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Data networks maximise availability of solar power plants

09 February 2016

Reliable data communications networks, created by Westermo, are helping to maximise the availability of two thermal solar power plants in south-western Spain. 

The Ethernet-based networks have been installed to support the control of 225,000 mirrors at the twin La Florida and La Dehesa concentrating solar power plants. The plants, owned by Renovables SAMCA, each have a capacity of 49.9 MWe, enough to support more than 45,000 homes. 

Reliable data communications are vital for the production of electricity. Should connection be lost between the mirrors and control rooms, the collectors are automatically set to safe mode and do not transfer energy. For this reason Westermo was tasked with providing a resilient solution that would maximise plant availability. 

“Any interruptions to the communications affect our ability to generate power,” explained César Labarga, electrical engineer and project manager for solar field control systems at Renovables SAMCA, who was responsible for implementing the network at both sites. 

Because the La Florida and La Dehesa plants are identical, the same solution was installed at each plant. The networks were designed around a central dual gigabit fibre optic ring using 25 Westermo RedFox managed industrial Ethernet switches. Nine sub rings consisting of 120 Westermo Lynx switches were added to reach out to the different parts of each plant. All individual rings in the network run the Westermo FRNT ring protocol, which enables 20 ms reconfiguration of the network in the event of link (cable or switch) failure. 

Westermo built, configured and tested both networks in advance in its laboratory in Sweden. An entire network, including all 290 switches, was mounted on a ‘network wall’, enabling it to be fully configured and tested prior to installation.  “We also needed a solution that was quick and simple to install,” continued Labarga. “Having Westermo configure the devices and thoroughly test both networks beforehand was essential to this project.”

The installation process was extremely efficient, with all switches installed and both networks up and running in less than three hours. Since then the networks have proved to be extremely reliable, with no reported problems or serious incidents.

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