Advanced PV Test Instrumentation Meets Lightsource O&M Needs

Advanced test instrumentation is helping the UK's leading developer and operator of commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) plants ensure that its solar farms continue to operate at maximum performance levels.

Lightsource Renewable Energy has equipped its engineering maintenance teams with Seaward Solarlink PV test kits to enable them to fault check and verify the ongoing power generation efficiency of its 600MWp plus portfolio of solar farms and large-scale rooftop installations in the UK.

In total Lightsource owns and operates nearly 200 solar farms and large-scale roof mounted solar installations, as well as around 130 smaller scale assets on schools and other properties, all supplying clean energy to the National Grid and direct to customers.

Seaward Solar PV150 Tester in the field

The development of large scale solar farms is only undertaken after careful consideration of the costs involved and the potential return on investment provided by ROC, FIT and power purchase agreements. As a result, the day to day maintenance of optimum PV performance from the panels is essential.

At Lightsource, after installation and commissioning of each solar PV site, the company uses the latest technology to undertake real time data monitoring of the solar power output at all of its locations.

Detailed electrical supply information is provided for each solar site, down to individual solar PV string level, to provide the monitoring team with an early indication of any faults, under performance or other potential problems at the installation.

If any problems are identified, the company's 30 strong operation & maintenance team can then be alerted to enable an on-site assessment to be made and any corrective action taken, with the Seaward Solarlink PV test kit proving to be essential tool in identifying the fault and making the necessary repairs.

The Solarlink kit combines the comprehensive electrical test and datalogging capabilities of the PV150 hand held solar tester with the advanced Solar Survey 200R PV survey meter.

The Seaward Solar PV150 is a dedicated multifunction PV electrical tester designed specifically for solar panel systems. It performs open circuit voltage measurements (Voc), short circuit current measurements (Isc), earth continuity, insulation resistance and operating current (via AC/DC current clamp) checks.

With the push of a single button the new combination tester carries out the required sequence of electrical tests in a safe and controlled manner, avoiding the risk of contact with exposed live DC conductors.

Special wireless Solarlink connectivity between the PV150 and the high performance Solar Survey 200R meter enables real-time irradiance to be displayed and measured at the same time as electrical testing is being undertaken. This means that irradiance, module and ambient temperature can be recorded simultaneously within the PV150 as the electrical tests are conducted.

This enables the tester to be used for the assessment of solar PV performance, the diagnosis of electrical faults and the effective operation of the system after any remedial works have been undertaken.

It is this all round combined capability that is proving to be essential to the Lightsource engineering team and its work at large scale solar farms around the country.

Richard Ellis, Lightsource O&M Regional manager for Central Region, says: "The test kit has become an essential part of our on-site tool kit, with the multifunction PV150 unit eliminating the need for engineers to carry separate meters for different tasks."

"The ability to take one combined measurement instead of many separate ones greatly improves operator efficiency and accuracy, helping to identify any faults within DC Strings and getting them back on stream quickly and safely - which is the key requirement of our maintenance work."

In this way, the combination of advanced remote monitoring technology with the latest in on-site solar PV test instrumentation is enabling Lightsource to ensure that its expanding solar generation portfolio continues to perform at maximum power efficiency.