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How Does Industrial Automation Integrate With Renewable Energy?

May 3, 2022

The more an industrial operation can leverage automation, the more profitable it will be. Industrial enterprises worldwide have recognized the value of industrial automation, and many are racing to automate as many tasks as possible. Likewise, companies have seen a need to add renewable energy to their infrastructure. This raises an interesting question: how can automation and renewable power work together? These two technologies have a synergy that few others can rival.

Implementing automation can make your renewable power systems more efficient and improve uptime. Conversely, your renewable power can be a tool to expand the reach of automation within your operations. Consider how you can integrate these two technologies for maximum results.

Industrial Automation and Renewable Energy - SAAB RDS

How Does Industrial Automation Integrate With Renewable Energy?

Using Automation

The goal of automation is to reduce dependency on humans for various tasks in the organization. Ideally, simpler and more repetitive tasks can be automated so that people can do work that only people can do. In an industrial context, one of the primary applications of automation is in equipment maintenance. Robots cannot repair machines just yet, but AI can be used to tell your staff where to work and when to take a machine offline.

If you’re looking to add renewable energy to your infrastructure, you should consider automating your maintenance as much as possible. Green energy integrates quite easily into an automated maintenance workflow.

Spot Maintenance

Fossil fuel-based electricity generators have a lot of analog parts that don’t readily offer up digital data. However, wind turbines and solar panels contain modern electronics that output useful data to help your maintenance team target their efforts. Solar panels, for instance, can report on the performance of each individual cell.

You can automate calls to your staff for spot maintenance. Should a panel fail, automatic alerts will push notifications to your engineers. All you need to do is collect data from your panels, program software to spot deviations from expected parameters and create a protocol for notifying staff. But what if you could avoid spot maintenance and prevent downtime entirely?

Preventative Maintenance

Preventative maintenance is the most cost-effective way to manage equipment and reduce downtime. However, it has long been complicated and costly to set up, especially since older hardware required retrofitted sensors to pull the necessary data. Preventative maintenance is much easier with renewables since they feature more digital data outputs. So, how does it work? Instead of relying on a regular maintenance schedule where you inspect each machine at a given interval, AI will identify components that are nearing failure.

You’ll get a report that prioritizes which components are beginning to show signs of degradation. For example, software could read vibration measurements from wind turbines. When one starts to wobble too much, you’ll be notified that the equipment is operating out of spec. Your team can plan ahead, scheduling downtime when it’s least likely to affect operations. The longer you run this system, the more accurate it will become.

Data Collection and Analysis

Improvements to your maintenance methods are just one example of how automation benefits your business. At its core, automation is about data collection and processing. Data comes in, and then software analyzes it and outputs commands. As you gather more data about your use of renewables, you’ll be able to better control how that energy is used within your organization.

Over time, you’ll have enough data to start making intelligent predictions about your energy needs. If your enterprise still requires power from other sources, you’ll be able to budget your power buying more effectively. You’ll have a clear idea of how long it takes to recoup your investment in renewable energy, thereby helping you plan your expansion of renewable power generation.

Renewables and Your Operations

It’s clear that automation can keep your equipment running smoothly for longer, but it can also help you operate that equipment in ways that benefit your business. Computers can control the flow of energy through your organization, provided you have the right data and equipment to control your circuits. Given the finicky nature of renewables, automating their output becomes vital.

Solar and wind don’t adhere to your operating hours. A solar panel generates power when the sun shines, and a wind turbine when the wind blows. The value of the power you generate fluctuates throughout the day as well. The best way to utilize renewable electricity depends on the circumstances. Consider a few ways you can optimize your power management using automation.

Solar Farms

Solar panels are rather predictable. Once you’ve deployed solar panels, you’ll have fairly consistent day-to-day generation. If you have office facilities that operate only during the day, you may want to dedicate your panels to powering these facilities full time. You can leverage this in your marketing as you brag about your carbon-neutral facilities. However, you have other options at your disposal.

Utility companies typically charge more for electricity during peak hours. It may be more profitable for you to sell your solar power back to the utility company during these peaks. Alternatively, cut them out as much as possible and use your solar power for high-demand activities, thus saving you more money during peak hours. Another option is to store your energy to help offset electrical costs at night. You can automate this by setting energy budgets at different facilities.

Wind Farms

Wind will work regardless of the time of day, but its power output is less predictable. You can pull weather data from local weather authorities and use this to predict your daily electricity output from wind turbines. Combine this data with historical output figures, and you’ll have a solid idea of how much power you have to spare. Nevertheless, weather predictions are never perfect, and past performance is only a general guideline. With wind power, it’s best to automate day by day.

Assign an energy budget to your wind power facility. Create several thresholds for how energy should be managed. On a low production day, perhaps you simply use all of the power produced. But if you pass the first marker, you could send that energy to storage instead of for future use. If storage is full, sell excess power back to the grid for profit. The goal is to ensure that you never waste a single watt.

Energy Storage

Companies looking to deploy renewable power sources often overlook energy storage. Adding energy storage maximizes the value of your investment in renewables. In fact, it is the key to unlocking increased profitability and capturing every watt. Rather than consume expensive peak electricity, you could activate your stored energy to power equipment or offices. Fill your energy storage with clean energy overnight or in those early morning hours when the sun shines.

You can even leverage energy storage with your utility company. Fill your storage when power prices are down, then seal it off until it gets more expensive. It’s essentially like day trading electricity. With automation, you don’t have to flip a switch. Let the computer decide when to send power to and from your batteries. Energy storage guarantees that every bit of electricity made by your renewable systems ends up benefitting your business.

Use Renewables to Extend Automation

There’s yet another way to bring renewables and automation together. Automation requires connectivity, which requires electricity. This poses a problem for certain tasks. For example, if you want to monitor the condition of a lengthy pipeline, you’d need to collect data at regular intervals. However, since pipelines can run hundreds of kilometers through sparsely populated areas, you would have to run power the entire length of the pipeline. If you use renewable power, you bypass this logistical nightmare.

A few solar panels with batteries located at regular intervals can power lightweight computers to collect data from sensors. You can even repeat wireless signals using this system to provide real-time data capture over long distances without running cables. Even remote monitoring systems using preprogrammed drones could operate off of renewables in distant locations without the need for a power grid. As futuristic as this may sound, it’s possible with today’s technology.

Deploy Smarter Renewables

To take full advantage of your investment in renewable power, you need industrial automation technology. As the costs of both have declined considerably, now is the perfect time to consider implementing both industrial automation and renewable power in your business. Contact SAAB RDS to learn more about how we can help you create a customized automation solution featuring renewables.