Software & Sensors Keep Solar Panels At Peak Performance


Software & Sensors Keep Solar Panels At Peak Performance

By Arora Attenborough, NoCamels -

Solar power has growing mass appeal as a sustainable energy solution; according to the International Energy Agency it accounted for 4.5 percent of all electricity worldwide in 2022 – an increase of 26 percent from the year before.

The tricky issue of maintaining and monitoring the photovoltaic (PV) cells that make up the solar panels – especially on rooftops or in remote solar farms – is crucial to their efficiency and efficacy.

And Israeli startup Soltell Systems is on a mission to provide clarity for all solar panel operators in order to understand how well their PV cells are really working.

The Herzliya-based startup’s energy management software helps rooftop solar providers in residential, commercial and industrial areas monitor, manage and improve their panels’ performance – removing what it says is widespread guesswork about when they need to be cleaned and serviced, and potentially saving them time and money.

“When we monitored solar plants, looked at their real performance, essentially we saw that in reality many of the plant owners, operators or developers don’t know the true performance of their plants,” Soltell founder and CEO Leon Kraversky tells No Camels.

“Knowing the true performance is very important, but the accuracy of their performance assessment is low.”

In fact, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research shows that dust gathering on solar panels can drastically reduce their output in a single month, and the researchers say that even a 3 to 4 percent reduction in solar power worldwide could lead to losses of up to $5.5 billion.

Soltell’s SysMap platform uses advanced software to give precise reports on how solar panels are working without adding specialized sensors to them. Instead, it makes use of local open-source weather sensors – data-collection devices whose design and software are freely shared for anyone to use for or adapt to their own needs.

The platform uses the electrical sensors in the area of the panels to gauge exactly when the panels need to be cleaned, monitoring the local weather conditions and the solar power generated to compile a clear understanding of the PV performance.

“We can measure soiling [build up] on solar panels remotely, without installing any add-on hardware,” Kraversky says.

“So we can say for example this plant on that rooftop has a 7-percent reduction because of soiling, [mainly caused by] dust.”

The company says SysMap is extremely accurate, reducing solar panels’ maintenance downtime by up to 65 percent and costs by up to 40 percent.

According to Kraversky, most companies do not understand how much of an adverse effect buildup creates in terms of panel performance or when to take action to remove it – itself a costly procedure.

“Our solution can say with more than 95 percent accuracy what the exact reduction in panel performance is,” he says.

“Then you can know when to treat the problem: if it’s a 5-percent reduction, that does not justify having the panels cleaned, but if it’s 15 percent then you should do something about it.”

In Israel alone, solar panel cleaning costs up to 300 shekels ($80) per cell, while the average business worldwide has around 70 cells in its plant. And Kraversky says most companies have their panels cleaned and serviced every three months.

Founded in 2019, Soltell originally developed a full SaaS (Software as a Service) solution with their own dedicated website for solar panel managers to monitor their sites.

Over the past 12 months, however, the company has pivoted and now offers a strictly data-sharing service through an API (digital “bridge” between two different pieces of software) that can be integrated into the interface already in use at the solar panel site.

Once Soltell has collected and analyzed the data at a particular site using the open source sensors and its proprietary algorithms, it sends it directly to a client’s own solar panel monitoring software.

“The API just provides data without visuals for the end user,” Kraversky explains.

“Clients are using [their own] energy management systems, so they already have their own visual user experience/user interface and don’t need somebody else to provide them with the visuals.”

SysMap’s predictive capabilities also allow Soltell to determine how well these systems will continue to work. By understanding current performance, they can predict future functioning, which is valuable for the fiscal side of a business, making it easier to optimize investments and manage financial plans effectively.

The software can be accessed via an annual or monthly subscription, priced according to the amount of data used.

Soltell’s solution is already gaining popularity in EU member states, with clients in Austria, the Baltic countries, Italy and Poland.

According to the European Commission, solar power is growing faster than any other energy source in the European Union due to its cheap, clean and flexible nature.

The EU has a strong focus on placing solar panels on rooftops in both residential and commercial areas under its plan to boost these locations as generators of clean energy.

As part of updated EU regulations, new buildings in its member states must be able to take solar panels. Existing public buildings will have solar panels added gradually from 2027, where technically and economically feasible.

Soltell is also making its mark in Israel, where there are some 300 days of sunshine each year and renewable energy accounted for around 12 percent of total power usage in 2022. It has clients across the country, including residential building complexes, commercial buildings, factories and farms.

The company has also received two research and innovation grants from the Israel Innovation Authority and was accepted into the NVIDIA Inception program for startups at the end of 2023.

This program allows Soltell to use the advanced AI and data science tools of the US tech giant, which has a significant research lab in Israel, to improve the efficiency of solar energy systems.

The program also offers training and collaboration opportunities with industry experts, helping Soltell to further innovate in solar analytics and performance prediction.

While currently making its biggest mark in Europe, Soltell is also a member of the American Orange Button Initiative, which the US Department of Energy says is designed to make solar energy projects cheaper and more streamlined by standardizing the collection and dissemination of data.

Furthermore, Kraversky says, the company is part of the Orange Button working group, allowing it to not only implement the standardization but also contribute to the development of those standards.

Soltell foresees decentralized panels (smaller PV systems not connected to a central grid) such as used by private companies and individual households as the future of solar energy, which it believes creates a more stable and sustainable environment.

Indeed, the company plans to focus on its expansion in developed countries that tend to have more decentralized energy systems. This, Soltell maintains, democratizes energy production and makes it more accessible for all.

“We like decentralization, and decentralization works in developed countries,” Kraversky explains, adding that OECD countries largely have decentralized systems.

“And that makes a lot of sense,” he says. “It’s much more logical to build energy generation [sites] close to the place where you consume it.”


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