Case study: mobile app for solar panels gives users power to choose

Case study: mobile app for solar panels gives users power to choose

Imagine you’re overseas – it’s summertime and the solar panels on the roof of your house back in New Zealand have generated 10 kilowatt-hours of power on average, every day.

From your smart device, you can see all your power stats, manage your appliances to maximise value from free solar energy and see how much you’ve saved by exporting your excess power back to the grid.

Even a few years ago, this would have been wishful thinking. It’s hard to believe that solar systems and smartphone technology have evolved to such a point that this is now possible. At the interface of making this a reality are two clever companies, leveraging Microsoft’s Azure platform.

How does it work?

Christchurch based EnaSolar (a division of Enatel), specialises in manufacturing solar systems that turn the sun’s energy into free household power using ‘photovoltaic’, or PV, solar panels.

EnaSolar teamed up with Intranel, a company which builds custom software. Together they have developed a mobile app to maximise solar efficiency and display interactive options via a smart device to end users.

Sam Kivi, Product Manager for EnaSolar explains that making the app user-friendly was a core requirement. “Seamless connectivity was important. The displays needed to be user-friendly, intuitive and show real-time information on solar power production, compared with consumption.”

“Intranel was a very good match for us,” said Sam. “They had a very good understanding of what we do. They deployed to Microsoft Azure, which was the quickest and easiest way to implement an app and take it to market.”

Adam Lyness, Business Development Director of Intranel, agrees that the key driver for developing the app came from the customers. “They want next generation solar now and they expect their solar controllers to be connected to a real-time, cloud-based system.”

“We decided on the Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) because it is well designed, intuitive and developers can use it without bringing in specialists. Using Azure means we can deploy a whole platform very quickly – including the systems and services around it.”

It is the first time Intranel has used Azure and Microsoft’s Internet of Things (IoT) hub to integrate to IoT devices – “It made the process of connecting thousands of devices to the cloud much easier than if we had to build everything from scratch,” says Adam. Another important feature of Azure is scalability. Intranel and EnaSolar can manage the cost of building and servicing a small build, then scale up as user-uptake increases.

Ready, set, launch

Intranel and EnaSolar are in the final stages of testing, prior to launch in mid-2017. All of the infrastructure is complete, mechanisms for data collection have been tested and IoT nodes have been installed to connect the controllers to the cloud.

Adam Lyness says “we’re excited to launch – we can’t wait to get this in the hands of the users and get their feedback.”

How bright is the future?

Sam and Adam are both excited about the future.

“Solar energy is a growth industry, for both residential and commercial, ” says Sam. “The cost of installations and solar equipment is going down while their alternatives are going up.”

Adam thinks that looking forward, everyone can get value from the Internet of Things. “Once more and more devices become cloud-connected we’re essentially able to collect, manage and store metadata, and collectively that information becomes really valuable, enabling insights and features that weren’t previously possible.”

Eventually, Adam thinks the data could be used for machine learning to improve and optimise energy production of solar panels.

Sam agrees. “The future is more than just the reporting on one appliance – it is heading to a situation where users will have more devices within the home connected, all of which will continue to deliver new features.”

Is Azure and the Internet of Things right for you?

If you are a small-to-medium business with smart products which may benefit from being powered by the Internet of Things or the Azure platform, it can be of great benefit to work with a technology partner like Intranel. For information that is relevant to your business, contact a Microsoft Partner to find out what Azure can do for your business.

Learn more about EnaSolar.