Smart Solar Tracking: Why Secure Data Connectivity and Communications Matter

By on July 24, 2018

At NEXTracker, we believe in the power of data. We think that data and analytics are key components to accelerating the clean energy transition. As I noted in a previous blog about how to make data actionable for solar power plant owners, there are many ways we can make our customers’ lives easier through in-depth analyses using smart analytics on massive sets of data.

As discussed before, data in and of itself has little or no value. It has to be collected, monitored, and analyzed to be of any use, and for that to happen, there must be a secure connection, a pipeline that the data can flow through, and a smart analytic backbone that can turn the data into action. But, to be clear, without proper connectivity, a large collection of data might sit there like a Swiss bank account flush with money that no one can access or see.

On a practical level, when NEXTracker establishes a connection to our trackers on project sites, we dramatically improve our ability to serve customers through our growing ecosystem of intelligence tools. NX Data Hub (host platform connected to the plant SCADA) and TrueCaptureTM (smart tracker control system) can all help customers lower their levelized cost of energy by optimizing their production, reducing operational and maintenance costs, improving operational efficiency, and ultimately increasing their cash flow.

When connected to customer sites, our services become smarter, giving us eyes into the electrical and mechanical health of all of our trackers at each power plant, enhancing our real-time analysis and diagnostic capabilities, and allowing us to be more proactive on our customers’ behalf. Connectivity also gives us valuable insights into how we can improve our hardware and software, and develop even-better next-generation products, such as the TrueCapture control system.

NEXTracker already maintains value-added connectivity with a significant portion of our installed base and is striving to achieve 100% coverage. As customers increasingly see the benefits of our data-driven analytics, in terms of production yield enhancement, lower O&M costs and the like, they overcome their concerns and embrace the idea willingly and enthusiastically. Whether it’s for a single-site owner or one with a large fleet of solar assets with expansive datasets, the benefits of connectivity are clear.

Of course, connectivity without security is a non-starter. At NEXTracker, we know how important it is to securely connect our customers from remote locations all over the world to our cloud data centers. Cybersecurity has a crucial impact on the safety of data, personnel and the solar power plants where our trackers are installed. On a side note, if you’re a security enthusiast, you’re in good company. Earlier this year my colleague, Allan Daly, VP Software at NEXTracker participated in a Solar Plaza webinar called, “Understanding and Mitigating Cybersecurity Risks in the Solar Industry.” You can check it out here.

One of the advantages that NEXTracker enjoys is the collaboration we have with our parent company, Flex. Through the use of Flex’s NERC-CIP compliant SmartNexusTM platform, we have built the kind of bidirectional pipeline needed to deliver data to and from the trackers securely through the Internet. With layers of security at each data collection node, the secure communications plus over-the-air software updates provide significant value to NEXTracker and our customers, including cost reductions, unparalleled reliability, improved productivity—and competitive advantage.

The data we collect and analyze is part of a relentless trend where digital innovations in clean energy are helping make our customers’ assets more efficient and resilient as well as having a planetary upside of accelerating decarbonization.    

So let’s get connected, shall we?