A new system from an Italian company called Flyby uses weather satellite data from Europe’s Meteosat to help companies determine the best sites for new photovoltaic power plants, as well as how much electricity they will produce yearly.
The company also uses the Meteosat data to monitor if the solar cells on existing solar power plants are working efficiently by comparing the actual production of electricity to what might be expected from the amount of sunlight falling on them.
To do so, the system takes data from the satellites and measurements from a ground sensor. Any difference provides an indication that the solar cells are not working optimally and the system immediately sends an alarm. Technicians can then be called in to remedy possible faults.
The satellite solar irradiation data come from two Meteosat second-generation satellites - Meteosat-8 and Meteosat-9 - which were jointly developed by the European Space Agency and Eumetsat, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.
With the help of Italian energy provider Enel, the system is now operating on three photovoltaic plants in Italy: a 59kW plant in Rome, a 49kW plant in Milan and a 26kW plant near Messina. At all sites, production has increased as malfunctions have been found and corrected.
'Photovoltaic plants do not always operate optimally because it may be difficult to spot malfunctions in the solar cells or the installation,' said Ciro Lanzetta of Flyby. 'By using the satellite information on available solar radiation as a reference, our system helps to spot anomalies faster, increasing production.'
He added: 'In January 2009, the Milan plant experienced a failure due to snow cover. Using satellite data, this was detected very fast and corrected. Optimal operation all the time is very important. Just a 10 per cent reduction in the yearly production of a typical photovoltaic plant producing between 35,000kWh and 40,000kWh per year could extend the return on investment of the complete plant by one more year.'