May 16, 2017

RFID Tags in Solar Panels / Solar Plants


Various policy measures have been put in place, based on recommendations of experts. These relate to power evacuation, subsidies and eligibility of solar panels to be used for setting up plants, even players who can and who cannot put solar plants based on recommendations / user experiences. All of this is good, and sign of a maturing solar economy that India is moving towards. Rightly so, since now India is poised to be the third largest solar market in the world, and has pipped Japan and the US in the ranking order. We draw attention to one such policy related to solar panels being manufactured in India, and use of RFID tags. This is one step that the department has taken to ensure that the minimum technical standards are reached, and maintained by quality manufacturers. This is also become a requirement for any government project, or a project that envisages some form of subsidy that the government provides on installing solar panels ( such as solar rooftop plants on institutions, NGOs, or schools and colleges).
The MNRE mandates that
each PV module, that is installed, must use a Radio Frequency identification tag (RFID), which must contain the following information, which is more than a handful and must take the manufacturers some time and effort to encode ( listed below) :
(i)                 Name of the manufacturer of PV Module
(ii)               Name of the Manufacturer of Solar cells
(iii)             Month and year of the manufacture (separately for solar cells and module)
(iv)             Country of origin (separately for solar cells and module)
(v)               I-V curve for the module
(vi)             Peak Wattage, Im, Vm and FF for the module
(vii)           Unique Serial No and Model No of the module
(viii)         Date and year of obtaining IEC PV module qualification certificate
(ix)             Name of the test lab issuing IEC certificate
(x)               Other relevant information on traceability of solar cells and module as per ISO 9000 series.
The RFID modules are almost always placed inside the glass, and protected / laminated.
While bar coding has been a solution that has been used in most other applications and use cases, why is the case of solar panels different ? Bar coding is a much simpler, hassle free and cheaper way to mark ( and number ) solar panels in case that is the objective. It is safe to assume that the objectives therefore, are more than simply marking. Dealing with the huge number of solar panels in a solar park, or a rooftop poses its challenges and such information can be automatically captured if and when required in the field. Automating this, via RFID tagging ( vis a vis barcodes) makes the entire process error free.

One must question however, if this information is checked as a matter of routine by inspectors, or project officers. If yes, what is the typical frequency of checking and are the outputs of solar panels being compared. What is the result of this comparison and is it publicly accessible ? How long do the RFID tags last since they bear the brunt of harsh sunlight most of the year for many years together ? After all, the raison d’etre of using RFID tags has been traceability and accountability. Many officers, who do not come on record, have claimed that they have no means of checking what the encoded information is. But they do diligently check, if the RFID tag exists on the panel or not ! An RFID reader or a interrogator is normally used to read this information. Health data of the solar panels ought to be checked from time to time, and compared, and the MNRE should use agencies to come out with such reports on degradation, panel quality score, and output power obtained over 2 /3/ 5 year period.

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