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Industrial sustainability: Communicate to coordinate edge to cloud

Feb. 15, 2022
System integrator KEI implements wireless to coordinate solar farm components, and enable shift to sustainability

Though it might not seem obvious at first, another powerful ally for sustainability is simplifying networking and streamlining communications.

For instance, system integrator Kupper Engineering Inc. (KEI), in Ambler, Pa., focuses on energy efficiency and engineering, and implements wind, battery storage, biomass-to-biogas, waste-to-energy and solar projects. It routinely deploys wireless local area networks (WLAN) and support components, so users can gather data and optimize their operations more quickly, and often deploys the FL WAN 5101 from Phoenix Contact, which has communication speeds equal to or better than hardwired Ethernet and serial connections.

More on industrial sustainability

This article is part of a series on industrial sustainability. Read more here.

"For one solar farm, we didn't have to run conduit wire from remote locations, which are a couple hundred feet away from where we're monitoring. We can also get into all these components remotely from anywhere world as long as we're connected to the Internet," says Craig Rosenberger, PE, VP and CTO at Kupper Engineering. "Each solar panel pushes power back to an inverter, which controls the power out of the site. If there's a problem with an inverter, or we just need to check what we're producing every month, we can use the WLAN and radio to get all the way into the inverter."

Digitalizing to deeper green

Dan Sylawa, senior business manager for solar and energy at Phoenix Contact, adds, "There are two main aspects to sustainability, and efficiency is just the beginning. There's a huge overall shift in how we're producing and consuming energy. We're moving from the more than half coal-fired society of the 1990s to an energy profile that will be only 20-30% coal-fired. This will impact all markets and manufacturing approaches, and Phoenix Contact is planning for an all-electric society. Lately, we've also got cloud and edge computing coming in, and everything is getting more digital and interactive, so we're working on partnerships and ways for our controls to run primary data analytics. This will enable cheaper and more reliable energy, and more sustainable forms of generation, but they'll also generate huge amounts of data to store and manage. Sustainability isn't just about recycling anymore."

Heinrich Dyck, senior business manager for wind at Phoenix Contact, adds that a key enabler of sustainable energy is an open ecosystem that utilizes open-source software such as Linux. Open automation platforms like Phoenix Contact's PLCnext platform, which supports high-level programming languages like Python, carry out required performance and simplify optimization projects.

"It's important for us to be open-minded, so we can use these open platforms and technologies like serial-to-Ethernet gateways, and adapt them to interact with the black boxes of the past. Therefore, Phoenix Contact has launched the PLCnext Store and community, which lets users to share apps and experiences. In the near future, Phoenix Contact will release the PLCnext Edge Gateway, which will also allow PLCnext hardware to poll tags from other controllers, set alarms, thresholds and warnings, and deliver data to any  cloud service, through a simple webpage to improve the operational efficiency."

About the author: Jim Montague

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