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Low-power Wireless IIoT Gateways Enable Residential Solar Power Monitoring

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is enabling companies everywhere to reap the benefits of faster and more informed decision making, predictive maintenance, and more. Although these advantages may seem fairly obvious, it is less clear how to actually connect industrial devices and equipment to the Internet for diverse applications in different locations and environments.

All IIoT applications need to effectively and reliably transmit collected data from remote field sites to a public or private cloud server for analysis. After all, there is little value to data that sits in silos. This requirement is especially crucial for outdoor or distributed applications, such as remote control and monitoring systems for solar PV panels, wind farms, pump jacks, wellheads, water and wastewater facilities, and industrial machinery. This is where IIoT gateways with cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity and low-power wide area network (LPWAN) come in. These wireless computers not only bring Internet connectivity to previously isolated areas and applications, but also enable local data preprocessing and protocol conversion for communication between remote edge systems and the cloud.

Considering Wireless Bandwidth and Communication Distance

It is to be noted that when choosing a cellular or Wi-Fi IIoT gateway, the wireless bandwidth and communication distance for connecting edge systems to the cloud needs to be taken into consideration. These wireless performance requirements are largely determined by the data volume generated by the systems. For example, video surveillance files and system logs for remote control and monitoring systems can be quite large. In order to transmit higher volumes of these types of data to the cloud, more bandwidth is needed to support faster uplink and downlink speeds, such as LTE Cat. 4 or even a Wi-Fi network.

However, since the wireless modules that provide higher uplink and downlink speeds consume more power and are costlier for wireless carriers to support, data plans for these services are also more expensive. Some wireless carriers may offer more affordable data plans for LTE Cat. 1, Cat. M1, or NB-IoT to businesses that require less data consumption.

Let us consider the example of solar power generation. Advancements in power-grid technologies have made it possible for residential solar energy providers to sell excess energy to utility companies. To be able to do this efficiently, residential solar power systems need to be able to process data from various devices such as inverters and batteries that use Modbus RTU/TCP protocols while reliably managing accounting, monitoring, and control tasks for electricity generation and billing.

A residential solar power solution provider needed an IIoT gateway to perform the aforementioned tasks. Wi-Fi was the primary connection option, while LTE support was required for uninterrupted connectivity to ensure accurate information is available regarding electricity generation and for billing purposes. Since the data volume of the information is low, the provider also considered using LTE Cat. 1 for lower monthly data fees.

System Requirements

  • Low power consumption to maximize the electricity output of the solar panels
  • Wi-Fi and LTE communication redundancy to ensure data accuracy for power usage and billing
  • LTE Cat. 1 support to balance data volume needs and monthly cellular data fees
  • Open platform for application development
  • Remote device management capability for easy maintenance

Why Moxa’s Solution Was Chosen Over Other Solutions

  • UC-3100 Arm-based IIoT gateway with built-in Wi-Fi and LTE Cat. 1 connectivity
  • Robust cellular connectivity with RF and carrier approvals (Verizon and AT&T)
  • Moxa Industrial Linux with an extensive software library for easy application development
  • Modbus RTU/TCP support with Moxa’s ThingsPro software to reduce programming effort
  • ThingsPro software provides RESTful APIs for device management to help IT administrators manage IIoT gateways remotely