Augmenting Renewable Energy with IIoT

October 1, 2019

Solar and wind energy may be green, but they have some limitations. A back-up power source is needed when the sun and wind aren’t available to collect energy from. On the flip side, exceptionally sunny days or strong winds can result in an excess of power production, meaning wasted energy or the need for some form of storage. Plus, the efficiency of both energy forms could arguably be higher.

IIoT is working to improve these limitations. For example, predictive algorithms ensure units are operating correctly in relation to the environment, and solar panels can be moved with the sun as they travel across the sky.

Smarter, Predictive Maintenance

Scheduled predictive maintenance is often done on wind turbines and solar panels in an effort to extend the life span of each unit. Even with these measures in place, issues can go overlooked and units can fail. But with IIoT sensors, data points such as temperature, torque, vibration, wiring and housing integrity are reported to operators regarding each unit. This allows for speedy action when a unit is functioning below standards. It also saves maintenance costs by focusing only on units that require servicing and pinpointing exactly which parts are malfunctioning.

Another advantage, instead of retiring a whole section of panels or turbines due to age, those same IIoT sensors can inform operators which units are still operating efficiently and only remove the defective ones. If a group of solar panels stops working, IIoT can relay if the panels themselves are malfunctioning or if the network has gone down.

Maximizing the Energy Grid

Perhaps best of all, IIoT is allowing for the storing of surplus power and the ability to release it when needed into the energy grid. The UK’s Power Network storage system stabilizes the nation’s grid through frequency regulation and load shifting. Through a self-healing grid, Duke Energy is using IIoT to sense faulty areas and automatically reroute electricity around it to get power back to consumers within 30 seconds. Without IIoT, a technician would have to find and correct the fault themselves, which could take an hour.

The Future of Renewable Energy

The future of renewable energy and IIoT may lie in distributed energy resources. These are smaller and more localized power sources, such as a home or school that uses solar energy. These resources can help take the pressure off power companies as the demand for electricity grows, but they can also add excess power to the grid, resulting in fluctuations and possible overloading. Power companies are using IIoT data and automation to assist with learning how to manage these new resources.