Applying Artificial Intelligence in Commercial Solar Power Systems
11th Apr 18
Cameron Quin

Although photovoltaic technology is complex, the basic operating principle of commercial solar power systems is simple: they generate electricity when there is sunlight, and the electric power produced depends on the solar radiation per square metre of PV panels. However, artificial intelligence can be applied to enhance commercial solar installations.

There are two main ways in which automation can improve solar photovoltaic systems: increasing their daily energy output, and managing the energy produced to obtain the most value from it. Considering the high electricity tariffs in Australia, any enhancement that increases the total kWh output of a solar array or the savings per kWh is a valuable addition.

Increasing Electricity Generation with Automation

Commercial solar power systems are typically connected in strings of photovoltaic panels for simplicity. However, this setup has a key disadvantage: if one solar panel has issues due to shading or malfunctioning, the output of the entire string is diminished.

If each solar panel is equipped with a smart electronic module, it is possible to manage voltage and current individually so that the output of the string is always maximized. These devices are called power optimizers and they are complemented with a specially designed inverter. An added benefit of this technology is that each module is monitored individually, making it much easier to pinpoint the location of faults.

An alternative system configuration uses a small-scale inverter for each solar panel to achieve the same effect: optimising production at the module level to increase the total output of a commercial solar array.

Solar trackers are another type of automated enhancement for solar panels. Consider that solar panels produce more power when facing the sun directly and not at an angle, and solar trackers adjust their position in real time so they always face the sun. These are designed to adjust the tilt angle, azimuth angle or both; single-axis tracking boosts energy production by around 25%, while dual-axis tracking increases it by up to 40%.

Managing Energy to Make it More Valuable

When you consume the output of a solar PV system you save the full price of each kWh, but only get a reduced feed-in tariff if you sell surplus production to the local power retailer. Therefore, it is in your best interest to use all the electricity output of a commercial solar array whenever possible.

  • An automatic system can take control over electric loads that are not time-sensitive, scheduling their use for hours when solar power generation is at its highest point. This typically occurs around noon.
  • If the installation is equipped with a battery array, it can also be enhanced with a smart control system. Surplus energy from the solar array is directed to the battery bank, and in turn batteries are controlled to deliver their stored energy when solar generation is low or zero.

A conventional commercial solar array delivers electricity when possible, but a system equipped with AI delivers more energy while maximising the savings per kilowatt-hour. The end result is converting solar PV systems into a much more valuable asset for residential and commercial property.

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Cameron Quin

11th Apr 18
Cameron Quin

Cameron Quin has been heavily involved in business development from an early age. After founding and selling two online companies, Cameron found a strong passion for renewables and the opportunities it brings for the commercial and industrial sector. Sharing the possibilities of solar and the knowledge from the Solar Bay team is his favourite pastime.