World : Why Open Source Works for the Renewable Energy Sector

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source globally where 24% of the energy generated in 2015 came from renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal, solar, hydro, wind, and biofuels. This is expected to increase to 31% by 2040 and will heavily depend on a number of factors including the development of technologies to make these energy sources cost-effective. A number of renewable energy companies, many of which are smaller and newer entrants to the overall energy sector, are doing just that—building scalable software solutions with the use of open-source tools to help optimize day-to-day operations and reduce costs.

Technology Improves Processes

Many energy operators turned to technology years ago to help them better understand how their process, devices, and overall businesses were doing. In particular, they try to understand:

  • The overall level of energy generation at all times in order to determine whether they can fulfill supply and demand.
  • The energy generation level of each device and why, including the state of the device, what kind of maintenance is required to perform at optimum levels, and the impact the current conditions have on the device.
  • The reasons for service degradation, which in some cases may still need to be discovered with the use of data already collected or with data that still needs to be collected.

Operators have always known that in order for equipment to run optimally, data is required. This is especially true when working with nature as the energy source. Energy like wind, hydro, or solar are not constant and therefore require operators to adapt their equipment regularly to changes in the environment.

For example, wind turbines in colder climates may need to be shut down from time to time in the winter months due to the accumulation of ice on the blades. And once the conditions improve, legislation dictates that a successful visual inspection is required before they can be turned back on. If, however, the turbine isn’t performing as expected after turning it back on, operators can rely on the data collected to help determine whether it was the ice, the forced shutdown, or any other moving parts that are the cause.

Old Challenges Require New Solutions

This is just one example of the challenges that renewable energy operators are faced with. Other things that they need to contend with include, but are not limited to:

  • Device Location. Energy generating devices are often in remote and geographically dispersed areas. Companies don’t want to send out a technician every day to check how the devices are doing; they prefer to send a technician out to service a particular device or part.
  • Data. Companies need to collect data—a lot of data—per device, at precise time intervals, and at precision levels that may vary from device to device. They need to be able to store all this data for historical analysis or production forecasting, and they need to be able to do this in an instant. More often than not, data is not readily accessible and stored in remote storage, requiring a person hoping to do any kind of analysis to physically go get the data.
  • Rudimentary tools. A lot of data is still collected by a human walking the field. Often this data is stored in spreadsheets or on paper.
  • Optimization. Equipment is expensive and fragile, making it even more important to be able to protect their assets as well as maximize their usage.

To contend with these challenges, many renewable energy operators relied on technologies created and distributed by original equipment manufacturers. This was problematic since the solutions were built with a perspective of managing a piece of equipment and not the overall service/solution. These solutions are not extensible or scalable, based on unsupported operating systems and come at a hefty licensing price. This is naturally less than ideal since many of the installations are on a smaller scale, distributed, and come with smaller budgets.


Source :

Smart Grid Bulletin September 2018

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