OCONTSOLAR Project – Optimal Control of Thermal Solar Energy Systems

Technology developments in many fields advance much faster than the methodologies needed to apply them in industry. This is the case of many devices used in our daily life such as sensors installed in cell phones or drones. These devices can supply a huge amount of information over extended geographical areas that can be used to extend the capability of control systems to heights unforeseen in the past.

OCONTSOLAR aims to develop new control methods to use mobile sensors mounted on drones and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) as an integral part of the control systems. Sensors mounted on vehicles have been used for surveillance and for gathering information, however these mobile sensors have not been used so far as an integral part of control systems.

Solar power plants will be used as a case study, with the aim of optimizing their operation using spatial irradiance estimations and predictions. Many results will be applicable to other systems such as traffic control in highways and cities, energy management in buildings, micro-grids, agriculture (irrigation and plague control) and flood control. The main objectives and challenges are:

  1. Methods to control mobile sensor fleets and integrate them as an essential part of the overall control systems.
  2. Spatially distributed solar irradiance estimation methods using a variable fleet of sensors mounted on drones and UGVs.
  3. New model predictive control (MPC) algorithms that use mobile solar sensor estimations and predictions to yield safer and more efficient operation of the plants allowing the effective integration of solar energy in systems delivering energy to grids or other systems while satisfying production commitments.

OCONTSOLAR includes proofs of concepts by implementation on the Solar Platform of Almeria and on a solar air conditioning plant installed at the host institution.

The research team is a leading European research group in control of Solar Systems and MPC. The team has developed and commissioned advanced MPC controllers for 13 commercial solar plants (50 MWe each) in Europe. Significant energy production gains are expected to be obtained using MPC and spatial estimation and prediction of irradiance.

In short, OCONTSOLAR is a high-risk/high-gain project with extremely ambitious and innovative goals taking advantage of the new opportunities presented by the latest mobile sensing technologies while dealing with the demanding control issues which arise due to the need to integrate mobile sensors in control systems, producing spatial irradiance estimation and forecasting and handling large-scale interconnected systems with changing topologies. In addition to investigating the more theoretical aspects, the OCONTSOLAR team also expects to come up with ground breaking control solutions for the control of solar power plants and other large scale complex systems.

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