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6 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Shaping Our Solar Power Future

The term ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ refers to just about any range of software solutions and applications that can adapt, learn, and evolve its mechanisms according to previous experiences. In the power industry, AI is now beginning to perform intelligent tasks to boost efficiency, increase security and enhance the potential of power transmission, distribution and consumption systems.

A remarkable example of that technological opportunity comes from the growing penetration of AI in solar power generation, the potential of which was highlighted at the recent International Greentech & Eco Products Exhibition & Conference Malaysia (IGEM) virtual conference.

Integrating Enhanced Solar Power With Adaptive AI

Solar power is expected to account for half of the total renewable energy generation installed in 2020 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, solar PV will remain a key driver of renewable energy uptake in 2021.

Optimizing the efficiency and reliability of these installations is vital in ensuring they meet the needs of the modern energy landscape. Companies such as Chinese technology firm Huawei are already pioneering AI innovation designed to meet these challenges with their FusionSolar 6.0 Plus Utility Smart PV solution that embraces the benefits of AI technologies to enhance solar PV installations in a number of ways.

1. Capturing Solar Irradiance

When installing new solar panels, a smart tracking feature, with insight from local data inputs, can provide a tracker control algorithm to determine the installation that would best capture solar irradiance. While traditional PV systems operate on a modular design with pre-established tracking solar irradiance pathways, AI-enabled solutions can even change orientation of panels to capture optimum solar irradiance when cloudy skies cause dynamic changes to the environment.

This optimized approach can deliver real benefits to solar PV installations. Huawei analysis shows its own system can improve energy generation by 0.5-1.3% through this smart tracking system. As the AI adapts and learns, it becomes more effective at delivering these improvements.


2. Predicting Power Production

Predicting Power production is a critical hurdle for renewable energy installations

Another key benefit of this system is AI becomes increasingly accurate at predicting the power production from solar PV installations. That’s a critical hurdle for renewable energy installations, where variable energy production can create challenges for local grid operators attempting to match demand and supply.

Companies like Solcast in Australia are taking this AI weather adaptation a step further, using AI forecasting combined with meteorological data to provide system-wide forecasting for solar energy generation. When combined with on-site adaptive AI forecasting solutions, this can provide an important opportunity to further enhance predictive capabilities around solar energy generation.


3. Managing Grid Harmonics

AI also helps manage and mitigate challenges around grid harmonics — in simple terms that is the variable distortions in the frequency of the grid. When these harmonics become misaligned, power system faults can occur. AI offers a chance to predict, manage, and monitor this to further enhance integration with centralised electricity grids.


4. Navigating the RE Marketplace

Renewable energy installations in Australia have also utilised AI technologies to navigate often competitive wholesale pricing markets. The 100MW Tilt Renewables Snowton 1 Wind Farm used technology from California-based software firm AMS to provide real-time adaptive bidding in a volatile market, allowing the installation to quickly respond and sell energy at the most profitable point. While the example use-case took place at a wind farm, it reflects an important AI opportunity for solar installations also. That’s another fascinating evolution in ensuring the financial competitiveness of renewable energy.


5. Optimising Operational Costs

AI technologies also offer a route to enhanced operations and management that can reduce on-going operational costs for solar farms. Smart AI systems can be taught to adapt and identify failure, providing predictive maintenance solutions that enable operators to undertake cost-saving maintenance before problems emerge.

With advanced learning capabilities, AI systems can also adapt and learn as they gather data through operations. Huawei’s AI-powered solar PV solution can identify a wide range of failure predictors, assessing maintenance data to prevent disruption. This technology reportedly reduces maintenance analysis and fault identification from potentially a week to just half a day.


6. Eliminating RE Barriers and Strengthening Energy Security

AI-enabled safety features could reduce costly faults and deliver peace of mind for both rural and urban installations

The traditional locations and footprints of solar PV installations also give rise to several issues which AI can help tackle. Cabling is often significant across large solar PV installations, connecting outer panels with centralized transformer stations. These cables can potentially run up to hundreds of meters in length, making them vulnerable to problems of electrical arcing which can damage systems. AI technologies can quickly detect and react to arc faults which could cause dangerous electrical damage. Quick-break solutions can trigger to shut down affected elements of the system, providing rapid safety response when needed.

This kind of safety feature is particularly valuable in rooftop solar installations — predicted to double to 100 million systems by 2024. These AI-enabled safety features could not only reduce costs by eliminating costly faults, but deliver peace of mind for both rural and urban installation settings. AI is even being used to identify the intriguing challenge of solar farms impacting local birdlife in US solar farms, aiming to boost the ecological protections of these systems.

An Adaptive Future

For solar alone, AI allows solar PV installations to track and adjust for optimum exposure to sunlight, learn and adapt to specific installation conditions, and enhances maintenance oversight with intelligent monitoring and feedback solutions, providing an important opportunity to enhance the viability of solar power. Soon, we will be seeing AI integrate with wider energy ecosystem innovations. Growth in battery storage technologies will create new opportunities to align solar energy generation with grid demand. Electric vehicle adoption will provide new avenues of innovation, both AI-enabled charging as well as the potential to integrate dynamic battery storage into the wider grid infrastructure.

The future of AI systems is one of constant evolution as algorithms continue to adapt and learn through experience, helping inform the next generation of AI solutions. When it comes to an intelligent ecosystem, AI-enabled solar power is shining a light on the future of smarter connected power systems.

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