Despite all the technological advances being made in the realm of renewable energy infrastructure, the move to push renewable alternatives into the mainstream has been surprisingly slow. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total renewables used in the electric power sector are expected to slow in growth in 2017, from a 10 percent increase this year to only 5 percent in the next.
While the government has attempted to push the renewable agenda forward with subsidies for businesses and homeowners, the fact remains that many are still failing to recognize a return on investment significant enough to warrant making the switch.
However, all this may be changing, thanks to the proliferation of LTE cellular connectivity, the booming Internet of Things marketplace, and the imminent transition to the next generation of cellular IoT networks – namely CAT-M1.
Creating a solar plant requires a significant amount of open space with constant exposure to sunlight. In the United States, the ideal locations meeting these requirements are the deserts of the southwest which, until recently, have lacked the cellular infrastructure and coverage necessary for M2M implementation. However, with the anticipated rollout of the first CAT-M1 networks at the end of the year, cellular coverage will be greatly improved, making desolate desert areas ripe for the next stage of renewable energy installations.
With IoT-enabled solutions, solar plants can utilize real-time weather tracking software to more efficiently rotate panels to absorb sunlight more optimally. Operators can also gain better insights into when a panel isn’t working at full capacity and perform preventive maintenance.
Wind farms require a similar expanse of land. IoT sensors can be leveraged by operators of wind turbines to track wind speed, temperature, humidity and other parameters essential to increasing energy output and avoiding expensive repairs.
The real-time analytics in IoT solutions can provide operators and end users alike with accurate measurements of energy output and, consequently, more accurate assessments of cost. Between the optimization of output, the ability to decrease repair costs and more thorough financial considerations, there is a clear opportunity for the renewable energy sector to benefit from implementing an IoT strategy.
In those areas where the energy sector is already taking advantage of the IoT, the benefits are evident. Smart metering allows real-time measurements to be taken remotely, cutting down on the need for on-premise readings and streamlining the labor force. Additional savings are achieved from the reduced power consumption and increased battery life gained through implementing cellular IoT solutions. Connected energy systems also provide instant alerts for emergency situations, such as gas leaks, shutting down the system to mitigate risk to the public and reduce waste.
Because of the benefits associated with cellular IoT, the return on investment associated with building up our renewable energy infrastructure can be more attainable for businesses and homeowners alike. There is real potential for this sector to generate new jobs, more affordable energy and a cleaner environment.