Magellan partners with Curtin University to power the future of solar

Western Australian manufacturer of back-up power equipment, Magellan Power recently celebrated the completion of a collaborated PhD project with Curtin University student Mojtaba Saleh.

Completed by Saleh and supervised by Magellan Power’s Chief Technical Officer Lindsay Meek, the PhD project saw Magellan Power create an industry leading sky imaging product called the ’Sky Eye’. The Sky Eye can ‘see’ incoming weather and then mitigate the effect of passing clouds on solar generation. 

Masoud Abshar (Managing Director, Magellan Power) said this was a fantastic example of what can be achieved when industry and universities work together. “This is real research and development. We take an idea to the university and turn it into a real product, with a real commercial outcome for Magellan, while growing Australian know-how and creating smart jobs.”

“Unfortunately, many people have given up on Australian manufacturing, because they believe it’s hard, it’s expensive, and it’s easier to just import a product from Germany, the US or China. But the reality is that we have very capable people here and a wealth of knowledge in our universities. All it takes is the will to collaborate with them.” 

According to Abshar, the project arose from the need to protect to the power grid. “Solar energy is very popular in Australia, and its installation is rapidly increasing. However, the erratic nature of solar generation can cause problems for power grids.”

“When clouds cover the sun, the amount of electricity generated by solar power drops suddenly, causing the power grid to compensate for the loss. This loss may not be significant for a large, strong grid but it can be for a small, weaker grid. The loss of solar generation may be too sharp for the grid to cope with, causing the grid to shut down.”

“The first utility to respond to this problem was Horizon Power, which mandated that all new solar installations using its grid be equipped with technology to smooth the effects of passing clouds. Horizon Power held a competition to see who could design a solution to solve the problem; Magellan Power won.”

“While Magellan devised the overarching concept for the technology, we needed someone to undertake a significant volume of software development for the project. We needed an expert to calculate factors such as image processing, how to accurately detect clouds, how to determine cloud speed and direction, and so on. We approached Curtin University to assist us, and together chose a PhD student to work with: Mojtaba Saleh.”

Together, Magellan Power and Mojtaba Saleh created the Magellan Sky Eye Solar Smoother. It solves the problem of reliability by ‘smoothing’ the photovoltaic power supply. It uses real-time information from a sky camera to predict cloud movement for periods of 12 minutes ahead. The Sky Eye utilises the latest imagery and predictive algorithms, together with machine learning software.

It ‘sees’ the approaching weather by tracking the cloud movement and precisely calculating the moment of impact of the cloud shadow on the solar panels and, therefore, the solar generation. It then commands the solar inverter to reduce solar generation in a controlled manner, allowing the grid generator to ramp up and take the load again.

“Our collaboration with Curtin University really was a win-win situation for everyone involved. Because of the project, Magellan Power has a new product and revenue stream, and Mojtaba Saleh has his PhD and a full-time job. Mojtaba is now a part of the Magellan Power team,” said Abshar.