Tracking clouds for smoother solar energy delivery

Tracking clouds for smoother solar energy delivery

Camera-based cloud sensing technology designed to accurately predict the timing of cloud events and their likely impact on solar irradiance and power output is one step closer to reality.

Fulcrum3D’s CloudCAM (pictured) platform has been granted $442,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to further develop an advanced cloud tracking system as part of efforts to improve solar PV reliability and to increase its uptake in Australia.

Currently under development, CloudCAM is based on a field-mounted camera system, providing high-resolution cloud imagery, which can then be processed to detect individual clouds.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said effectively predicting off-grid solar PV output means diesel generators can be switched on before production drops or solar output can be gradually ramped down, smoothing energy delivery and potentially allowing more solar to be used.

“Cloud tracking also has potential on-grid applications. At higher solar penetration levels accurately predicting energy generation is important for system stability, on or off-grid,” he said, acknowledging ARENA’s funding would help move this home-grown innovation from development to pilot scale demonstration.

“The project will trial ground-based sensors that can better identify cloud height and track clouds that are layered at different altitudes and moving at different speeds. This is a step forward from current forecasting technologies that do not cope well with multi-layered cloud bands.

“The approach marries fit-for-purpose camera hardware with specialised software to predict changes in PV energy output using cloud characteristics and velocities.”

The CloudCAM technology will be developed and trialled at the 1MW Uterne solar PV plant in Alice Springs. The plant is currently being expanded with 3.1MW of additional solar.”

The project is scheduled for completion in September 2015.