Solar Builder: What is the most important data analytics trend or innovation that installers should be paying attention to?
Mark Barron of Seaward Solar: Along with ensuring electrical safety on both new and existing installations, it’s also important to measure the actual system performance. Customers invest considerable funds into solar PV systems, and they need to have the confidence that the system is performing at its optimum capabilities.
Larger utility and commercial projects have always taken a more sophisticated view of effective operations and maintenance (O&M) activities to ensure that long-term performance levels associated with financial modeling and initial project investment decisions are maintained.
Now, residential solar installers are also increasingly adopting O&M strategies to protect asset values, meet warranty terms for new projects and monitor component performance at the end of existing warranty periods.
Against this background, periodic electrical testing is the proven method to establish the reasons for any identified underperformance and to enable the application of timely mitigation measures. In this respect, the absolute minimum testing that needs to be undertaken involves continuity measurements, open circuit voltage, short circuit current, insulation resistance and irradiance.
In addition, an assessment of the I-V curve of a PV cell or string during commissioning, or as part of the periodic inspection and testing of a system, can also help to verify that all the modules are healthy and performing at a consistent level in line with their specified parameters.
SB: How does your PV210 in particular improve the typical electrical testing experience?
Barron: The PV210 is the first instrument to combine the required IEC62446 electrical safety tests for PV systems with I-V curve performance measurement capabilities. It’s portable, easy to use, fast and the most comprehensive test kit available today, eliminating the need for the engineer to carry lots of separate instruments and PC equipment around a site.
With an onboard memory, the test results can be downloaded to our PC software for further analysis and reporting. Three operating modes can give the test operator just the tests required for a particular site, or combine all possible tests with one press of the AUTO test button.
SB: Walk us through the workflow with the accompanying PVMobile app.
Barron: With some I-V curve tracers on the market, a laptop PC is required on site to convert the measured data into curve diagrams so that shapes can be determined and any system faults identified. The PV210 eliminates this need.
If the instrument detects a fault in a string, the results can be sent wirelessly to the Android PVMobile app to create high definition color displays of the I-V and power curves. This gives the engineer immediate visibility of the curves to then start the repair process to rectify the issue without having to leave the site and return after analyzing the data.
SB: How does this add to/enhance the experience?
Barron: There is considerable time savings in not having to download results to a PC to analyze faults and less equipment to carry to site (PC’s don’t like the intense heat that can be on solar farms, particularly in the United States). Simple and quick operation means spending less time on site in hot conditions.
Along with enabling immediate on site performance assessment and fault diagnosis, complete I-V curve and electrical test data can be stored in the PV210’s large onboard memory. Full test and measurement data can then be downloaded to a PC via USB connection for comprehensive system reports and full traceability records of system performance.