There is a concerted effort being made across all industries toward all things ‘smart’ through continuous innovation – moving from price competition to value creation – and the solar energy industry is no exception. In 2013, Huawei pioneered the concept of ‘smart PV’ with an aim to develop multi-MPPT string inverters. It was the first time solar inverters were equipped with sensors and supported digital features controlling the operation of PV plants, generating more power with lower O&M costs. Although solar inverters account for only 5% of the total cost of a PV plant, they are considered the heart and brain that determine a project’s energy yield. According to Huawei, a smart solar inverter can generate 3% more power, adding even more value to the $0.30 to $0. 40 cents per watt provided from cost reductions.
“We hope that all industries can work together to drive innovation across the entire industry chain and ecosystem, optimizing the size and efficiency of PV modules, and using monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon, to fully utilize solar energy,” says Jeff Yan, global brand director of Huawei’s smart PV business unit.
This innovation will lead to value creation. In the future, the telecommunications giant believes that innovation will span across the entire PV ecosystem, from a single device to a system, and finally to the whole ecological chain. “In this way, we can reduce LCOE, and create more value for our customers across the 25-year life cycle,” says Yan.
Intelligent solar power systems also support the reduction of O&M costs. Huawei estimates that through the use of intelligent automated solutions, the number of maintenance personnel required are reduced from more than 10 per 100 MW, to two or three employees per 100 MW. In the future, the company predicts that PV plants will be unattended. Technological innovation will be key to transforming the PV industry from an auxiliary energy sector to a major energy source across the globe. However, there is still a long way to go before solar PV can replace traditional energy.
“The competition focus of the PV industry needs to shift from price to value,” says Yan. The purpose of innovation is to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Yan says that the key to cost reductions is not in reducing component costs, but instead by reducing the LCOE. Efficiency improvement involves leveraging technical achievements such as 5G, AI, the cloud, and big data to incorporate the internet and AI into PV systems, improving efficiency across the entire industry.
Thanks to the joint efforts of Huawei and other enterprises, the intelligentization of the PV industry is world-leading. “The core motivation of Huawei smart PV innovation is to improve the efficiency of everything from individual components to the overall system, and to shift the focus from the cost of components to LCOE across the entire lifecycle, creating more value for customers,” says Yan.
In the future, technologies such as 5G, AI, and the cloud will have a profound impact on, and even reshape, a diverse range of industries. This is particularly true of the PV industry.
Huawei is integrating information and communications technology (ICT) and new energy technologies to drive innovation. “For example, our inverters have evolved from being mere power converters to becoming the brain of a PV system’s operation, integrating a smart sensor, a smart controller, even an edge compute node,” says Yan.
This year, Huawei launched the AI+PV solution to reduce the LCOE and enhance system efficiency. AI technologies repeatedly train the model and deduce the optimal version using high quality, massive data based on real-life situations. This significantly improves power generation efficiency and O&M efficiency in PV plants.
The inverter manufacturer is working with upstream and downstream industry partners to explore collaboration in intelligent manufacturing and detection through the use of technologies such as big data, cloud computing, AI, and 5G. Huawei has cooperated with Chinese component vendors in AI, cloud computing, and other fields.
However, the cost of interconnecting factories and carrying out manual detection are high, production management is non-transparent, and intelligent application is not developed. To address these problems, Huawei and PV module vendors use Huawei Cloud to implement intelligent EL detection, instead of using manual methods, for PV module manufacturing. “This increases fault prediction accuracy within the PV module production line from 33% to more than 80%, and we expect this percentage to be close to 100% in the future,” according to Yan, who adds that it can also improve the production line and yield rate, minimize labor costs, and boost the production efficiency of enterprises.
Another application is intelligent inspection. In early 2019, Huawei replaced visual detection with AI detection, using image recognition to identify all defects caused by intrusions on power transmission lines. According to tests conducted by Huawei, State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) and China Southern Power Grid (CSG), the inspection efficiency of high-voltage lines was found to be 80 times higher than that of manual inspection, successfully resolving industry pain points in an innovative manner. In addition, the use of 5G drones backhauled panoramic 4K HD videos of sites in real time, accelerating the realization of unattended inspection. These innovations not only greatly reduce the safety risks and labor costs of inspection, but also ensure its comprehensiveness.
Now 5G is being gradually deployed and applied in various countries. It has the following advantages over previous generations of wireless communication technologies: low latency (1 ms, a fraction of the 4G latency), high bandwidth (10 GB/s, 10 times higher than 4G bandwidth, with speeds comparable to those of optical fibers), and wide connection (millions of terminals connected in a single cell, 10 times more than 4G). “A fully connected world is becoming a reality, connecting people to people, and people to everything,” says Yan.
This will lead to digital and intelligent upgrades and restructuring across various industries. The future outlook of industries will include telemedicine, autonomous driving, VR, smart energy, smart manufacturing, and smart healthcare. And 5G+AI will certainly usher in a new era of smart PV.