Monitoring and Management of the Unpredictable: 3 Challenges for Renewable Energy

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  Monitoring and Managing the Unpredictable: 3 Challenges for Renewable Energy

By Alan Binning, Regional Sales Manager, COPA-DATA UK

Energy sector investments in big data technologies have exploded. According to a BDO study, industry spending on this technology increased tenfold in 2017 compared to the previous year, with the company attributing much of this growth to the need for improved management of renewable energy. This article examines three common renewable energy issues: Demand Management, Distributed Systems Combination, and Reporting.

Renewable energy will be the fastest growing source of power generation over the next five years. However, this diversification of energy sources poses a challenge to existing infrastructures and systems. One of the most notable changes is the shift from reliable to fluctuating performance.

Implementing Energy Storage

Conventional fossil fuel plants operate at a pre-reduced level, providing a consistent and predictable amount of electricity. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is a much less reliable source. For example, the energy output of a solar park may drop without warning as clouds obscure the sunlight from the panels. Likewise, wind speeds can not be reliably predicted. To prepare for this fluctuation, research and investment in energy storage systems are on the rise.

For example, wind ramp events are a big challenge. Therefore, the development of energy storage mechanisms is essential. The grid may not always be able to absorb excess wind power caused by an unexpected increase in wind speed. Ramp control applications allow the turbine to store this extra energy in the battery instead. Combined with reliable live data, these systems can develop sound models for intelligent distribution

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In the UK, one of the largest energy storage projects for the deployment of EV batteries has recently been established. While it's not the first car battery used for renewable energy, the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm in Wales has connected a total of 500 BMW i3 batteries to save excess energy.

Combining Distributed Systems

Control software is the obvious solution to better monitor this fluctuating energy source. However, many renewable energy sites, such as photovoltaic and wind farms, are spread over a large geographic area and therefore more difficult to manage unless sophisticated software is available.

Consider offshore wind farms as an example. The world's largest offshore wind farm is currently under construction, approximately 100 km from the Yorkshire coast. To accurately manage these huge generation sites, the data from each asset must be combined into a single entity.

This software should be able to combine many pieces of distributed equipment, be it an entire wind farm or several different forms of renewable energy sources in one system, to allow complete visualization of the grid.

Operators could go one step further by overlaying geographic information systems (GIS) data into the software. This could provide a map-style view of renewable energy parks or even the entire resource base of the generator so that operators can magnify the map to discover more details. This provides a complete, working map that enables organizations to make better-informed decisions.

Reporting on Renewable Energy

The control and monitoring of renewable energy is the first step towards better grid management. However, it's what energy companies do with the data generated by these devices that really deliver value. Reporting is required here

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Renewable energy software should be able to visualize data in an understandable way so that operators can see the types of data that are really important to them. For example, wind farm owners tend to be investors and therefore generating profits is a key consideration. In this case, the report should compare the performance of a turbine and its associated profit to better inform the operator of its financial performance.

With intelligent software such as the zenon Analyzer operators can generate a large number of reports on all information generated – and the criteria may vary greatly depending on the application and objectives of the operator. Reporting can range from a simple output table to a much more complex report that compares site performance against key performance indicators (KPIs) and predictive analytics. These reports can be generated from archived or current operational data so that long-term trends can be identified and responded quickly to maximize operational efficiency.

As investment in renewable energy production continues to increase, the need for large data technologies to manage these sites will continue to grow. Managing these volatile energy sources is still a relatively new challenge. With the right software to combine data from these locations and report on their operations, energy companies will reap the rewards of these increasingly popular sources of energy.

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