Industry 4.0, also known as the smart technology revolution, has swept across all industries worldwide. To ride on this wave of changes, enterprises in every sector mainly focus on creating products or services that combine the different aspects of the smart technology: the Internet of Things, smart equipment, big data, cloud computing and advanced communication technologies. Fully integrated solutions that satisfy customers’ needs are therefore the key to successful transformations of businesses and industries.
Though the solar energy sector is one of the most progressive and bullish industries, it also faces challenges brought about by Industry 4.0. BIG SUN Group, Taiwan-based solar energy specialist, believes that harnessing the concepts and technologies that drive this revolution will greatly improve the generation efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) systems. To stay ahead of the curve, BIG SUN has launched its exclusive iPV Tracker and continues to upgrade the capability of iPVita, a smart energy monitoring and control platform.
“We must be more forward-looking than our competitors and introduce innovative products that meet both the immediate and future needs of the market,” said BIG SUN Chairman Summer Luo. “This is why we developed iPV Tracker and iPVita.” With photos and numerous case studies, Luo painstakingly revealed the strategies and efforts that have made his company an international success. BIG SUN’s exclusive iPV Tracker, a simple dual-axis solar tracker controlled by steel-wire ropes, has won accolades worldwide since its market launch in 2012 and obtained patents in over 40 countries.
Smart PV power plants made possible by the Internet of Things and solar energy
According to the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME), Industry 4.0 would maximize power generation efficiency of renewable sources and increase the usage of clean electricity. Luo explained that as PV power plants enter the smart technology era, plant owners would be able to obtain real-time information on PV systems and provide the necessary maintenance services. Moreover, PV power plants are now sources of valuable big data for the solar industry. Information from the plants could be further analyzed and become tools to help optimize the generation capability of PV systems in the future. At the user end, Industry 4.0 solutions can also better modulate power generation and power consumption, thus allowing a more effective use of renewable energy
Compared with PV systems with fixed-tilt mounting, the dual-axis iPV Tracker is more suited for use with other forms of smart technologies. The unique design of iPV Tracker is made possible by steel-wire ropes and motors and allows the system to rotate at wide angles. As a smart technology product, iPV Tracker can be remotely controlled and automated via software interface. Its solar panels will always face the sun through different times of the day and different seasons.
To effectively manage iPV Tracker, BIG SUN has also developed iPVita. This cloud-based monitoring and control system receives power-generation data from connected PV devices and in turn uses this information to optimize plant operations. The addition of mobile app further makes iPVita an essential tool for the building and maintenance of a smart PV power plant in the age of the Internet of Things.
With accurate solar tracking ability and the support from iPVita, iPV Tracker is proven to have an operational availability rate of 99.9%. Since this system is always aligned at the perfect angle to receive sunlight during the year, it generation efficiency is much higher than the traditional fixed-tilt PV systems. According to latest data analysis by BIG SUN on PV power plants worldwide, projects with iPV Trackers have 30~50% more annual generation capacity versus power plants with traditional fixed PV systems. In high-latitude areas, the difference in annual generation capacity between PV plants using iPV Trackers and those using traditional systems may even reach 100% or more.
BIG SUN creates value-added opportunities through cross-industry collaboration
In addition to improving the efficiency of PV electricity generation, iPV Tracker and iPVita together can encourage cross-industry uses of PV systems. Since 2014, BIG SUN has been promoting special projects known as iPV Smart Farm. These farms seamlessly integrate iPV Trackers, the iPV monitoring system and agricultural equipment. The spaces under the rotatable solar trackers can raise crops, bringing both electricity and harvests to farmers.
Luo said smart PV power plants can help transform the agricultural sector in many ways. Farmers can sell electricity and use the proceeds to upgrade their agricultural facilities. At the same time, PV systems can become the cornerstone of an energy self-sufficient smart farm. For instance, the electricity from PV systems can be feed into a greenhouse, powering equipment such as the humidity control and automated watering and fertilizing systems.
Solar energy also complements the fishery/aquaculture sector. Solar panels can serve as a roof over a fish pond, providing shades and protection from extreme cold. The electricity from PV systems can also power automated equipment for a smart fish farm, including aeration pumps, heaters and automatic feeders. BIG SUN has designed its iPV Tracker to work with poultry and livestock farms as well. Again, the PV systems can act as both another layer of shelter and a source of power when they are part of the construction of a poultry-raising facility. These new types of coops and broiler houses can be further outfitted with smart technologies to help control their indoor environments, reducing the risk of diseases such as the avian flu. In sum, solar energy has the potential to revolutionize the agriculture, fishery and livestock sectors by creating more value-added products and services for these industries.
Luo noted that the possibilities of cross-industry applications for solar energy are limitless. A well-designed PV power plant, for example, can become a tourist attraction. Guided tours of the plant area for both recreational and educational purposes can bring in additional revenue. Another example is PV systems for parking lots, which can be further transformed into charging stations for electric vehicles. This kind of project would be another step towards the environmental goal of zero-emission traffic.
Hooking up a PV system with an integrated control platform will open up possibilities for cross-industry uses. Still, Luo emphasized that iPV Tracker is a much better choice for different kinds of applications that require solar energy compared with it competitions.
Luo explained: “Why use iPV Tracker? Because when it is combined with iPVita as a package, this whole system can generate a steady amount of electricity during the daytime and supply the right amount of electricity according to the daytime load curve. The cloud-based iPVita not only remotely monitors and controls iPV Trackers, but it also processes and presents the data it receives from the solar trackers, giving us a clear picture of their capabilities. Plus, iPV Tracker has a very strong record of stability and efficiency compared with the fixed-tilt systems, so it is the number one choice for cross-industry deployment.”
New and better services for Industry 4.0
At the 2015 SNEC PV Expo, iPV Tracker won the Top 10 Highlight Award on account of its potential to bring additional values to agriculture and fishery sectors. Having the ability to track the sun automatically puts iPV Tracker on the forefront of Industry 4.0. The synergy of green energy technology and electronics will lead to a surge of applications, which in turn will drive service and equipment customization. The effect on the economy will be an increase in employment opportunities.
The goal behind the concept of “smart industry” is to provide customers with better and more complete services. Luo said his company is not pushing cross-industry uses of their products without thinking. Rather, they carefully consider the factors behind a successful incorporation of solar energy within an industry – the availability of physical space, business practicality, safety and the efficiency improvements that come from the adoption of PV systems.
BIG SUN moreover calculates operation and maintenance requirements into every project, which is modeled according to specific needs of the client. The results of their efforts are highly specialized and intelligent PV power plants. Still, the foundation of all BIG SUN projects is the iPV Tracker, a system with a proven record of stability and adaptability. As these solar trackers are deployed worldwide, the cloud-based, intelligent iPVita watches over them. Hence, they always adjust their angles to face the sun every five minutes, year round, regardless of strong winds, snow, dust or other harsh conditions.
Among the competitors in the renewable energies sector today, BIG SUN is more than ready to embrace the challenges of Industry 4.0.
Visit BIG SUN Group at booth No. W1-220 in SNEC 2016 exhibition, Shanghai, China.