The Smart City Podcast

A Conversation About Solar Power Installations with Tampa Electric's Bob Brumm and Shane Robin

August 15, 2022 The Smart Cities Team at ARC Advisory Group Season 7 Episode 10
The Smart City Podcast
A Conversation About Solar Power Installations with Tampa Electric's Bob Brumm and Shane Robin
Show Notes Transcript

Learn What PV Projects Tampa Electric Has Completed?

Discuss What Planning Needs to Be Accomplished?

Examine What Factors Impact the kWh Cost?

Learn About Innovative Site Selection

Examine Components and Energy Flow Within an Installation

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If you have an intriguing, thought provoking topic you'd like to discuss on our podcast, please contact our host Jim Frazer

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Jim Frazer  

Welcome to another episode of this podcast today we are recording live at the arc forum here in Orlando, Florida. Our subject today is sustainability, the energy transition and decarbonization, and I'm very happy today to be joined by my esteemed guest, Bob Brumm of Tampa Electric, as well as Shane Robin and also the Tampa Electric Company here in Florida. Welcome, gentlemen. How are you today? Thank you. 

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Thank you for having us.

 

Jim Frazer  

Hey, it's great to have you here the arc forum and to have you on our on our podcast today. Gentlemen, we I understand that both of you work in, in the transition of energy, solar energy for Tampa Electric, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to this ecosystem?

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

I'm going to go first. Yeah, I'll go. Well, I've been with TECO 23 years will be 24 years soon. And I started in telecom, and then transitioned to it, and been in it for almost 20, over 25 years. So it's have grown into the role I'm in in supporting the solar environment now through various transitions, but we see our industry growing with the growth of solar, we need to support for that internal in the company. So it's been a an opportunity to grow with that growth in our organization, and a great opportunity that we'll have in the organization supporting the solar environments.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

My for myself, I own my own IT business for about 13 years. Before joining the TECO team, about seven and a half years ago, I came into the IT department just working strictly it. But then we started a few years ago, putting in solar sites, and then more solar sites. And I was involved. My involvement was installing the software that they're running the HMIs and the data historians on so I had some familiarity with it. And then a couple years ago, they kind of realigned the IT department and they opened up some opportunities to work it specifically for solar generation. A big part of our goal is accompany decarbonization of zero net carbs, emissions. So it's a big focus for a lot of companies and TECO’s no different. And it just really it was exciting to think about something you're on the cutting edge of something that's new technology, being able to be involved and making a difference in reducing your carbon footprint as a company.


 

Jim Frazer  

That's great. Can you comment about your TECO and renewable energy? I know I know both of you focus on your solar and PV. The Seco get involved in other types of renewable energy like wind or other projects.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

They're not in the wind. The specifics of it don't show favorable. We do have we've converted most of our traditional plants. So we're doing gas powered turbine systems. So that's a big plus for what we're doing. We own a gas company throughout the state of Florida people's gas and, and New Mexico gas down in Mexico to but solar has been a big growth, the megawatt percentage we can get through that through that clean energy as is growing and we've seen a big opportunity of it. So

 

Jim Frazer  

certainly this is this is the sunshine so can you outline some of those solar projects for TECO and your role in

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

changing as more experienced?

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Well, we have we have a number of sites currently that are in production that are producing power throughout the throughout the service area. We have several that are being built this year and more Next year, so as land is purchased and permits are approved and things, there's a huge process that, thankfully, our department doesn't have to deal with. But once they get all of that stuff lined up and construction begins, and then eventually we get involved when there's need for a SCADA control.


 

Jim Frazer  

That's interesting. guessing that permitting process does take a lengthy amount of time.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Well, you have a you have a number of things that can go into it, depending on where the property is at how close it is to, you know, the residents. You know, there's really not a camping of the word that I'm trying to think of, but from an environmental standpoint, it's not like you're putting something hazardous in but you know, it is visually you can, you can see it, if you've ever passed on the highway and seeing some of the big, you know, the big farms may not necessarily be the most attractive thing to you. It may look great to other people. So there's always, you know, different things that go that go into, you know, that permanent,

 

Jim Frazer  

or these installations on TECO. owned

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

property. They do purchase the land. Yes. Because I

 

Jim Frazer  

know there's been there's been discussions in the past about that one of the largest contributors to the close LPV plan actually is the land and the property taxes under it. And that there are opportunities in public owned lands, right aways, perhaps on the Florida Turnpike, or even in on publicly owned lakes. 

 

Jim Frazer  

Is the are these initiatives under the regulated or unregulated part of your business? Is that a question we are so comfortable to? Answer? Well, it's

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Well, I would say that it, and I'm just an old open disclosure, I don't work in compliance. So to answer it from a legalistic standpoint, I don't know. I mean, I do know that because we are a regulated utility, things like fuel cost, those get passed directly to the consumer. So whatever it costs us that of a fossil powered plant, or the natural gas to power, that plant that gets passed on to the consumer, so as price goes up, price goes down, that's just a pass through, we can't make any money off of that as a regulated utility. So solar gives the ability to pass that power through without having to fuel seeds we have in the fuel costs. So there are regulations that you know, that dictate you know, what we can charge and what we can't charge based on the power that was generated from solar.

 


Jim Frazer  

That's a great answer. I was I was let me try to maybe focus that question a little bit a little bit better. You know, I know in let me let me ask it this way. The size and scope of your installations are they meant to be generating you know, small but arguably generating facilities for TECO? Or are they or do you design build and construct them for and sell them? Or maybe you know, do a finance them for your big box store operator or a chain of banks or for the for the aquarium for Have that battle? Or is it a mix of both of those? It's

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

it depends on the scenario, if we're buying the land, that's a TECO asset, obviously, with a rooftop solar that's going to be on a business owned asset. So then they may own the panel's we may help service, depending on it, that type of partnership. Can you explain me that a little further from what you've seen?

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Well, from what I've seen thus far, the rooftop solar installations have been TECO purchased, that the end user may own the panel's but it can we help facilitate that, you know, that installation? And I can't really speak to the specifics of, you know, the contracts and whatnot, most of that I'm not privy to so

 

Jim Frazer  

both of you have answered that, have answered that. You know, what was in my head as I was asking the question is, I live in Boca Raton, so I have Florida Power Light. And of course, they're regulated utility that sells me electricity, but they also have an unregulated portion. That is, for one, the outdoor lighting, unregulated division, and they all function pretty much like a general contractor who you might call to light your parking lot. And very often, because who they are, they do have some attractive options when they when they do come to put your foot before that. And that's, that is itself quite a bit different than you well, let's just describe it. You might have the Florida Power and Light owned street lighting system. But then you might have a shopping mall privately owned that sources, their poles, lights, fixtures, infrastructure and electricity from Florida Power like but from a completely from but from the unregulated division. It makes sense.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

I'm not aware of anything like that, that we're doing yet at this point that I can disclose.

 

Jim Frazer  

So to both of you work in the focus on the HMI of solar panels, what, before we get into the user interface piece? What objects might I want to even know about what module objects I mean? volts? Lots? Temperature, maybe of the panel? Sure. What kind of things might you want to track?

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

Let's go for it. I probably a little more expensive.

 

Jim Frazer  

That's a that's a fastball? Yeah.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

No, it's actually a good question. There are so many things that you can that you can track from a solar site that is very useful information. So it just sort of to give you a sort of Reader's Digest version of the construct of a of a solar site, you have panels, you have multiple panels, and there's a lot of them, those are wired into one device called a combiner box. Then from the combiner box, it's a single cable to an inverter, solar panels generate DC voltage. So those panels create voltage and DC, it goes to an inverter, that inverter converts it to AC, which is your household current. And then that gets put out onto the substation, which then goes on to the grid and is therefore consumed for consumers to use. So there's a number of things that you might want to know the person operating you know the site, you might want to know when there's a ground fault, you know, if there's a heavy rainstorm, and an inverter has grandpa shorts, so it's, it's in a bad condition. So we're on the HMI you visualize alarms, so something's in the alarm state. You want to know temperature, we have met stations that meter out meteorological stations that monitor wind speed, temperature, irradiance, there's

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

follow the sun pattern during the day it'll change directions based on

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

where the sun we have we have trackers that track the angle of the sun so you get your most optimal angle with the panels so as the sun moves overhead

 

Jim Frazer  

solar panels are not are not fixed. They're on rack there are several motor

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Yeah, most installations are mobile, if you will, movable. So the trackers will use different weather information, time of day to adjust for the angle of the sun and to maximize the amount of irradiance the panel receives.

 

Jim Frazer  

So most of your objects are from the panel volt Stage, correct? Sure, are you are you watching the temperature of the panels,

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

there, there are well depends on the manufacturer of the panel, the manufacturer of all the equipment sort of dictates what's available. So some, some panels have that module temperature, you can also, if you don't have that, and you can use your met stations for sort of ambient temperature, you can see if the ambient temperature around the panel's is, is within a certain range. The inverters themselves generate heat. So you know, those there's, there's typically temperatures involved with, with those, you can kind of see where they're at, and see how much DC voltage they're, they're generating. So you know, you've got so much current coming in from the panel's and then so much coming out from the inverter. So the inverter efficient, is it not producing what is supposed to in those things are regulated? I mean, we will have to report, you know, if you're, if you have a site that's rated for X amount of megawatts to be able to produce and that site is not producing that amount of power, you have to be able to explain, why was it not generating that much power?


 

Jim Frazer  

I know, this is perhaps a technical question for today. But let me ask you, there's an awful lot happening in that inverter, and most importantly, the waveform, that sine wave form needs to well be a true sine wave, and it needs to match the waveform of the utility itself. Do you monitor attributes around that?

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. Get a troubleshooting call about that last week.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Yeah, we had to work on that very issue with because of the data that we're able to bring out. And engineering, being able to somebody that doesn't work at the plant is able to look at our historian data, that's, that's coming out. And so he can visually use visualization tools to trend and see what's been going on with certain aspects of the site. So you know, if he sees something oscillating, that's not supposed to be then He comes to us, and we can go in and adjust the, the plant controller PLC, make tweaks based on their recommendations, because you can see what it's set for what they people much smarter than me can calculate out to say, this is what it should be. You put in the numbers and then watch, you know, the data, the data is everything as it comes out, you know, to see, okay, well, now we're producing what, what we need to be and it's a true sine wave rather than a square wave.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

Yeah. And it was it was good. It's a collaboration with the engineering group that has that knowledge, that statistic, that engineering background to say, Yeah, this wave needs to be different. Is it folks, we don't look at sine waves. We may understand what they are, but they definitely know it has to be within this range. And okay, when we can we understand numbers, and we can certainly tweak that to get it within

 

Jim Frazer  

60 cycles and not 59. Trouble for those smaller installations like a the retailer, the homeowner, or do they back feed that power back to back to the utility?

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

There are there are some there are some net meter customers as I'm aware of the combat feed power back into the into the grid,

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

I have it on my house. And that's what I've got a net meter situation, I feed it back into the grid for the carrier, I

 

Jim Frazer  

wonder what that's going to be us against? What do you understand that's, that is a delicate situation in terms of you, you do need a very high quality inverter to make sure that you do get a true sine wave and not a step wave. And that it is rock solid on 60 cycles a second,

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

and what's gonna be synchronized. Yeah, that's, that's the biggest thing is the synchronization because when they install that, for instance, on a house when they did mine, they were working with the power company, make sure the installation company made sure the waves from proper are made sure they've seen and then when they put in that net meter, they're working with the power company and you see what we're seeing, are you seeing this? So there's that match, so they make sure you're not, you know, throwing all this isolation or extra power onto the grid. The other thing is a homeowner, you got to there's a liability but it was the addition that you put on your home for those because you are putting power onto the grid. And in instances of outages. That sun's out you're still producing power out onto a open possibly Open line that helps to protect both sides that nobody gets hurt. So there's a policy in place so that you don't, you know, in case something were to happen, people are covered.

 

Jim Frazer  

I mean, that's, that's fair, it's an understated situation, it really is a big one. Yeah, it's really a big one. In a larger sense, it's interesting to set our say, our energy team here that we think of utilities in many years ago, it was electric utilities, they made the power made electrons on a wire on one end, and they counted it on the other end. And we're now in a world that's evolving where, well, the generating plant at large sharing plays not the only generator of electrons. So the utilities are, in my mind evolving to be more of an ISP, and managing network traffic of electrons, who there's some here and there got need to go there. And that's an entirely different business model. And it's just a heavy lift. One of my colleagues calls this the largest integration project of all time, in transitioning from the generator, generating plant down to the meter. Now to this, to this peer to peer network of all kinds of things. Of course, it's only complicated when you buy an electric vehicle, you try charging, you would do three neighbors charge on one transformer.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

Yeah, and then if something were to happen, you could pull with the smart meters, you can pull that power back if needed. So it's pulling it back onto the grid, like you said, you're managing the power from a different location where power is coming, not just from your source, but from that house, you know, the neighbor down the street, or four or five people in a subdivision. So it's really interesting, it'll be

 

Jim Frazer  

interesting to see what arbitrage is what I would call it will happen, whether it's, whether it's, once you have these sources and loads that are much more variable, let's say that what we had in the past. So I think of the there's three or four homes and a transformer, typically more or less, what happens if to have electric vehicles, and to help the solar one has wind, for example. And you so you've got loads and sources going up and down? And you know, okay, the winds, what if it's, if it's nighttime, and the winds not blowing? And yet, three electric vehicles want to get charged one transformer who gets priority? Who pays maybe, or maybe who has a lower battery percent charge? We don't know yet. All those kinds of things are going to need to be figured out by someone.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

So a lot of a lot of burgeoning opportunities, you know, on both sides from a business standpoint, generating power, being able to produce clean, reliable power for people to use as well as what the consumers are going to do with that, you know, what some of the things with electric vehicles like we've talked about also with you know, other things that maybe technologies that may come out that we don't even know yet but it's an exciting time being, you know, on the cusp of, of what seems like a limitless opportunity to make life better for people.

 

Jim Frazer  

Certainly, you know, before we it sounds like we're going to accomplish here I'm not necessarily ready for the lets you know where you're at the arc annual form. And this is all about automation, Process automation and control systems. So I've neglected to ask you about the HMI and all of the intricacies about fat. And we talked about the foundational infrastructure, the solar panels that are out there, the inverters and connectors perhaps some gateways. What, perhaps you can shed a little bit of light on at a high level about communication backbones. How does that so plan your HMI is probably not out in the field. It's probably at some other location in Tampa. I'm sure but you're not. I don't think you're staying there the cabinet. Oh, no, it's there's still box on the side of the road. Right. So you talked about the backhaul. And then what you know, what does your software look like? What does ROP ratings What does a typical operation center look like for a TECO solar plant?

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

Well As you're seeing now, there's a plethora of different types of solar sites that that are being built that are general commercial grade, the what we call our big solar sites that are generating power for general consumers. They're like, much like any other electrical site that you would go to, from a visualization standpoint, you would see a substation there with a control house. And in that control house, you'll have various equipment that that's involved in both the running and the monitoring of the site. So we typically have fiber that connects those for the backhaul have to bring to bring that back to or data center. But your controls are there someone that has the control house, you know, has a machine that they can log into and monitor and control the site. They're, they're visualizing the HMI. So if they want to see what's going on, if they need to make adjustments, they need to do anything that's there on site for them to be able to do

 

Jim Frazer  

that. So UPS upstream from the physical plant itself to TECO, it looks like any other generator, more or less. On site inside the operation center, that's where you have the solar PV specific user interfaces, correct.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

And we also have the ability to look at those remote, because obviously, most of these sites are on the outside, they're not near our data center, I mean, you're talking 3040 minute drive away. So we have the ability to talk to that equipment through our network through a fiber

 

Jim Frazer  

network to controls so those user interfaces are duplicated.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

There's a read only the other ones were read only copy that people can use to view but they can't control. So if someone if a manager or even you know, the president of company wanted to take a look at see what a particular site was doing. Or we give them dashboards to the HMI so that they can see what all sites are built on a single pane of glass. So if you want to see, you know, how many megawatts is producing that type of thing. They can do that without any risk of, of doing anything they're not supposed to do.

 

Jim Frazer  

What do you see for the future? So like, what, what kind of things are you starting to see in terms of IoT, PV panel, technology updates, or inverter updates, or what kind of thing I would like to grow the user interface

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

from, from a panel standpoint. And again, that's really not, you know, our realm that we deal with too much other than pulling data from them. But you see, with each installation is, as we've seen, each site gets built, there's a different iteration of panels and panels become more efficient, they can generate more power, with the same size panel, that before, you know, couldn't generate as much. So you find over the, over the course of a site, maybe you don't need as many panels, you know, so that's, I think one of the cool things like with, with the floating solar applications, you know, they're doing research and development on panels that will pick up reflected rays. So as the sun's rays come down, it picks up the irradiance, but also, what's reflected off the water, it can pick up irradiance from there. So you're going to see, you know, maybe things like that, that, that have multiple, multiple purposes, you know, maybe help with evaporation, so the water in the retention area, whatever it's floating along, you know, doesn't evaporate as quickly, because of the shade from your panels in different places.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

And the meteorology, meteorological pieces, that's something that, you know, down here in Florida, it can it can make sure the panels are clean, or when there's heavy burden. Overpass will say, okay, and when they do their business on it, it will let you know, hey, these needs to be cleaned and send notifications about that. So there's technology there to help you maintain these things in a proper standard that they will keep you know that that megawatt percentage.

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

I've been reducing. I think one of the biggest challenges for the guys that control the amount of electricity that's flowing out on the on the grid, Florida sunshine state, but we're also the lightning capital of at least this part of the world. So you can imagine a You've got several sites, full suns out there producing high irradiance, and you get a large amount of cloud cover that comes over, you know, they have to be able to anticipate that drop in power that's going to come because, you know, so it's not good at night. And solar is not good under cloudy rainy days. So, you know, it's not the it's not the silver bullet for producing power in and of itself, so they have to be able to compensate for for that because you can imagine all of a sudden, you'd have a dip in production, and that has to be replaced with a spinning plan.

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

Okay, July afternoons can be hard.

 

Jim Frazer  

Well, gentlemen, this has been a great half an hour, this discussion here. Are there any last words you might have for our audience today?

 

Bob Brumm Sr. Systems Analyst - Solar Systems  

I say just enjoy the technology, learn more about the technology look for the growth in it, the improvements in it, like Jim was saying, smaller, more capable panels are going to be coming, all that that quality of improvement, I think is key to remember and, you know, keep an eye on it. See how see how more efficient it will be held, that this

 

Shane Robin  Systems Analyst Consultant at TECO Energy  

production kind of gets interesting. Yeah, it's really a fascinating time. It seems like every time somebody in the neighborhood gets a new roof, they get solar panels live it. And that just moves us you know, that much closer to net zero carbon emissions. You know, it's, it helps them save money, and it's good for the environment. I'm just excited about all technology toys that I get to play with. So

 

Jim Frazer  

that's great. That's great. Well, once again, thanks to Shane Robin and Bob Rob, both of the Tampa Electric companies, light sessions once the podcast. Thank you very much and

 

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