IoT as a key differentiator in the renewable energy sector, by Prakash Nayak, Senior Fellow at IET and Director, PEnA Power.
With the awareness about global warming and depleting of fossil fuels being on the rise, the world is shifting towards alternative sources of fuel to power its needs. Of them, the most sustainable option is the renewable energy. As on June 2016, India’s total power generation capacity touched 303GW which includes 42,85GW of Renewable Energy. Renewable electricity sources are targeted to grow massively by 2022 to 175GW, including more than the double of India’s large wind power capacity from 27.5GW to 60GW and an almost 15 fold increase in solar power from 8.06GW to 100GW and 10 GW from bio power and 5GW from small hydro power. The ambitious targets would see India quickly becoming one of the leading green energy producers in the world and surpassing numerous developed countries.
The Renewable energy field is spreading across geographies. It is fast becoming one of the most thriving businesses on the planet. With strong market, comes stiff competition. Hence, efficiency, operating costs, profitability, and productivity of course reliability are of prime importance. This is not possible by simply focusing on mechanical or electrical engineering aspects. The ability to continuously monitor and maintain high performance real time data over the time will enhance the deployment more aggressively than before. Also, most of these resources being variable and distributed geographically make it difficult to monitor, maintain and up-keep the plant. This is where IoT kicks in.
Imagine the world where you can not only generate and use your own electricity, large enough to meet your power requirement with lighting, air conditioners, hot water showers, etc. Also see the situation where you can sell excess power to the utilities to earn money. This is what renewable energy offers. The process, however, isn’t that easy to handle. Be it a hydro-power plant small enough to run on the stream or creek that flows near your home or a small wind power turbine generator in your farm, installed near your rural residence or a solar plant on roof of your home- it all requires numerous variables that need be monitored and maintained resulting in optimised power source. This process will prove to be extremely difficult for manual labour to perform efficiently. Because, for all these, the source of electricity is variable. At times it will be sunny and at other times cloudy. It is windy on a particular day and no wind at all the next day. It is impossible to have dedicated computer for every individual component of the system when they are distributed. Just imagine, if we can predict this variable nature of resources in much more scientific and analytical way, we could manage and optimise the generation along with rest of the sources in the Grid. This is where IoT’s potential can be unleashed.
Be it the wind blade stuck up or gearbox worn-out in the wind turbine or the cell’s individual temperatures in a solar farm goes high, today every imaginable component can be monitored and sensed. Data can be collected and also be uploaded to the cloud for processing. Thanks to internet and digital connectivity, this process is efficient and most cost effective when compared to a single dedicated PC/SCADA handling all the variables.
The sensors and devices used in IoT and its immaculate operations may be small, but make no mistake. It is a huge industry which is developing and its immeasurable potential will touch every other sector, most prominently in the energy sector, with shifting its focus on Renewable Energy for exploiting available natural resources in abundance.
If you are already using captive renewable power and are looking for IoT’s applications, it is understood that you know about Predictive maintenance compared to conventional preventive maintenance. The predictive maintenance with manual approach, though powerful as a tool by sensing and predictive calculations done with a specific time interval, is prone to errors. Imagine a set of sensors working like bees round the clock, measuring all parameters every second, and performing predictive calculations and provides a means of predictive maintenance like no
technology has ever offered. This is where IoT will add value to you and your business.
From a technical point of view, renewable energy sector will be vastly improved in the following three major ways:
Big data analytics, faster analysis of sensor outputs and breaking Up of Analytical Data for common man.
When you have so many data to crunch in so less time, so small enough that you cannot possibly arrive at a conclusion in time for an action, big data is the key. Typically in renewable energy sector, for an efficient operation, a humongous amount of data like, historical meteorological information, real-time information on load profile etc., is being transferred and analyzed to get optimized outputs. With the big data analysis and the cloud storage capabilities, companies and start-ups in the energy will get to faster results and ultimately, better efficiency. The common man should be able to understand the information and link them to the reality. Like when wind is not blowing he can relate that the generation is down and he can also predict the generation from wind turbine will be good in these months of the year and also relate to what happened in previous years. Just imagine his mobile phone throwing up this information instantaneously. Predictive analytics when used deftly on renewable energy power plants can provide accurate energy production forecasts. The analytics predicts the machine breakdowns or glitches, checks for the correlation of various parameters like irradiation, wind speed, temperature, humidity, cloud cover, transformer status etc. and learns their cause and effect relationship.
Decentralisation of data
One will agree that big data is a must in mass scale deployment of renewable energy generation. The downside of using big data for analysis is storage capabilities, be it the cloud or the hard disk storage on site, is very limited as when compared to the data that it collects and stores. Large data storage means large space occupation, larger security risk and subsequently the costs that accompany this also huge. Hence, a decision must be made so as to decide what data to keep and what to delete. All the essential data should be kept for the future calculations and usage trends. The conventional way to store the said data would be on a centralized server, but that is in the past. With the advancement in the decentralization of database techniques, all essential data could be stored in individual data holding centres with enhanced security and reliability.
Self-Learning Machines, Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning
According to a study, 20% – 40% of renewable energy cannot be used because it is unstable. Predictive analytics when used deftly on renewable energy power plants can provide accurate energy production forecasts. Hence, this will be used in the prediction of the future load and computing the real-time big data and storage of the said data, the decision to be made so as to keep what data and delete the rest cannot be humanly done within an acceptable time limit. In due course of time, all the computing decisions could be made entirely by Artificial Intelligence for most efficient operation.
Power sector capitalising on IoT
One of the important tasks for the Indian power sector is integration of renewable energy in to the traditional grid with large part powered from steam turbines and hydro turbines which generates power till it is switched off. What is going to be different from now onwards when large portion of Renewable energy 175GW is integrated, which is variable, like when wind blows, the machine will generate 1000’s of MW and when wind stops the power generation comes down to few MW in a fraction of min/sec, same is the case with solar, good sunshine there is huge generation sudden cloud passing through the area it will come down again to few MW. Whereas the load pattern may not be varying in this manner this will call for much better predictive tool and archived information on the behaviours of these sources of energy in every geographical locations. Also ramping down and ramp up of the base load machines i.e. steam turbines and hydro turbines is also to be done instantaneously.This is exactly where IoT will play a big role in integrating in most efficient and effective way and will be a key differentiator in the renewable energy sector and has the potential to dramatically transform energy sector and optimising overall energy mix in the grid.