NSW Schools |

Executive Summary

Buildings Evolved was engaged by SINSW to develop a solar PV data ingestion system to solve device and network integration issues via standardised and open technology frameworks. The solution eliminated vendor ‘lock-in’, reduced costs and facilitated data integration and ingestion to better monitor and analyse plant and equipment across the portfolio.

Schools Infrastructure NSW has approximately 2,300 schools across the state, 1600 of which have solar PV systems. Typically, a vendor solution is used for monitoring the systems through a variety of redundant devices. This mix of failing technologies has restricted data access and visibility and impeded the operational efficiency and effectiveness of solar PV assets across the portfolio.

We provided various uplift procedures to supplant redundant and ineffective devices across the portfolio. Our solution has enabled data ingestion and monitoring of inverters and enabled integration with electricity gate metering for analytics and created the potential for smart controlled applications. This new potential has enabled the following operational capabilities:

  • power factor correction,
  • broad scale demand response,
  • network stability support services, and beyond that,
  • operating the school’s PV network as a virtual power plant.

Our solution eliminated SMA vendor ‘lock-in’ saving 500k in infrastructure upgrades by avoiding the need to upgrade all Webbox’s across the school’s portfolio. Our solution opened the portfolio to the modern and dynamic capabilities emerging from smart IoT applications and functionality.

Location: Australia

Industry: Design & Infrastructure

Savings: 400k

www.schoolinfrastructure.nsw.gov.au

Business Drivers

The electricity sector is undergoing a major transformation. Renewable and sustainable energy resources – such as solar panels, battery storage and electric cars are fundamentally changing the way consumers engage with energy markets. They can help to deliver clean, secure, reliable and low-cost power for a more equitable and sustainable energy system.

Access to quality data is key to managing the transition and transformation of renewable energy resources. Devices which are ‘smart’, that is, can send and receive information and react to operating conditions in a dynamic way are imbued with IoT capability. These devices are the future of global solutions to meet changing economic, environmental and market conditions.

The solar systems uplift for schools required forward thinking. A largely single vendor-dominant asset base in a vertically integrated technology stack is incongruous with IoT capability. To plan for the future required forward thinking; considering device, format and protocol standardisation to enable operation inside and outside of a single vendor system.

A specification and options paper were designed to provide a direction for monitoring of Solar PV inverters now, and into the future. Our strategy focussed on garnering an understanding of the school’s broad energy consumption patterns. This provided greater context on the impact of investment in renewable energy generation, improved infrastructure utilisation and power quality whilst reducing consumption.

Business Drivers

The electricity sector is undergoing a major transformation. Renewable and sustainable energy resources – such as solar panels, battery storage and electric cars are fundamentally changing the way consumers engage with energy markets. They can help to deliver clean, secure, reliable and low-cost power for a more equitable and sustainable energy system.

Access to quality data is key to managing the transition and transformation of renewable energy resources. Devices which are ‘smart’, that is, can send and receive information and react to operating conditions in a dynamic way are imbued with IoT capability. These devices are the future of global solutions to meet changing economic, environmental and market conditions.

The solar systems uplift for schools required forward thinking. A largely single vendor-dominant asset base in a vertically integrated technology stack is incongruous with IoT capability. To plan for the future required forward thinking; considering device, format and protocol standardisation to enable operation inside and outside of a single vendor system.

A specification and options paper were designed to provide a direction for monitoring of Solar PV inverters now, and into the future. Our strategy focussed on garnering an understanding of the school’s broad energy consumption patterns. This provided greater context on the impact of investment in renewable energy generation, improved infrastructure utilisation and power quality whilst reducing consumption.

Building Shared Values

Consultation in quality technological systems - Identify value, ethos and culture necessary to drive efficiency and discover innovations

Requirements

Data is collected by an interface device known as the SMA ‘Sunny Web Box’ to relay to the Sunny Portal for monitoring of energy production by the DoE. This device is no longer supported (legacy device) and requires replacement via various uplift procedures to realise data and analytics from each PV system across the portfolio. Each system in its uplifted state will function to enable data from the solar PV setup to be communicated to the school’s DoE network via Modbus TCP protocol into the local IL for analysis and insights into operational performance.

Technical Overview

The NSW DEC seeks the interconnection of school Operational Technology (OT) in the form of solar inverters, passing through a local Integration Layer (IL), via the school and department IT networks to a central data lake and data warehouse. The chosen platform for the NSW schools, Zabbix, acts as an ETL layer coupled to Microsoft Azure/PowerBI. Interoperability with the IL is critical to deriving analytical insights from schools solar PV operational technology (OT).

Multiple inverter brands and disparate devices:

  • Inverters – SMA and Fronius
  • EDMI electricity meters – Plus ES (Ausgrid)
  • Webboxes – RS485 (serial), Bluetooth (wireless), Ethernet (wired), and
  • Moxa devices – (wireless and wired serial to network connectors)
  • Webconnect cards – (SMA inverter connectors)
  • SBS Modbus duos – (Electricity meter to modbus connectors)
  • Sensors – environmental, energy monitors, current.

The above devices were normalised through the internet of things (IoT) integration layer via the following communication protocols;

  • Modbus (serial data)
  • RS485 (proprietary protocol)
  • IPv4 (internet protocol)

The overarching solution functioned to turn conventional, serial data into IoT data through the local IL layer for modern applications and analysis.

OPTIMISING TECHNOLOGY

Develop organisational goals - translate problems into opportunities through technology to deliver value and return-on-investment

INTELLIGENCE IN BUSINESS

Turning data into knowledge at a building and portfolio level - provide business solutions that are specific and actionable

The Solution

Our engagements identified, and stipulated the functional requirements, the need for an ‘as built’ asset device review. This review uncovered communications devices and downstream inverters that were not being automatically updated to their latest firmware.

Uplift procedures were specified for each unique Webbox scenario to enable the flow of data between devices. This required asset validation across the school’s portfolio, specifications on solar inverters, Webbox versions and other data connectivity products as well as sensors and electricity meters.

The uplift solutions were drafted into an uplift manual to cover the various devices and requirements. The overarching document functioned to provide detailed instructions for installers to update/install infrastructure required for remote data gathering and operation of solar plant and equipment. The resulting uplift procedures enabled firmware to be updated for data access and analytics to be run across the DEC portfolio.

Access to quality data enables capability. A real opportunity comes with utilizing the solar PV assets to influence power quality at each site, lowering apparent power and thereby reducing bills in a similar manner to power factor correction solutions. This inherent ability can be realised through the combination of real-time monitoring of the electricity supply authority meter and the solar PV inverters.

Technological Capability

Enabling IoT within the schools solar PV network enables technological capability – an electronically controlled, accessible smart network of controls, systems and processes, such as:

  • Solar system augmentation, to avoid costly traditional infrastructure upgrades required for the Cooler Classrooms Program.
  • Advanced maintenance regimes, to detect abnormal operation of plant and equipment before breakdowns.
  • Advanced operation and control of plant and equipment, to pre-heat or cool buildings for efficiency or in advance of forecast weather signals.
  • Wholesale Participation in the National Electricity Market (NEM) – Demand response (DR), ancillary services, arbitrage & contingency storage, to generate income from the electricity network for providing support and stability services.

Smart controls and business intelligence require quality data. Data can be used in automated reports and dashboarding in an overarching system. For example, advanced maintenance regimes predicates fault detection of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems in an automated fashion. Machine learning algorithms can map seasonality of data against thresholds to more accurately realise and ‘tune’ equipment and building performance. Whereas efficiencies and savings can be realised through smart controllers programmed to respond to demand events and market conditions in without the need for human intervention.

Data and communication through IoT are central to achieving advanced operational management to suit the needs of changing infrastructure and energy markets.

Future Proof

Realise capability & limit risk - Open source standardised technoloy solutions

Summary

Our solution eliminated SMA vendor ‘lock-in’ – the need to upgrade all Webbox’s across the school’s portfolio and saved around 500k in infrastructure upgrades. It also exposed the portfolio to modern and dynamic capability of IoT applications and functionality. Rather than treating plant and equipment in an ad-hoc manner, the solutions provided applied rigour from IT centric design into the realm of operational technology. This bridge between IT and OT has been achieved through real-time monitoring of Solar PV inverters and utility metering into IT network monitoring applications. Further standardisation of the technology mix will enable the school’s portfolio to leverage dynamic capability imbued by IoT technologies and thus future-proof the school’s assets by being able to adapt in an agile and dynamic way to changing conditions and markets.

Realise cost savings
Future proof assets
Drive efficiencies
Enable capability