The importance of solar energy in the industrial sector.
Solar energy, in this case that produced by photovoltaic modules, has had a real boom in the Western and Asian markets over the last 10 years, becoming without a shadow of a doubt one of the major production methods of energy from renewable sources.
The boom was made possible thanks to several driving factors:
> The strong global incentive adopted by various governments between 2008 and 2014.
> The technological maturation of the production of photovoltaic modules has led to a decisive improvement in production performance and a reduction in costs.
> Authorization simplifications, country by country.
> The significant increase in industrial consumption and energy costs on a global scale.
This boom has led to a shared global awareness, namely: “Solar energy is the renewable source that is driving energy transformation around the world.”
Globally, installed photovoltaic power stood at 1.2 TW, 25% growth compared to 2021 (source SolarPower Europe, Global Market Outlook report).
If only Italy were to be taken as a sample, in 2022, the installed photovoltaic power capacity reached 2,482 MW, with a notable increase of 165% compared to the previous year (source - Terna).
By dividing the indicated power, we observe that the increase in large plants, i.e. those between 1 and 10 MW, was approximately 190%, with the addition of at least 10 new plants with power exceeding 10 MW each (source - Terna).
In particular, the industrial sector recorded the most significant increase, with companies choosing to invest in solar energy through the installation of photovoltaic systems.
The development forecasts remain optimistic also because the global regulatory systems are moving towards constraints and objectives in terms of sustainability, especially aimed at companies, which in the medium/long term will have the obligation to observe and comply with the new regulations, giving its contribution to the ongoing energy transition.
Having made this premise which describes the current scenario of the manufacturing market, let's see in detail how the transition is taking place in the industrial sector, what are the key points to take into consideration and what it means for an industry to enhance its working environment by investing in photovoltaics.
Transition to photovoltaic energy in the industrial sector.
What does it mean in a strictly technical sense to install a photovoltaic system on an industrial warehouse, as a production support to reduce the electricity consumption of one or more specific industrial productions?
To conceive the significant advantages you need to get technical.
Generally industrial photovoltaic systems are installed on the roofs of buildings (plants), because in an industrial context they are considered dead surfaces both in the short and long term.
Furthermore, given the numerous advantages and rapid economic returns of the plant investment, many companies decide to implement more radical energy efficiency, i.e. including both the renovation of the obsolete or asbestos roofing and the plant itself in the "capex".
This investment combo turns out to be truly significant in terms of industrial energy efficiency.
It can also happen, however, either due to the small surface area of the plant roof or for a correct balance (consumption/production), that many companies decide to install the photovoltaic system also on the industrial land owned adjacent to the plants, obtaining a benchmark of more significant energy autonomy.
How an industrial photovoltaic system works.
To understand the functioning of an industrial-level photovoltaic system, some preliminary parameters must be taken into consideration.
> What are (kWh-1).
They are equivalent to consumption in terms of kilowatt hours, i.e. the quantity of energy (kW) withdrawn from the grid by the company, on an (hourly) basis.
> What are (kWh+1).
They are equivalent to the kilowatts produced by the photovoltaic system, i.e. the quantity of energy (kW) generated on an (hourly) basis.
> What is peak kilowatt (kWp).
It is the unit of measurement used to measure the maximum theoretical instantaneous power that can be produced by an electric generator (such as a photovoltaic module). Simply put, it is THE RATED POWER OF A SYSTEM.
> What does the simultaneity consumption/production factor mean?
It means imagining that an industrial user (POD) active on hourly consumption stops drawing all or part of its needs from the national grid, as at the same time as the "instantaneous consumption demand" (kWh-1), there is in parallel a instantaneous production (kWh+1), generated by the photovoltaic system.
> What does energy autonomy mean.
When a company invests in a photovoltaic system, it must always evaluate the % level of energy autonomy that can be found, i.e. the difference between (kWh+1 – kWh-1).
In this sense (kWh-1) will always be > than (kWh+1).
This happens because many companies have working shifts (6pm – 8pm – 24am) while a photovoltaic system produces only during daytime hours, or when an energy-intensive company has higher hourly consumption than the kilowatt-hours produced by the system = (kWh-1 > kWh +1).
In the figure below we show the energy flows of a plant equipped with a photovoltaic system.
As can be intuitively seen in the figure (above) the photovoltaic modules generate and produce direct current electricity, this is transported through specific solar cables to the inverters, which have the function of transforming the direct current into alternating current.
The alternating current energy is parallelized in the Q.E. panel(s). (electrical panels) that power the plant's production department.
Here the principle of contemporaneity set out in the previous paragraph comes into play.
If the consumption (kWh-1 > kWh+1) the production of the energy generated by the system will be 100% self-consumed, vice versa, the non-self-consumable part will be fed into the grid through a specific contract with e-distribuzione SpA which, thanks to the bidirectional meter, which can be installed downstream of the plant, will legally and fiscally allow energy to be injected into the national infrastructure.
The energy injected will be remunerated by GSE (energy services manager) according to the PUN (single national electricity price) which varies according to time slots.
The role of storage batteries (Storage System)
In recent years, the (Storage System) has increasingly matured in global markets.
Imagine having a container in which the energy generated by the non-self-consumable photovoltaic system is placed (stored) in an intelligent way according to specific algorithms linked to consumption.
The storage batteries will release energy into the distribution circuit only when kWh-1 > kWh+1 or at night, i.e. when the system does not produce energy.
The technical terms to take into consideration if you have a photovoltaic system integrated with a (storage system) are called: charge cycles and discharge cycles.
These (cycles), based on the type of consumption of the plant, can also occur two/three times a day.
Currently there are very few companies equipped with a storage system, as the power of the storage batteries for an industrial user is truly considerable, ³ per MW (megawatt).
There are essentially two critical issues: high costs and considerable space to take into consideration.
For this reason, the modern storage systems that can be installed on the market mainly assist domestic consumption or simple LV (low voltage) users under 100 kW.
Other aspects related to the operation of an industrial photovoltaic system
The investment of a photovoltaic system also brings with it other technicalities, i.e. targeted interventions in the plant's power plants, such as:
> The creation of MT (medium voltage) cabins.
> The repowering of transformers.
> The ex novo replacement of Q.E. (electrical panels) and Q.d.R. (power factor correction panels).
And any other electrical equipment that is not suitable according to the CEI 64-8 regulation which regulates the requirements for the design, construction and verification of an electrical system used in low voltage, with the aim of guaranteeing the safety of the system electrical and its operation suitable for the intended use and place.
When a manufacturing industry approaches the feasibility assessment of installing a photovoltaic system for the first time, it must necessarily take into consideration all the basic factors exposed in this study.
For many Energy managers or Facility Managers, the topics analyzed are obvious and obvious, but sometimes, however simple they are, they are not obvious to everyone.
Contacting sector specialists, such as INVECO HOLDING SpA, even in the feasibility analysis alone, will help the interlocutor to understand the advantages, disadvantages, costs and benefits.
Industrial photovoltaic systems from a sustainability perspective in the current context.
The increase in energy costs (growing trend since 2008) and the need to cut polluting emissions have pushed companies to move towards renewable sources, in particular photovoltaic energy, which, thanks to the maturity of the technology, has proven capable to offer numerous advantages.
The use of this energy drastically reduces bills and dependence on fossil fuels, which are subject to price fluctuations and supply risks.
An industrial photovoltaic system concretely contributes to lowering the emissions responsible for climate change, as well as tangibly demonstrating companies' commitment to sustainability with numerous related commercial advantages.
The most concrete advantage is the certain economic return on the investment.
The reduction in energy spending, which is undoubtedly one of the heaviest items in the company budget, is immediate and starts from the moment the photovoltaic system is put into operation which immediately begins to produce electricity for self-consumption.
Thanks to photovoltaic panels, a company can meet its energy needs and sell the unconsumed energy to the grid, obtaining a profit that helps to reduce the return on investment times.
It is different for the storage system which still today has decidedly longer time dynamics in the return on investment, which however should not be categorically excluded.
Furthermore, making its production plants sustainable can become a competitive advantage for the company, improving its reputation and attractiveness of choice for its customers.
In fact, the large players on the global market are sensitive to environmental issues and choose to support their suppliers who demonstrate attention in this direction.
The main contractual systems offered by the market.
Industrial manufacturing companies that wish to install a photovoltaic system can today find alternative and innovative solutions compared to the direct purchase of the system, therefore alternatives to the simple operating "capex".
PPA - Power Purchase Agreement.
PPA contracts are an interesting option for those companies that do not want to support the "capex" of a photovoltaic system, but still want to immediately save on their operating costs linked to the purchase of electricity.
With an on-site PPA contract, it is possible to purchase energy from renewable sources at a fixed price for a certain period of time, generally from 10 to 20 years, making the surface area (land and/or flat roof) available free of charge to the chosen partner for the installation of your photovoltaic system.
In this way, we protect ourselves, even if in a marginal way, from energy increases that are not entirely predictable and from supply problems like those we have seen in recent years without having to make a significant monetary investment.
CER - Renewable Energy Communities
Joining a Renewable Energy Community (CER) represents another valid alternative for companies that want to invest directly in a photovoltaic system.
CER members produce and share solar energy among themselves and receive state incentives proportional to the amount of energy shared.
In principle, not all solar energy produced by CER is incentivized, but only that shared within the community.
In conclusion, the installation of an industrial photovoltaic system is a responsible choice which, by exploiting renewable energy, contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrates the company's attention to sustainability.
All this will have the double advantage:
> reduce the environmental impact of businesses, thanks to manufacturing development that is more sensitive to current energy transition issues;
> generate significant savings for industries in the short, medium and long term.