Solar panels do more than provide a company with a source of renewable energy. They reduce utility costs, protect the environment and improve the company’s image as an environmentally responsible business.
However, a solar panel’s ability to provide the energy required to power an entire building or manufacturing plant depends heavily on the company’s ability to maintain the panel and keep it fully functional. And as tough as solar glass can be, the elements can do damage to the equipment used to mount the panel itself.
Multiple solar panels together make an array. Panels are held in place by frames, which are mounted on hydraulically controlled trackers. Each tracker is designed to support an expected load to offer some ‘give’ to the panel to accommodate the elements. Still, strong gusts of the wind and large amounts of snow can sometimes apply more pressure than the tracker is built to handle. A change in the supported load can sometimes indicate structural damage that needs to be addressed before the scheduled visit from field technicians.
Sometimes the damage isn’t due to external forces. Wear to the tracker can also be a sign of a failing pump, motor, or other system issues that need to be replaced. As parts age, it forces the tracker to work harder to maintain the panel’s proper alignment.
Typically, panel inspections take too much time
Depending on the size of a facility, commercial solar panel arrays can range in size from 10,000 watts up to and beyond 100,000 watts. That requires anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 square feet of solar panels.
Even the smallest commercial solar panel array can be a challenge to inspect. Maintenance technicians must travel to the array (typically a field of arrays), and walk through the systems, inspecting each panel. This can be time-consuming and cumbersome.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) drives innovation and bridges the gap between technology and traditional manufacturing, developers continue to innovate new products that streamline the condition monitoring process.
As the global leader in connected motion and control technologies, our engineers have launched a new system that allows plant managers, maintenance managers, and energy managers to monitor fields of solar arrays from a single location: their office.
A cloud-based solution that reduces time and cost
SCOUT™ Cloud software and SensoNODE™ Gold sensors create a singular, cloud-based solution that lets end-users remotely monitor the amount of pressure applied to a solar panel’s tracker system. The sensors continuously monitor pressure levels and transmit the data to the cloud, which users can access via an internet browser.
Pressure sensors applied to trackers take consistent readings of a hydraulic load. With immediate and historic readouts of the applied pressure, users can identify any spikes in pressure beyond what the tracker is built to handle. Those sudden surges are good indicators of potential structural damage.
By monitoring the readouts, users can isolate and identify arrays that may have incurred damage after strong winds, pinpointing which panels need immediate attention. This helps to increase maintenance efficiency and reduce labor costs.
Alert notifications also warn of potential structural damage. Users can set specific pressure thresholds that, if the pressure rises or falls out of the specified range, a message is sent via email, text, or in-system messaging to notify the user.
Data trends can also show when a tracker is working harder to keep a solar panel in its proper position. This may indicate a faulty part, like a motor, which needs to be replaced before the entire unit breaks down.
Will you be at Solar Power International?
Tad Orstad, applications engineer with Parker, will be on-hand at this year’s Solar Power International at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas September 10 - 13. Stop by booth #1545 for more information on our SCOUT Cloud software and SensoNODE Gold sensors.
Not attending the show? Learn more about our turnkey solutions for solar, grid-tie and energy storage by visiting our Energy Platform Solutions page.
Read more about our cloud-based, condition monitoring solution.
Contributed by Tad Orstad, applications engineer, SensoNODE Sensors and SCOUT Software - Parker Hannifin Quick Coupling Division.
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