How We are Making The Bible for Harnessing Solar Potential in India

Renewable energy has been an entity about which the world has been obsessed since the beginning of this decade. The emphasis in terms of policy making or initiative for increasing its presence grew not only from the search of alternative sources of energy, but also from the growing concern of climate change. At the doorstep of COP 21 summit where the policy makers of almost all the countries of the world pledged to take pro-active measures for reducing carbon foot print, an interesting alliance was announced that would take the scaling up of renewable technologies, especially solar to the next level.

This joint announcement made by the Prime minister of India and President of France is the formalization of a body known as International Solar Alliance (ISA) to address the specific solar deployment needs of solar resource rich countries between tropic of cancer and tropic of Capricorn. This announcement was followed by an official declaration after which methodologies were formulated and it was decided that the alliance would establish networks and develop synergies with like-minded organizations at the world stage like IRENA, IEA, REEP and REN21. India one of the protagonists of this alliance has a huge potential for solar and has also set itself an ambitious target of achieving 1,00,000 MW of solar production by 2022.

In order to achieve this target, it is very important to address the highly under rated aspect of solar reliability. Considering reliable operation and transmission of installed capacity in the country is as important as exploring new installations. To address this aspect of operation and maintenance, we started SOREVA for developing indigenous technology that automates handling of a solar plant.

In this digital era of rapid technological transformation, data(information) is considered to be a powerful weapon. Moreover, the beginning of Big data revolution made people realize the value of data and its impact on shaping useful products. Another technical evolution that is going to impact future technologies is Internet of Things. There are no doubts in the role IoT will play in automating day to day products in the not so far future. The only field infant to these fancy terms is Solar energy. Though the scope of these technologies in the field of solar is huge, most of its applications in the current stage are limited to potential assessment and evaluation.

Myseld and Anirudh realized the importance of solar PV data for reliability assessment back in 2015. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rajneesh Kumar at BITS Pilani we have performed several experiments to mimic the practical soiling behavior of solar panels. Having obtained huge sets of experimental data, we set out to make useful models that can help in predicting the practical behavior of panels in the arid regions of our country. This attempt was met with an overwhelming support from the scientific community across the world, where this work was appreciated in open forums like Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, IEEE, New Energy Forum, China and European PV Solar Exhibition Conference, ISES. This made us think about the impact of data in creating useful models, especially for reliable operation of solar panels. It was then the ideation for Soreva was started where we decided to integrate the two highly volatile technologies of future (big data and IoT) into creating prescriptions for optimal operation of solar plants. It was that moment where we felt the presence of the doctors hidden inside our engineering souls.

After graduating from BITS, we aggressively tried to productize our idea and fortunately the nodal agency for renewable energy in Madhya Pradesh(MPUVN) gave us the break we wanted. They were looking for models to identify the rooftop potential of key locations across Bhopal and were interested in having accurate models along with details regarding future degradation and deviation of power output. When we pitched our expertise and the way we modeled PV phenomena, they were nothing but impressed and asked us to execute the project. It was for the first time those models we tested in labs started testing us. However, after a few site visits and series of experiments we were able to give a successful model to the engineers at MPUVN. The success of project at MP gave us confidence on the direction we were going. It was then we approached Dr. S.K.Singh, Director General of NISE, who coincidentally shared the same notion on the status of reliability of solar installations in our country. National Institute of Solar Energy is a premiere research institute for solar energy in India. It has various operational models of solar PV installations with different technologies. A thought was generated in our conversation about building a data bank consisting of information about the performance of all these technologies of solar panels. The only issue was how can we do it in a better way? Coincidentally it was the same time where for the first time NISE campus was going net zero energy campus. They were also looking for tools to have the real-time power generation and consumption data. This was the right time for us to bring the IoT weapon in our armor and use it for this application.

We readily agreed to take upon this challenge for getting the entire power generation and consumption data of NISE in real time at a centralized location in the campus. But the challenge had a catch which we self-imposed on us that being we will never tamper any generation or consumption node. In other words, we didn’t want to use any sensing equipment and lose the accuracy of data. We wanted to complete the entire data collection without intruding into any devices. In this endeavor of collecting data, we tried to exploit various communication protocols of both new and old inverters at the campus and tried to inculcate some innovative solutions for reading the consumption data from sources like transformers and generators.

For the first time ever in Asia, we have created an ecosystem of things at the NISE campus, where all the power generation and consumption devices are directly or indirectly in the network we established. They communicate with a centralized server inside the campus in real time providing the data of their respective functionalities every 40 seconds. An AI powered bot is at the back-end analyzing the data and updating an integrated interface for knowing the real-time production, consumption and the net feeding into the grid. We rewrote the concept of net metering which we are now calling as network metering where the net energy can be seen from the devices in a common network.

There is also a silver lining to this project we took up, that started hitting us after seeing the real-time data. With the virtue of being situated at Delhi and Haryana Border, the NISE campus experiences climatic conditions that mimic almost every temperature zone in the country and many zones across the world. While we are integrating data from power generation sources, we are also appending it with the real time climatological data obtained from the weather stations located in the campus. In this attempt, we will able to assess the performance of different technologies of solar panels in different climatological situations and draw insightful conclusions about their usage. There will be a point of time in the near future in collaboration with NISE we can start prescribing optimum options for solar plant installers or financers for better operation of their plants in their respective climatic zones.

With the confidence we have garnered from the successful execution of this project and a vision to transform and automate the operation and maintenance of solar plants in our country, we are at the beginning of a long yet bumpy ride that can give our country a reliable PV power with maximum utilization.