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I2 MTC 2010 - International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference Austin, TX, 3-6 May 2010

On-line monitoring of the efficiency of Photo-Voltaic panels for optimizing maintenance scheduling
Loredana Cristaldi1 , SeniorM ember IEEE, Marco Faifer1 , M ember IEEE, Alessandro Ferrero1 , F ellow IEEE and Alexandru Nechifor2 , StudentM ember IEEE
Dipartimento di Elettrotecnica - Politecnico di Milano Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 32 - 20133 Milano - Italy E–mail:, 2 MicroDERLab, Department of Electrical Engineering - Politehnica University of Bucharest Splaiul Independentei 313, Bucharest, 060042, Romania E–mail:
Abstract – Renewable energy sources have received an increasing attention during the last years. Solar radiation is one of the most accessible energy resources and photo-voltaic conversion is a relatively easy and cost-effective solution. The major drawback of solar radiation and photo-voltaic conversion is the low energy density and the low conversion efficiency, that can be reduced to unacceptable levels by several factors, including pollution and dust deposit on the panels. Therefore, it is extremely important to monitor the production of every photo-voltaic generation plant and compare it with the incident solar radiation, in order to schedule maintenance at the optimal time to keep the overall generation efficiency at an acceptable level. This paper proposes and discusses a remote monitoring system for on-line tracking of the energy performance of a photo-voltaic generation plant. Some experimental results on a lab prototype are discussed. Keywords – Solar plants; Photo-voltaic generation; Remote monitoring; Optimal maintenance

I. INTRODUCTION The need for a sustainable future assigns renewable energy sources an increasingly important role on the energy market. From an end-user perspective, solar radiation is one of the most accessible renewable energy resources to exploit. As far as electricity is involved, Photo-Voltaic (PV) panels are relatively easy to install and are an efficient choice if properly installed in areas with the appropriate climate. A house or an office building in area with high solar radiation levels can benefit from this source of electrical energy generation [1]. The major drawback of PV generation is the low power density (in terms of watt/m2 ) associated with the solar radiation, and the relatively low efficiency of the PV conversion. Moreover, the performance of PV panels depends, in a quite significant way, on the environmental conditions and the local climate. Several efforts have been dedicated, in the recent past, to control PV panels, both from the electrical [2–4] and position [5–7] points of view.

An often neglected problem is the impact of pollution and dust levels on the efficiency degradation of PV conversion. The desirable diffusion of PV generation also in urban and industrial areas, that show, generally, the highest pollution levels, requires to consider this problem and adopt suitable maintenance strategies to keep PV panels clean and efficient. Control strategies, the related control equipment, and maintenance operations, however, show a non negligible energy consumption, if compared to the generated energy, thus decreasing the net amount of the generation. The economical impact on the whole system, and in particular on the redemption plans and the overall energy plans, may become quite dramatic, if this problem is neglected. It is hence important that every PV generation station is equipped with a suitable, possibly low-cost, measurement system to monitor the energy production, relate it to the climatic conditions, and compare it with the incident solar radiation. If more stations are present in the same area (for instance in the same town, or in the same district), it is also important to relate data acquired from the different stations, in order to build a better picture of the way climatic factors and pollution affect the different stations, so that cleaning and maintenance operations can be optimally scheduled. This paper proposes the structure of an on-line monitoring system that collects the measured values of the quantities of interest, and stores them into a suitable, centralized database. The database is organized in order to be easily accessed from remote locations, so that a clear picture of the performance of all generating stations connected to the system is available at any time. A lab prototype of the monitoring system has been implemented, and this paper reports the first experimental data collected on a scaled PV generating station.

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the adoption of such a policy opens two new issues: ease of access and security. Also automatically logged data stored into the database is a great resource for performing detailed analysis over long time periods. structuring.II. In order to establish the base for efficiently storing. MONITORING SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS The main requirement for the implementation of the above-considered monitoring system is ensuring its utility in keeping under constant control all parameters that influence PV generation. incongruence between voltage and current values. A second level of users should have enough rights to access the whole set of measured values. different measuring devices. ) acquired from sensors or via a dedicated acquisition board. Example of control tables created in the database. filtering options and reports. a third level of users. in order to facilitate the future investigation on the correlation between the generated power. Aiming for flexibility. Therefore. efficient data analysis cannot be performed manually. these two tables are kept separate from the tables that the application uses for internal data analysis. However. and may not measure the same quantities. suitable scripts must be defined and implemented for analyzing the data in comparison with past logs. and should be efficient enough to handle a large amount of data. The table on the left controls the measurement data (measurement table). Similarly. Therefore. should be allowed to additionally modify the functional pa- . the different stations may have different local sensors. and security. . for instance. with full access. 1. humidity. azimuth and tilt angles. and the area climate. At last. solar radiation. especially if an early detection of poten- Fig. In order to attain this goal. the installation parameters. . A first level of users should have limited access to the most relevant set of measured values. and making this monitoring system publicly available is a good way to satisfy this demand. Moreover. ease of access. on-line advanced search features with automatic Excel spreadsheet generation will reduce considerably the effort of sorting. current. The full functionality and features of a MySQL database are described in [8]. as in this way the structure of the on-line application for monitoring the acquired data is fully prepared for any number of PV generating units. • Automation When several PV stations are monitored by the same system. such as latitude. indexing and analyzing such large amounts of data. temperature. the monitoring system should not be confined to only a single PV station. A view of the current structure of the database tables is reported in Fig. . The measurements table stores the measured values (voltage. In this way. while the table on the right controls the monitored PV stations (solar plant table). Furthermore. filtering and analyzing the data. Let’s now outline that three different levels of user have to be considered. Also. a MySQL 5 database has been implemented. There is an increasing demand of transparency about energy generation. These scripts can automatically detect. • Flexibility As stated in the Introduction. automation. . Two different tables have been created in order to relate the PV generating stations with their monitored data. since the comparison of the performance of different PV stations belonging to the same micro-climate area are extremely useful in assessing whether a particular station needs maintenance or not. the database should be flexible enough to store and manage different amounts of data coming from the different stations. Table solar plants stores date and location information. We will cover the security issue in the next point. making the server PHP scripts and the MySQL database independently expandable. • tially anomalous working conditions is required. four critical issues have to be considered in designing the whole system: flexibility. 1. sensor readings and logged measurements in the monitoring table will result in automatic detection of damage to the PV panels or sensor failures. both tables can easily be extended with additional parameters. it is possible to maintain the overall generation efficiency at the required level. by properly scheduling the cleaning and maintenance activity. drops in generation rate in similar conditions of weather. Ease of access The general opinion has become very sensitive to the energy issue and the exploitation of renewable energy sources. it is more convenient to store PV generating stations separately. temperature. However. power.

These . The acquired values are averaged over a 0. a remote user with suitable permission has access to all internal parameters of the application that mediate the communication between the sensors. has been realized.A and III. air temperature under the panel and air temperature of a roof portion exposed to the sun in a similar way as the panel. These quantities are then averaged on a 20 s interval. 2 This test generating station has been equipped with a measuring system. This way. • Panel surface temperature. III. and therefore we are not going to discuss this problem here. Several methods are presently available to grant security. and runs on a PC. • Temperature and relative humidity. This board features 4 analog input channels.• rameters of the application through the control table. a test system has been implemented at the Department of Electrical Engineering of Politecnico di Milano University. while the dynamic features of the website are implemented in the versatile PHP 5 server-side scripting language. The acquisition of both electrical and environmental quantities is managed by a dedicated VI. • Solar radiation. but protected by direct solar radiation All signals coming from the above sensors are acquired and digitized by a dedicated Adam unit. through 3 PT100 temperature probes. SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE Fig. because it can be easily moved on dedicated processors. with simultaneous sampling up to 100 kSamples/s sampling rate on a single channel. placed close to the panel. 2. that provides a voltage output proportional to the incident solar radiation. and a 16-bit resolution. and transmitted to the remote server. according to the schematics shown in Fig. In the test system. Data acquisition The realized measuring system acquires voltage and current at the terminals of the PV panel and converts it into digital by means of an NI USB-9215A DAQ board. A. thus avoiding the need of a dedicated PC connected to each generating station. A test PV generating station. based on a single. Security A common platform for accessing the whole system and the stored data and a hierarchical user structure as the one described in the previous point require to implement a strict policy to ensure security. The front panel of the realized VI is represented in Fig. The acquired data can be retrieved through an RS485 interface. In the present application. This can be attained if a plain web-browser is used as operator-system interface. As for the weather parameters. The generated energy is also evaluated by integrating the obtained power values over time. the DC voltage and current are acquired at a sampling rate of 1000 samples per second. developed in a LabVIEW environment. More details about the way the communication can be implemented are given in next section III. The average power is computed as product of the corresponding average voltage and current values. and restrictions to some critical functions have been applied also on the basis of IP numbers and MAC addresses. The highest degree of flexibility and ease of access from remote locations is obtained using a platform independent protocol. also in view of future development. the communication between the end-user and the database is mediated by an Apache 2 server running on a Linux machine.B. Simplified electrical scheme of the implemented PV generating test station. that controls the USB DAQ board and the Adam unit. since it is outside the main aim of this paper. equipped by a 16bit ADC. that monitors the electrical and environmental quantities. access restriction is ensured with a username/password restricted access. the following quantities are monitored. and stored locally. 3. while parameters like sampling frequency and number of samples are stored in and can be read from the database. In order to validate the proposed architecture. All quantities are polled over a 2 s cycle. This solution appears to be the most flexible one. The acquired data have been stored into a public database. The full functionality and features of an Apache server are described on the Apache project’s website [9]. through a global class 1 Eppley radiometer. monocrystalline silicon PV panel with 1. In the present application. implemented following the guidelines given in the previous section. Acquisition and display rates for each parameter can be controlled remotely.B will provide the details of the implemented measuring system and communication layer.5 s interval and stored locally.125m2 surface. and stored in a file on the local PC. equipped with a Rotronic thermo-hygrometer. acquired by a dedicated meteorological station. The next sections III. the measuring system and the database.

The communication has been tested over an encrypted VPN connection and can be easily secured when the application shall develop beyond its experimental phase. with all the developed data analysis routines that reside on it. as far as voltage and current acquisition is concerned. while the only information needed to access the database from LabVIEW is the DSN of the specific configuration. Front panel of the VI implemented to manage data acquisition in the generating stations. In order to implement the fundamental MySQL functionality like Create Connection. Communication The implemented communication strategy is schematically represented in Fig. Based on functionality and purpose. and to avoid overloading the server with high-end applications like LabVIEW. they can be easily modified. the server. is located at the Politehnica University of Bucharest (Romania). and is similar to the one described in [10]. the acquisition and the intermediate computer can be considered communication interfaces through which the server reads the data from the measurement devices and sensors at Politecnico di Milano. • Acquisition layer As already stated. In the case presented in this paper the acquisition part and the analysis part have been completely separated. These packets are forwarded to the database server employing the open source driver MySQL Connector/ODBC 5. Basically. However. and is physically connected to the PV panels and sensors through a USB interface. The communication between the acquisition and the intermediate computer is made through LabVIEW Fig.Fig. The IP and access information are stored in the driver’s configuration. Close Connection and Execute query. 3. 4. as far as the acquisition of the environmental data is concerned. A socket server listens for input from the acquisition computer and when it receives a data set different from the preceding data set.1 in order to simplify the communication with the server from the programmer’s perspective. another computer has been used at Politehnica of Bucharest. and a serial RS485 interface. time intervals have been chosen as the optimal ones. B. according to the performance of the data acquisition devices employed in this prototype. sockets. 4. On the other side. in order to grant flexibility. while environmental data acquisition employs the serial RS485 interface. the open source library LabSQL . The communication between the intermediate computer and the server takes place with MySQL queries generated through LabVIEW from the received data. voltage and current acquisition employs the USB interface to send data to the PC. In order to fully separate acquisition from processing. the communication analysis can be split into two parts: the acquisition layer and the server layer. The acquisition computer is located in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano (Italy). in order to get the data from the acquisition part in Milan and convert it to the format required by the server. Adopted communication strategy. it forwards it to the server.

6 shows the web page that allows the user to request a graphical report. Fig. This has been achieved also with the help of the open source library ”Phplot” [11]. based on the single remote PV-panel and sensors described in the previous Section III and located at Politecnico di Milano. additional functionalities have been added to the central server.B. in the webbrowser page. The options for the plots are selected by the user in a plain html interface and then redirected toward a script that requests the necessary information from the server and finally draws the image on the fly. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS Fig. The users have been given the choice to select from the relevant predefined plots and also to have a fully customizable plotting experience.• has been used extensively. and a central server hosted at the Politehnica University of Bucharest. This has been obtained by implementing a graphical interface that allows the user to display. in Italy. automatic graphical representations have been implemented. 5 shows the main page of the realized web-based interface. However. In this way. In order to satisfy this demand. The main requirement for this web interface is simplicity and intuitive use. opinion has become very sensitive to the energy issue. so that everybody with little knowledge of the generating plant can have a quick glance of the actual performance of the monitored system. in Romania. Fig. 5. and one showing the plots of generated power and voltage and the PV panel temperature. These two graphs have been made immediately available because they are the ones that best relate the panel perfor- . The web page implemented to request advance graphical reports. the general Fig. The main page of the web-based interface. quick samples and averages of the desired data can be generated on the fly to give an idea about the power generation evolution in respect to time or an environmental parameter. this statement can be motivated if the whole monitoring system has to be accessed only by technical people. just a plain web-browser. It can be noticed that two predefined graphics are immediately available. From a mere functional point of view. Therefore. Also. especially when energy generation is widespread in the single houses. no additional client software is required to view the graphs. An automatic downloadable excel generation has been also implemented for advanced users. a plot of the quantities of interest. and the server can be accessed using any commercial web browser. The result has been a compact code that takes care of inserting into the database the acquired data. Server layer The server is responsible for the web-based interface. IV. for limiting user access on the acquisition application and for filtering data from the database according to the user’s request. The above guidelines have been followed in the implementation of a first distributed monitoring system. 6. since also inexperienced users are supposed to access it to have a rough idea of the amount of generated energy. the central server might be seen as a simple repository of the data acquired by each PV-generating station. However. Therefore. as stated in the previous section II. as is likely to occur with PV generation. the user can make his own offline analysis. one showing the plots of solar radiation and generated power. The user interface of the central server is fully webbased. responsible of management and maintenance of the whole monitored generation system. The remote server in Milan sends the acquired data to the central server in Bucharest according to the communication protocol described in section III. and the demand for a transparent management of the renewable energy sources is steadily increasing.

especially devised to help maintenance people to define the optimal maintenance scheduling. pp. Morsy. 7 shows. [4] I. The main goal of this system is to monitor the generated energy and relate the measured value to the climatic conditions. [8] http://www. Fig. conditions and the performance of each monitored station: comparison of the same quantities acquired in different days or weeks on the same PV plant. 2002. In this way. acquired in the same day as that considered in Fig. Dunford.” Industrial Electronics. [3] V.” Energy Conversion. Capella. M. Renewable Energy: Power for a Sustainable Future. and E. Proceedings of the Nineteenth National. CONCLUSION An automatic. Press. according to the climatic . Plots of solar radiation (blue line) and generated power (red line) as provided by the implemented web interface. [9] http://httpd. Fig. . vol. as shown in Fig. The paper has presented a test system that collects data from a small station installed at Politecnico di Milano and sends them to the central server. “Realtime identification of optimal operating points in photovoltaic power systems. the plots of solar radiation and generated power in a typical day of March in Milan. IEEE Transactions on. Fig.” in Electronic Measurement and Instruments. IEEE Transactions on. M. A. May 2009. Nechifor. located to the Politehnica University in Bucharest.” in Radio Science Conference. pp. no. and Hsu-Chin 7. A. 2002. I2MTC ’09. [7] C. June 2006. Jaen. Olias. Nicolaou. showing that the proposed monitoring system is feasible at a reasonably low cost. as an example. 1017–1026. 3274–3279 vol. pp. A. G. The close correlation between the generated current and the temperature of the panel surface is quite evident. [11] http://sourceforge. Fig. Pou. CPE ’09. Arias.” in Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Oxford Univ. pp.mance to the environmental parameters. and A. [6] Chang Ying-Pin and Shen Chung-Huang. 4. Marin. “The control strategies for photovoltaic regulators applied to stand-alone systems. G. May 2009. and surface temperature of the panel (green line). 8th International Conference on. “Online measurements and control of a laboratory scale dc grid. UK. (NRSC 2002). 1996. vol.apache. 1–278–1–282. 53.. 2007. REFERENCES [1] G. The quantities of interest can be selected using a dedicated menu. June 2005. El Zawawi. A. 2009. vol. Chien-Hsing Lee. 20.” in IECON 02 [Industrial Electronics Society. “On the use of sun trackers to improve maximum power point tracking controllers applied to photovoltaic systems. 8 shows.J. Oxford. and M. [10] A.K. Lamich. as an example. Manzanas. M. and all requirements can be met through a careful design of the whole system. Capel. and M. 7. 4.. 8.mysql. The functionality of the whole systems has been tested and some experimental data have been reported. Nov.. 6. Lind. 2. 519–526.4. it is possible to keep the generating stations at a pre-defined minimum level of efficiency. 2002. 67–72. on-line system for monitoring PV generating stations has been presented. [5] Yaow-Ming Chen. as provided by the implemented web interface. 16 2007-July 18 2007. Aboul Seoud. “Calculation of the optimum installation angle for fixed solar-cell panels based on the genetic algorithm and the simulated-annealing method.J. 1701–1706.G. J. “Effects of the solar module installing angles on the output power. Lazaro. no. More functionalities have been also implemented. the plots of generated voltage and current and the panel surface temperature. “On-line prediction of photovoltaic output power under cloudy skies by using fuzzy logic. 467–473. and A. Boyle. 6 allows the user to generate custom graphs plotting any desired combination of the acquired quantities for the selected generating plant. Salas. pp. IEEE. [2] Weidong Xiao. IEEE 2002 28th Annual Conference of the]. pp.” in Compatibility and Power Electronics. V. Popa. Barrado. comparison of same quantities acquired in the same day or week on different PV plants of the same area. W. ICEMI ’07.G. The same interface page shown in Fig. Plots of generated voltage (red line) and current (blue line). also by optimally scheduling maintenance operations. 2009. pp. and any anomalous working condition of the PV panel is immediately reflected in these plots.