Looking for other types of SCADA blogs? Here’s our list of top 7 most popular SCADA blog posts!
From an instrumentation standpoint, the same capabilities exist whether you’re running on string or central inverters; from plant control, to ramping, to reactive power controls. It really just comes down to your thoughts on how much it will cost to maintain inverters over the long-haul, and the associated risk. Just don't fall for the first pass cost for string inverters as being a blessing.
I would argue that over their lifetime, string inverters are more expensive. But it’s not a simple cost per watt calculation. There are additional costs that don’t usually factor into a purchasing manager’s site estimation equation. The hidden costs just move to other areas of the project budget, and will come as an unpleasant surprise later when they appear where you weren't expecting them.
Three distinct systems work together to give different types of visibility and solar data points into your PV plant: controls, SCADA, and performance analysis. I like to think of them as action, monitoring, and investigation, respectively.
Of all three pieces to the system, performance analysis is often left out of initial engineering design. But it’s arguably the most important piece, as it provides the insight on how to critically analyze your site performance. But to understand the value of performance analysis, you have to understand the distinct differences between all three components.
You may not be aware, but there’s such a thing as Solar Energy Shortfall insurance for solar projects. This is different from property insurance that addresses physical damage claims that steal expected energy from site generation (high-wind events, lighting, flood, lava, stampeding bison, etc.)
Solar Energy Shortfall insurance goes beyond property insurance to ensure revenue is met when unexpected things happen that affect performance (think: excessive cloud cover, wildfire smoke, accelerated degradation of modules, environmental watch group investigations, tax incentives lost due to slow projects, etc.)
The fact that an insurance company simply won't write a policy for over 90% coverage unless you have great SCADA speaks volumes about how crucial solar SCADA is to the industry.
Data for the sake of data is not beneficial in solar farm operation. If you can’t tell what’s going on at your solar plant within seconds of looking at your HMI SCADA screen, it’s got too much data on it. Displaying data just because it exists just distracts the operator and clutters the screen.
SCADA developers shouldn’t put data on the screen just because they have access to it. They should provide data that the operator needs at a high level to make sure the equipment operates. But many SCADA programmers have no experience in plant operations, and thus have no idea what operators need.
Many solar plant owners base their plant performance off misleading solar data. Many SCADA integrators simply set up systems with raw values, which is sometimes desirable, but can be extremely deceptive. Comparative values should be what is most important to plant operators.
Data normalization is simply the act of taking raw data and adjusting it based on other values or percentages onsite. Normalizing data helps present a better overall picture of what’s happening at your solar site, and makes it easy to see the magnitude of facility problems like underperforming modules, bad connections, and blown fuses.
There are five very specific challenges in utility scale solar projects, making it difficult for the industry to progress. Ultimately, the requirements you must comply with will be dependent on the stiffness of the grid where the interconnection will occur to ensure the highest level of reliability. Unless you’re building an identical plant over and over again in the same county, it’s likely detailed requirements will vary greatly from project to project.
Utilities are responsible for the reliability of the electric system, and the grid has been very reliable over the last 50 years. Therefore, they’re very reluctant to embrace technology change. And for good reason. Nobody wants to be the one that lands in the history books for messing up the grid. Unfortunately, this attitude can make implementing/installing/constructing utility scale solar projects an absolute nightmare.
Perhaps the biggest letdown for utility-scale solar developers are the results of an interconnect agreement system impact study. After the hard work of getting a power purchase agreement and conditional use permit approved, and after applying for an interconnect agreement, the system impact study might inform you that the grid is too soft or your voltage variability is too high. To successfully get the interconnect agreement approved, you are required to add inductors or capacitors to maintain grid voltage stability at the POI. The problem is, capacitor and inductor bank expenses will break your project financing…. which means your project is no longer viable.
Whatever you do, don’t scrap your project after learning your interconnect point is too soft. There is another way to make your project viable again and meet utility requirements in cost effective manner: Implement virtual inductors and capacitors instead of physical inductor/capacitor banks.
We look forward to bringing you even more helpful insights in our coming blog posts. Stay tuned!
Check out a list of our top non-solar SCADA blog posts!
Adam Baker is Senior Sales Executive at Affinity Energy with responsibility for providing subject matter expertise in utility-scale solar plant controls, instrumentation, and data acquisition. With 23 years of experience in automation and control, Adam’s previous companies include Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley), First Solar, DEPCOM Power, and GE Fanuc Automation.
Adam was instrumental in the development and deployment of three of the largest PV solar power plants in the United States, including 550 MW Topaz Solar in California, 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar in Arizona, and 550 MW Desert Sunlight in the Mojave Desert.
After a 6-year stint in controls design and architecture for the PV solar market, Adam joined Affinity Energy in 2016 and returned to sales leadership, where he has spent most of his career. Adam has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and has been active in environmental and good food movements for several years.