Cellular IoT: The Future of Solar Energy Monitoring

Posted by on February 16, 2017 at 10:39 AM Kevin Petschow  
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In 2016, the amount of solar energy used by homes and businesses in the USA nearly doubled. The SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) reports that solar energy production increased from 20 gigawatts to 34 gigawatts. To take maximum advantage of this growth, solar panel and inverter manufacturers must work toward systems that are efficient enough to compete with the current energy infrastructure.

Precise device monitoring and control systems will give solar energy providers the tools needed to flourish and compete with traditional electric companies in the energy market. Traditional electric utility providers have used Internet of Things (IoT) to great success, and solar companies that leverage IoT will have an edge over their competition. However, for IoT monitoring to be as effective as possible, solar panel installers should use the connection type that will be most effective: Cellular.

Cellular networks are more reliable than Wi-Fi or Ethernet, have a lower total cost over the lifetime of a device, and provide self-service tools to help diagnose and fix devices without sending out a technician.

Your Data, When You Need It

Cellular networks are ideal for revenue grade metering because they cover the largest service area and have the most reliable connectivity compared to other connectivity methods. Wi-Fi and Ethernet are much less reliable than cellular because they typically rely on inconsistent, consumer-grade internet service and devices to transmit data.

For instance, if you’re a solar energy provider and a customer resets their Wi-Fi password, switches to another internet service provider, or has a defective modem, you can lose application critical data. Cellular gives you control over the network that your inverters and panels operate on. With cellular, your company always receives the data necessary to make adjustments and refine operations regardless of your customers’ internet connections.

Reliable security is also paramount for the growth of your solar IoT operation. Cellular networks are government-regulated and automatically encrypted, making it nearly impossible to mine them for sensitive data or make unauthorized changes to solar devices. Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, are shared and far easier to penetrate. Anyone near a Wi-Fi signal has the opportunity to gain unauthorized access and tamper with your monitoring results, tarnishing the data needed to fine-tune your operations and reduce your costs.

Cut the Cord and Go Cellular

Cellular does require a higher upfront cost for the modems and devices necessary to transmit your solar data. But its ability to operate without miles of cable or Wi-Fi routers reduces IoT infrastructure costs and speeds up shipment to markets and installation times.

For example, solar panel manufacturers that use Wi-Fi or Ethernet as their preferred method of connectivity would have to install an entire network in their factory just to test their devices. Since cellular IoT doesn’t use wires or external network boxes, it’s easier for a solar device manufacturer to test their system. All they need to do is provision their subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, then make sure that their devices are transmitting the correct data, and that the data is being recorded properly on their database.

Once tested, cellular ready solar inverters save even more time and money during the installation process. Solar device installers are experts in the product they’re installing, not experts in wiring Ethernet connections or configuring Wi-Fi routers. Cellular-ready solar inverters therefore save installers time and prevents them from having to focus on tasks outside of their field.

Solar panel installers simply install the inverter and switch the SIM card into a billable state through a SIM card management platform accessible from a tablet or mobile device, or by directly calling the cellular network provider. In addition, cellular enabled solar panels not only save time and money by shortening installation times, but also save time and money by enabling technicians to fix problems remotely.

See Problems Before They Start

Most cellular IoT providers have device and SIM card management software built into their subscription platforms. These self-service tools let solar energy providers change SIM card states so they can set real time alerts to prevent data overuse. They also provide immediate insight into malfunctions and customer-facing problems. Solar energy providers can set minimum and maximum data alert thresholds to be alerted as soon as their devices are overusing data or are not transmitting data properly.

For example, if a solar energy provider knows their inverters should be sending at least 150kb of data per day at a minimum, they can set alerts for devices that fall below that threshold. If after some analysis they find out the device isn’t sending the data it needs to be sending, they can deduce that the problem has to do with their device connecting to the network. Much in the same way you restart a Wi-Fi router when your signal is lost, cellular SIM cards can be remotely restarted, allowing solar energy providers to diagnose and fix problems before they affect their customers. No need to send out a tech via a truck roll either since they can fix the problem remotely in real time. Even if a problem occurs that does require a technician to fix, alerting the customer before they become aware of the problem themselves is a proactive step that increases customer satisfaction and confidence in your company. No matter how you use it, the knowledge provided by cellular IoT networks is power.

When your company is ready to embrace the future of solar IoT connectivity, contact us. Our cellular IoT network will prepare you for the monitoring demands of the future solar energy market. 

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Topics: IoT, cellular, SIM cards, Internet of Things, subscriber identity module, Solar Data