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New challenges in the automation of technical monitoring and management of PV systems

smartblue AG maintains the long-term attractiveness of solar installations as investments by ensuring revenue security.

Despite a period of consolidation, the momentum of the photovoltaic sector shows no sign of slowing down. Increasing cost pressures and strong international competition have led to rises in efficiency at every stage of the value chain. 

Technical and business management play a particularly significant role in this process. Investors have long called for affordable and transparent monitoring solutions for securing and optimising the energy yields of their solar parks. By way of its automated and hardware-independent control console, Smart Control, smartblue AG has come up with an efficient tool that maximises yield security while minimising service costs. 

With a projected life-span of more than 25 years, PV installations represent long-term investment assets. The maintenance and documentation requirements of medium to large-scale PV installations are extremely capacity intensive. 

Although the performance of individual providers varies greatly, there is a clearly recognisable trend towards lower system management prices. To some extent, this is due to the profitability calculations of project planners whose installations operate in the free competition of the electricity markets, independent of feed-in tariffs.

Central factors in the technically demanding service provision of plant management are quality, customer-specific design, and a fast service in maintenance and repairs. On the technical side, a plant control station is essential for this purpose as it goes a long way to guaranteeing the complete and successful realisation of the above factors, delivering a high-yield plant management. Such a system increases revenues by minimising outages and shortening their duration. 

For an installation to be profitable over the long-term it is necessary to get the most out of the available technology. In this regard, it is the technical management of the PV installation which underpins its competitiveness.

Maximum freedom in the selection of hardware

With the Smart-Control service platform, smartblue AG from Munich offers a web-based portal service that is helping plant operators and managers to view and evaluate their technical measurement data. At present, the focus lies with decentralised power plants that generate electricity from renewable energy – predominantly solar power stations. The retrieval of the measured data takes place via so-called data loggers that manufacturers of measurement devices either provide as accessories or that can be sourced from a third-party provider. The data-loggers are generally compatible with a variety of hardware manufacturers and are able to retrieve and save data from the measurement devices. For larger energy generation plants requiring efficient communication between the data logger and the individual devices, industrial PCs and network technologies are also used. 

Depending on the quality and efficiency of the data logger and network technology, operators can set the level of data storage precision; for example, collecting data every 60 seconds, five, or ten minutes on the generated Kilowatt-hours or the functionality of inverters. The storage of the data takes place locally and is prepared for remote transmission. In the event of transfer problems, there is the additional benefit of a temporary on-site backup. 

Depending on the hardware and the local infrastructure there are various possibilities available for the transfer of data to a central server, each with a corresponding cost model. Besides the convenient option of broadband internet, mobile network connections are also available across 2G, 3G, or 4G networks – from GPRS to UMTS and LTE. The data is saved in the order that it is logged, then imported into a central database from where it can be viewed and analysed.

Cost efficiency through consistent monitoring

Due to pressure from investors, the challenges faced by plant operators are increasing, especially those managing large-scale installations. A key element in this is the fact that plant portfolios are generally diverse and include components from a variety of manufacturers. Due to the limited compatibility, plant operators feel compelled to deploy multiple monitoring portals simultaneously – with correspondingly different measurement devices and data loggers. 

The multiplicity of manufacturers is thereby both a blessing and a curse: Of course, all applications are provided with an optimal monitoring solution. Yet in the event that an installation requires modification, for example because a manufacturer has disappeared from the market, the challenge arises of updating the entire monitoring solution. 

In this event, owners should still have freedom of choice with regard to hardware components; and at the same time, continued access to the installation’s historical data, while preventing unnecessary error messages, and reducing the total cost of the installation monitoring. A portal such as Smart Control, which has a translation layer – analogous to virtualisation in the IT sector – makes it possible to combine different monitoring solutions and to map them uniformly. 

The logical layer thereby simplifies the changing of hardware components in the data capture domain. This function is particularly indispensable for photovoltaic installations of all sizes, where it is vital that outages of individual inverters or strings be quickly recognised. Smart Control offers the advantage that management companies retain free choice in their utilisation of different hardware components. As a result, service teams always have access to the best solution to any given problem.

Time factor monitoring

Precision fault recognition is especially important to the quality of monitoring solutions. smartblue continues to invest in the development of intelligent algorithms for fault diagnosis and in the automation of self-repeating manual work processes that allow the costs of technical management to be economically broken down for plant managers. 

Depending on the quality and availability of information technology, service providers typically spend between fifty and eighty percent of their time on the operative monitoring of their plant portfolios. 

This means that they are occupied with sorting the reports generated by measurement devices in terms of their essentiality, in analysing the outstanding data, comparing performance figures, and where necessary, analysing the information more precisely with the help of downloaded raw data. As a benchmark we can assume that a plant manager can carry out the operative monitoring of about 20MW of PV installation.

Smart Control makes it possible to automate these routine tasks. A plant manager can thereby control a large portfolio of PV installations. The solution provides investors with the necessary transparency and documentation in respect of their yield values. At the same time, it offers management companies the possibility of expanding both their services and their contribution margins. 

The adoption of automatic processes in plant management will thereby contribute to further sinking the costs of decentralised energy provision and support the transition to sustainable energies. With its hardware-independent monitoring console, smartblue offers a powerful tool towards increased efficiencies and the yield documentation for power plants: And the company is not limiting its sights to photovoltaics: the recording of technical parameters is equally viable from storage systems, combined heat and power stations, small wind-power and hydropower plants.

Simple and comprehensive implementation

The implementation of the Smart-Control portal from smartblue is easy to negotiate: With new installations the process of installing and bringing the system online generally takes less than an hour. The power plant will thereby be set up on the web-console and the data logger via remote access and installed on the smartblue server. By way of automatic configuration-recognition, the system defines the structure of the installation at the level of inverter input and GAK strings. The process is completed by the input of the technical data relating to the PV modules.

The installation might be more time consuming for existing power plants with incomplete documentation. The automatic configuration-recognition is very useful because it serves, in combination with the fault-recognition, as a quality control tool to figure out the plant configuration that has been constructed.


Additional interfaces illustrate the immense potential of the solution: Smart Control offers a valuable contribution to plant management, but it additionally provides business interfaces; for example, Datev can be incorporated for accounting purposes. Portfolio management systems, such as Bluepoint, can also be connected without significant expense. In this way, smartblue delivers comprehensive information and analysis for the high-grade automated operation of power plants. 


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