The Importance of Monitoring Renewables

The Importance of Monitoring Renewables

The Importance of Monitoring Renewables

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I’m going to talk about the importance of monitoring renewable energy technologies. Renewables have been around for a little while now, and everybody thinks that they are going to save the planet, reduce our carbon emissions and provide secure sources of energy going into the future.

So we’re now on a road of putting quite a lot of renewables in. Feed in tariff came in a few years ago, and a result of that about 300,000 photovoltaic syste have been put in across the UK. We’ve got the renewable heat incentive that’s coming in, that’s got about 400-odd biomass boilers gone in already, and the number is climbing fast. So, renewables are here, and they’re here to stay, but I think what people are forgetting is that this is new technology and we’ve got to know whether it’s actually delivering.

Design engineers are now making promises about how technologies are going to perform, how they are going to save carbon, how much money they can save, what feed in tariff rate you can get, what rate of return you can get on an installation and we need to know whether these things can live up to all the hyperbole. The only way you can do that is by monitoring them. And, surprise, surprise you can’t manage anything you can’t understand what’s going on unless you measure it’s performance.

What we’ve been working on, and what I’m personally very interested in is how we monitor renewable energy technologies. I’ll give you some examples; photovoltaics. There will be meters on photovoltaics because if you want to claim the feed in tariff, then it needs to be metered. Well that’s fine, but whose tracking that performance and saying well, if the sun’s shining today did I get as much energy out of my photovoltics when the sun was shining yesterday? And, so from one day to the next is it still performing as it should or does it degrade over time, or has it suddenly developed a fault?

What we’ve found is that some of these systems can perform particularly badly and the reasons may be that they start growing moss or algae on them, and there are a number of them like that. So you can imagine, it’s on your roof, you don’t go up on your roof very often to find out whether the things need cleaning. But if you monitor it and you track that performance you can start to see it degrade and then you know to get somebody in to clean it.

Of course you don’t want to be spending your whole life looking at a meter, you want to have something that flashes a little alarm at you to say do you realize that your expensive system is no longer performing? And tells you now go and look at it. So it needs to be an automated monitoring system that’s reliable, that gives you exception reports when things go wrong, shows you if it’s gradually decaying. But, also that you can use to evaluate the financial performance. Are you getting the rate of return that the consultant has promised you would when they sold you the system?

In summary, monitoring renewables is essential because technologies are expensive, they’re relatively new and we don’t fully understand how well all of them perform. So for example, we‘ve got biomass boilers, groundsource heat pumps, air source heat pumps, photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind turbines and each of them have their own different quirks and characteristics that we need to learn how to monitor and look out for the tell-tale signs of when they start to go wrong. Because, if you don’t monitor it properly, there’s a good chance that you’ll be wasting money.

Find out more about Measurement and Verification from TEAM.

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