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Harnessing Solar Energy With Eyes in the Sky

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The latest report by Green Energy Markets reveals that renewable power levels have hit 20 per cent market share as new wind and solar farms are popping up across the country and more households install their own rooftop solar systems. In fact, a staggering 2 million Australian households are utilising solar, and the majority of rooftop solar panels and solar farm projects in Australia are photovoltaic rather than thermal.

While these rising statistics are promising, and solar energy is gaining popularity across the country, the erratic nature of solar generation can cause noticeable problems for power grids. When clouds cover the sun, the amount of electricity generated by solar panels drops suddenly, making the grid quickly compensate for the loss.

This loss may not be significant for a large, strong grid. However, smaller, regional grids certainly feel the pressure. When this happens, the network faces disruptions and outages due to the rapid increase in demand.

As a result, Western Australian provider Horizon Power announced that all new solar installations using their grid are to be equipped with technology that will soften the transition of solar to the grid. The tech will allow time for the generators to prepare and react to the changes in demand.

This is where Magellan Power rises to the challenge. As a leading back-up power equipment manufacturer, Magellan produced a comprehensive concept for the new technology. The final product needed to calculate factors like image processing, how to accurately detect clouds, or how to determine cloud speed and direction. A significant volume of software development was needed for the project and so Magellan reached out to Curtin University and met with Mojtaba Saleh–back then a PhD student, now a doctor and a full-time member of the Magellan Power team.

In a co-operation with Saleh, Magellan Power has created the Magellan Sky Eye. It solves the problem of reliability by ‘smoothing’ the photovoltaic power supply. Using real-time information from a sky camera, it can predict cloud movement for periods of 12 minutes ahead of time. The Sky Eye utilises the latest imagery and predictive algorithms, paired up with machine learning software.

The Sky Eye sees the approaching weather by tracking the cloud movement. It can precisely calculate the moment when the cloud shadow will impact the solar panels and, therefore, affect the solar generation. It then commands the solar inverter to reduce solar generation in a controlled manner, allowing the grid generator to prepare and handle the increase.

The Sky Eye is just one example of the opportunities Magellan Power gives to university students. The company is also committed to enhancing the skills of the future workforce in electronics and power electronics design.

Masoud Abshar, Managing Director of Magellan Power, told AMGC that the Sky Eye development was a fantastic example of what can be achieved when industry and universities work together.

“This is real research and development,” he said. “We take an idea to the university and turn it into a real product, with a real commercial outcome for Magellan, while growing Australian know-how and creating smart jobs”.

With many people losing confidence in the Australian manufacturing industry, believing it is easier or cheaper to import from overseas, Magellan Power has proven this is definitely not the case for solar innovation.

Fast facts about solar.

•   Homes with rooftop solar panels are saving on average $540 per year on their electricity bills.

•   Solar PV systems don’t produce noise or chemical pollution while generating electricity.

•   Solar PV systems don’t have moving parts and are very low maintenance—panels last up to 35 years.

•   If you don’t use the solar you generate and you don’t have a battery system, the energy is fed back into the grid. Most providers pay a tariff to households that put electricity back to the grid.

•   Solar panels combined with batteries enables homes to become “off-grid,” allowing them to rely purely on the sun to provide electricity.

•   Some tradies are now choosing to specialise in solar with solar electricians and solar technicians being introduced.


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