Data for the sake of data is not beneficial in solar farm operation.
If you can’t tell what’s going on at your solar plant within seconds of looking at your HMI SCADA screen, it’s got too much data on it. Displaying data just because it exists just distracts the operator and clutters the screen. Best practice is to add less (but actionable) data.
This is a great example of what NOT to do.
There’s a lot of real-time data here, but for most operators, this screen is a destination when an inverter is misbehaving, so the appropriate information better be apparent. There is too much stuff on this screen that the normal operator just doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care about. For example:
- Communications heartbeat: This merely shows that the control system is communicating with the plant. If you suddenly stop receiving real-time updated information about your plant, it’s obvious the communications aren’t working.
- Inlet air temperature: Temperatures should be similar to the met station’s air temperature measurement, so why would it be needed on an inverter specific screen? An alert on high operating temperatures is all you need.
- MPPT status: What does an operator, looking at dozens of sites, maybe hundreds of inverters, care about the inverters internal MPPT algorithm?
- Inverter kw hours: Here’s a piece of data that would be good to have as a comparison to other inverters at the site, but not on the inverter’s real-time screen. It’s a bit of clutter that adds little value when an operator is trying to figure out why this inverter isn’t working well.
Why Do Cluttered HMIs Exist?
I once worked on a site with tracker systems that had 20,000 data points per MW. Out of those obscure data points, I really only needed to know three: 1) where the tracker was actually pointed, 2) where it thinks it’s supposed to be pointed, 3) daily maximum current of the tracker actuator motor (to identify maintenance issues). Plus, a summary of alarms that may command the inverter to stow, or if there is an obstacle detected.
SCADA developers shouldn’t put data on the screen just because they have access to it. They should provide data that the operator needs at a high level to make sure the equipment operates. But many SCADA programmers have no experience in plant operations, and thus have no idea what operators need.
Solar Monitoring Best Practices to Avoid HMI SCADA Clutter
Time to problem identification should be an operator’s #1 key metric. You have an overwhelming number of data points to monitor and you need to be able to get to the source of the problem fast. De-cluttering your HMI SCADA screen will help.
This operations center is a great example of uncluttered SCADA screens, and an overview of the fleet. Sites with problems are identified quickly, the area of the plant with a problem is highlighted, and in just a couple clicks, the operator can get to the information that will tell him or her the root cause of the problem.
Data for the sake of data is not beneficial. There are hundreds of parameters in an inverter, but only 10-20% are pertinent on a continuous basis. The rest of them are generally not needed unless they’re different than normal. Trust the experts to give you the information you need to monitor your site, but make sure they actually understand how solar farms operate, and your needs as an operator.
I recommend adding only the most crucial, actionable, high-level information on your main HMI. Detailed information should always require drill-down, whether that’s in the form of HMI SCADA screens, or portals to the devices directly. If your monitoring system is designed well, you will make operators more productive, freeing up time to do more performance analysis, and less hunting for the critical information buried in the monitoring system somewhere...
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Adam Baker is Senior Sales Executive at Affinity Energy with responsibility for providing subject matter expertise in utility-scale solar plant controls, instrumentation, and data acquisition. With 23 years of experience in automation and control, Adam’s previous companies include Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley), First Solar, DEPCOM Power, and GE Fanuc Automation.
Adam was instrumental in the development and deployment of three of the largest PV solar power plants in the United States, including 550 MW Topaz Solar in California, 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar in Arizona, and 550 MW Desert Sunlight in the Mojave Desert.
After a 6-year stint in controls design and architecture for the PV solar market, Adam joined Affinity Energy in 2016 and returned to sales leadership, where he has spent most of his career. Adam has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and has been active in environmental and good food movements for several years.