Research develops sky-imaging technology to bolster solar power

A Curtin University PhD project developed in collaboration with back-up power equipment, Magellan Power, has led to the development of a sky imaging product that can help mitigate the effects of passing clouds of solar power generation.

PhD student Mojtaba Saleh worked with Magellan Power to develop the “Sky Eye Solar Smoother”, which uses real-time information from a sky camera to predict cloud movement for periods of 12 minutes ahead. The Sky Eye utilises the latest imagery and predictive algorithms, together with machine learning software.

“When clouds cover the sun, the amount of electricity generated by solar power drops suddenly, causing the power grid to compensate for the loss,” said Magellan Power’s managing director, Masoud Abshar.

“This loss may not be significant for a large, strong grid but it can be for a small, weaker grid. The loss of solar generation may be too sharp for the grid to cope with, causing the grid to shut down.”

The Sky Eye “sees”  approaching weather by tracking the cloud movement and precisely calculating the moment of impact of the cloud shadow on the solar panels and, therefore, the solar generation. It then commands the solar inverter to reduce solar generation in a controlled manner, allowing the grid generator to ramp up and take the load again.

The impetus for the technology came about when Horizon Power mandated that all new solar installations using its grid be equipped with technology to smooth the effects of passing clouds and determined the designer of the solution through a competition, which Magellan Power won.

“While Magellan devised the overarching concept for the technology, we needed someone to undertake a significant volume of software development for the project. We needed an expert to calculate factors such as image processing, how to accurately detect clouds, how to determine cloud speed and direction, and so on,” Abshar said.

“We approached Curtin University to assist us, and together chose a PhD student to work with: Mojtaba Saleh.

“Our collaboration with Curtin University really was a win-win situation for everyone involved. Because of the project, Magellan Power has a new product and revenue stream, and Mojtaba Saleh has his PhD and a full-time job. Mojtaba is now a part of the Magellan Power team.”