Embedded computers are often used in renewable energy applications; an embedded computer is a dedicated computer that is designed to perform specific tasks and functions, typically as part of a network of other devices all doing the same tasks. In this article, we’ll explore why embedded computers are the right tool for the monitoring and maintenance of these systems above standard PC equipment.
Why is Renewable Energy Growing so Fast?
Renewable energy has advanced substantially over the past few decades. Initially, renewable sources such as solar and wind were used primarily for small scale applications, such as powering individual homes or businesses. However, advances in technology have allowed for much larger scale implementations, with hundreds of megawatts of production capacity now available from large solar and wind farms. Investment into renewable energy sources has increased rapidly with countries around the world now seeking to move away from fossil fuels, both for financial gains and environmental benefits. This movement is driven by governments worldwide adopting more ambitious clean energy goals as highlighted at the COP26 Climate Change Conference. In fact, according to a recent study by Oxford University, making the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy could save the world an estimated £10.2tn by 2050.
With this accelerated growth, maintenance, monitoring and management of these systems is an operational challenge.
How Embedded Computers Help in Renewable Energy
Embedded computers are playing an increasingly important role in monitoring renewable energy sources such as solar panels, wind turbines and hydropower systems. They can be used to measure the speed of wind turbines, allow for grid integration, optimise energy storage, and provide real-time data analysis and monitoring. Information gathered is used to develop more efficient systems. Embedded computers are also used to create computer models that can accurately predict the amount of energy that can be produced by a given energy source over a specific duration.
The use of embedded computers to make maintenance and management easier isn’t limited to just wind, solar or tidal sources. These specialised computers can also be used to monitor and control various components within systems, such as pumps in geothermal energy applications and inverters in hybrid systems.
Why Use Embedded Computers Over General PCs?
Embedded computers are designed to run without the need for frequent maintenance and consume less power than traditional PCs, making them well suited to long-term renewable energy applications that are ‘always on’.
Additionally, embedded computers can be tailored with additional components which are specifically designed to handle the requirements of connecting to a renewable energy system, such as temperature sensors, infrared cameras and motor control systems. This makes them an ideal choice for applications where electrical efficiency and reliability are critical. Tying in with this is the fact that most embedded computers are built with low-power components to preserve battery life, more power can be output from the systems as less is used to keep the computer(s) online!
Whereas domestic grade PCs tend to be bulky and heavy, embedded computers are also lightweight and have a small form factor, both characteristics which make them perfectly suited for use within renewable energy systems where space is limited. The compact size also makes for an unobtrusive installation in renewable energy systems.
The build of an embedded computer is also superior to that of a general PC in the sense that the systems used in this sector tend to be dust proof and waterproof, if not fully waterproof. Specialist manufacturers like Assured Systems can ensure that computer cases and internal components provide adequate thermal management, cooling solutions, dirt and dust protection and waterproofing, protecting the system from the exposure to harsh environments. This resistance is especially sought after for offgrid renewable energy systems that are hard to reach.
As we strive to adopt more renewable energy sources, embedded computers will continue to play a critical role in keeping our energy sources working. Enabling us to monitor, regulate, and optimise our energy production more effectively and cost-efficiently.