Three phase solar inverters installed on fuel storage tank

Consulting work

I have been doing some non-broadcast-related consulting work lately. It is actually sort of fun and pays well.  One thing that I have become involved in is solar installations, or more precisely data communications from solar installations.

It seems that a critical part of any solar installation is the production numbers.  Owners/investors like to see a return on investment.  They like to know that their system is working properly.  Getting hard data on electricity production is an important part of the customer service aspect for a solar installation company.  Being able to remotely monitor the system and be alerted of any faults or failures helps keep those production numbers where they should be.

Solar installation on a large fuel storage tank:

Thin film solar panels installed on a fuel storage tank
87.5 KW Thin film solar panels installed on a fuel storage tank

It turns out that those fuel storage tank facilities use a lot of electricity. Not just for the fuel transfer pumps, some of their product is heavy oil; #4, #6, Resid or bunker oil is very thick (or viscous). Tanks, pipes, and pumps for those distillates must be heated to certain temperatures in order to move them. That is all done with electric resistance heating.

There is a very good book about oil and how it is extracted, transported, refined, and used called Oil 101 by Morgan Downey.  It is an eye-opening read, to be sure.

Looking at the tops of those tanks; there is a lot of unused areas.  It is a novel idea to use that area to generate power for the tank farm.  The thin film solar panels come in rolls. They have an adhesive backing and are peel-and-stick. The nice part about this type of installation; the steel tanks help keep the panels slightly cooler, which boosts their production on hot summer days.

Three phase solar inverters installed on fuel storage tank
Three phase solar inverters installed on fuel storage tank

In this installation, each inverter reports to a website that logs all of the output data, as well as area temperature and percentage of sunlight. This system helps the installation company and tank owner know if there are any problems with the array.  In order for that to work, the LAN needs to be set up and a communication device used to connect to the public network.

All in all, that was a fun project.

By the way, if anyone needs a solar system installed, I know a company that can do it.

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6 thoughts on “Consulting work”

  1. Speaking anecdotally, is this (tangentally) one of the reasons why I’ve noticed a big uptick in frequency coordination notices on 11GHz in recent years?

  2. Brad, a licensed 11Ghz data link for one of these systems would be overkill. Since the data is pretty minimal, We tend to use the 4G/LTE Cellular data to Ethernet device. Those are cheep and minimal data plans do not cost very much money. I think the licenses 11GHz systems are due to a large selection of relatively inexpensive radios that are now on the market.

  3. Interesting stuff as usual, Paul.

    Question on the tank farm solar build-out – How are they planning on keeping the thin-film photovoltaics on the top of the tank clean? The pitch (?)of the tank top surface seems far to shallow for rainfall to keep them flushed, and I kinda doubt they can handle being walked on. As the ‘crap’ accumulates, it seems to me the power output is gonna start dropping…

  4. ahh, our neighborhood SoPo tank farm! saw guys up there doing that work, great post Paul!

  5. Geoff, There is a slight slop over the top of the tank and South Portland ME receives enough rain to wash those panels off regularly. You are correct, panels that are installed on flat horizontal surfaces tend to build up dirt and debris over time and need to be washed off to be effective.

    Christopher, That is actually a fairly nice neighborhood. I enjoyed going there.

    Lou, That tank does not store gasoline. A full engineering work up was done before they were installed and everything was designed according the the API.

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