Open architecture based SCADA and DAS systems are being rapidly adopted in a wide range of industries, including solar PV power generation. This is a marked change from past years, when open architecture software and equipment were perceived as consumer-grade, while proprietary systems were thought to be more appropriate for commercial use.
What has brought about this change? Owners have discovered the many advantages open architecture systems have to offer. The two main benefits we'll explore in this article are:
- Cost savings over time
What is an Open Architecture system?
Open architecture refers to a type of system architecture design intended to make adding, upgrading, and swapping components easy. An open architecture system design utilizes open standards to reduce the cost/risk of ownership of systems, delay system obsolescence, and allow fielding of capability more quickly.
What is the difference between an Open Architecture and a Proprietary system?
A proprietary or "black box" solution is a hardware or software product or combination of products and services that is tied to a specific vendor, to the exclusion of all other vendors. "Proprietary" or "closed source" is often used to describe software that is not open source or freely licensed. It is licensed for a fee, its source code is rarely made available, and the software may only be used in strict accordance with generally restrictive licenses.
Open architecture systems use established "off the shelf" OEM equipment and hardware, and software that is open source or freely licensed. This allows asset owners to choose from a wide range of components for their systems. There are no restrictive licensing fees.
What are the advantages of an Open Architecture System?
From the EPC perspective, open architecture systems are easier to install, commission, troubleshoot and support.
Asset owners also benefit from the ease of support, which lowers operating costs. Open architecture systems make standardization easier for ongoing support and maintenance (including spare parts replacement). It is easier to find integrators to support the system, giving owners more competitive options.
Owners also have the assurance of future scalability and flexibility. It is much easier to modify, enhance, upgrade, migrate and swap components in an open architecture system.
From the O&M perspective, it is much easier to train operators on an open architecture system, and easier to find and hire operators that already have experience with the system being used. There are more resources for support, without having to rely on proprietary training materials and contracts.
Ease of use for operators is also a factor. It is difficult (or impossible) to customize proprietary systems to fit specific operator needs and preferences (ex. HMI graphics).
On the maintenance side of O&M, open architecture systems are easier to troubleshoot, support and maintain.
Are there any disadvantages to choosing an Open Architecture System?
While not necessarily a disadvantage, there are many open architecture OEM based solutions available on the market and it can make keeping track of them challenging. Integrators must also keep up to date with open architecture system equipment and software to ensure that it is continually supported and has a migratable path for the future.
How do Open Architecture systems support scalability and migration paths?
Open architecture systems based on large OEMs (ex. GE, Emerson, Rockwell Automation, for example) have been around for around a century and will continue to be in business, developing and supporting their equipment and software indefinitely. Each of their product lines have a migration path for at least 25 years and OEM and integrator support is always easily accessible.
Proprietary DAS and SCADA solutions may not offer simple third-party integration due to closed protocols. Open architecture systems, on the other hand, are designed to be "bolt on compatible." This means that they scale easily by adding, upgrading or swapping components. For example, all of Nor-Cal's systems are "control ready," meaning that if at a later date you need to add control capabilities to a DAS system that only enables monitoring capabilities, you can. The system will work with almost any third-party software or hardware automation system. If you need to add a battery storage system to a PV only site, you can. It's easy to integrate the new devices into the base SCADA system because the open architecture allows it to accept third-party communications.
Is there a cost savings benefit to choosing an Open Architecture System?
Open architecture systems provide cost savings over the operational life of the plant.
Most proprietary DAS and SCADA system vendors require a 1, 2 or 5 year subscription service in order to get access to site performance data. This leads to additional costs in the long run. There are typically long-term recurring fees from licensing agreements and service agreements. Any future troubleshooting support, maintenance, logic modifications and enhancements are typically limited to only that company. Owners aren’t able to "shop around" for a more competitive price because the system is locked in.
Open architecture systems are the opposite. Since the software is open source, there are no monthly or annual licensing fees to use it. There are no proprietary service contracts or data access fees. Owners are free to shop around for service providers and take advantage of competitive pricing.
At Nor-Cal, we "hand over the keys" to our open source DAS and SCADA systems once they are commissioned, with no service contracts or data access fees. Customers may choose to contract with us for support, or not. We even provide SCADA training for operators to help them take ownership of their systems.
For more on how open architecture systems affect upfront and long-term costs, see our article: Determining Solar PV SCADA System Costs.
If a customer has a proprietary system and is unable to obtain the support they need, how is Nor-Cal here to help?
Since all Nor-Cal's systems and integrated solutions are open architecture, our team must be well-versed and knowledgeable on multiple OEM equipment and software solutions. That makes us very well equipped to support any existing open architecture OEM solutions.
However, if a customer has a proprietary solution that needs support, we do have some options available. These include:
If unable to get support from the original vendor, we will audit the system to see if any of the aspects are supportable based on information and resources available online. If we have experience on the platform, we will try our best to support the existing system using our industry and project related experience.
We may be able to salvage some of the existing design components (hardware and software) and add only the additional layer required (software) or minimal hardware to bring the system up to par and in working order.
We may recommend additional measures to enhance the system further based on our industry best practice experience.
The worst case scenario is that a system is unsupportable. In that case, we are able to replace all or portions of the existing system with an open architecture based OEM solution.
Save on operating costs and build for the future with an open architecture solution from Nor-Cal.
Choose an open architecture solution that is supportable, robust and scalable. At Nor-Cal, we recommend and build open architecture/open protocol solutions that are bolt-on capable and easily upgradeable and modifiable in the future.
Nor-Cal has many years of project experience, meaning we know exactly what each system will require upfront and over the long run. We consider the future needs of the SCADA system when providing a turnkey solution.
Schedule a call with us today to learn more.