Solar power: The many reasons rain is not a friend of renewable energy

If sun is the best friend of Solar PV, rain can be its worst nightmare, as HIT Energy Services found when it started working with a company that was losing up to £1,000 each week.

The award-winning Lincolnshire solar energy experts helped Norfolk-based HBS Farms, who invested £1m installing Solar PV in August 2011, hoping it would generate large amounts of clean, green, free, renewable energy.

But the system had stopped producing as efficiently as it once did, and HIT Energy Services’ team found problems that were common to other Solar PV it monitors around the country, and could be going unnoticed in thousands of others.

“The inverters were failing to produce energy at certain times of the day because moisture or rain had got into the DC cabling,” said HIT Energy Services’ Simon Hopkins.

“This is an issue a lot of sites experience at this time of year that often goes unnoticed. But it’s important to investigate the issue and rectify it as the moisture can break PVC on the cable or connector, making it inefficient.”

Other long-term problems that arise from this is pressure being put on cables when producing energy in the summer, which can cause fires – HIT Energy Services were called to seven incidents last year which caused costly damage.

The company’s engineers have developed pioneering technology which is able to tell instantly how much renewable energy each solar panel should be producing every hour compared to others in the system.

This means any that are underperforming are quickly identified and they can immediately start testing to find the fault.

The engineers were able to quickly ascertain “significant production issues” with a number of HBS’ panels, with the reduction in performance costing the company thousands of pounds each week, a figure the company’s Will Sands said he was “alarmed” at.

Problems were quickly rectified and HIT Energy Services now monitors the solar panels every hour, meaning similar potential issues can be identified and avoided before they even happen in the future, saving the company large sums of money.

When solar technology was in its infancy around 2011, many farmers, businesses, landowners and companies like HBS rushed to install systems to take advantage of government incentive schemes.

But, perhaps because of the rush by engineers to install, the lack of knowledge about how they would operate long-term or simply the effects of age and bad weather as they stood exposed on roofs and in fields, many have stopped performing as they should.

Some may be operating at 90%, 70% or even 50% – levels that are costing business owners large amounts of money but go unnoticed as they are still getting a return.
HIT Energy Services commissioned some of the biggest and most complex generation sites around the UK and Ireland, and using this experience, its engineers are able to monitor the effectiveness of Solar PV.

“Solar PV was once cutting edge technology, but what we are finding now is, many systems have grown old and they are needing tweaks to modernise them so they keep performing,” added Simon.

“The biggest problem in the industry is there are hundreds, maybe thousands of businesses such as HBS Farms, that are either not aware their technology is underperforming or they simply don’t know what to do to rectify the problem.”

HIT Energy Services believes it has the answer – its highly-skilled engineers are able to give panels a health check and then, using an internet signal, monitor them to ensure they keep generating large amounts or clean, green energy.

It does this on an hourly basis, and if they pick up any small problem, the firm can send a highly-skilled engineer out to rectify it before it becomes a major issue and starts costing a company seriously money, as was the case with HBS.

Hit Energy Services is now monitoring 125,000 solar panels UK-wide with about 3,500 being joined up to the scheme every week.“Solar PV was a large, growing market some years ago with little or no thought of long-term maintenance and monitoring,” added Simon.

“Many installations are under-performing and the carbon footprint increasing due to a lack of green investment.

“In our Energy Guard, we have the next stage in the technology’s evolution and a very important insurance policy to protect the huge solar investments of farmers and businesses.”

HIT Energy Services is now working with a growing number of farmers’ groups, universities and energy companies, with the internet-based monitoring technology able to potentially keep an eye on Solar PV around Europe and the globe.

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