Digitization in PV Monitoring, but with Safety in Mind

by Martina Ludwig | 05.12.2019

What must a powerful, open and future-proof PV monitoring platform be able to do? What security aspects should be in place and what points need to be considered in the course of the Digitization and data protection to be taken into account? We passed these questions on to our colleague Martina Ludwig from the IT Operations department.

A PV monitoring platform that customers can access must meet two requirements:

  1. The basic things here include usability, i.e. the platform must be visually appealing and have catchy, self-explanatory menu navigation. This enables everyone to find their way around it quickly and confidently. In addition, there should be the possibility of contacting the plant operator - and process-oriented communication in the event of problems.
  2. With a monitoring platform, the monitoring of the PV systems is of course the top priority. The plant operator or service provider who looks after the PV plant must be able to quickly obtain an overview with all operationally relevant parameters about the plant and plant fleets. Attractively designed graphics and evaluations provide all the necessary information. If a fault is detected in a plant and reported to the operator - i.e., by e-mail - a monitoring platform must enable rapid, process-oriented entry into the fault analysis.

The error analysis should be actively supported by a monitoring platform, i.e. by means of a knowledge database. This supports the operator in quickly identifying the cause of the error. Here, as almost everywhere, the principle applies: "Time is money". If the attempt remains unsuccessful, it should be possible to report the error to a higher-level support team via the monitoring platform. An embedded ticket system is very helpful here.

What security must the monitoring platform offer in terms of data security?

A professional monitoring platform is characterized, among other things, by the fact that it must be continuously available and run with high performance. This means a fast Internet connection, powerful hardware, and the use of the latest, but nevertheless mature and stable technologies. Since a platform like this handles customer data, the first priority is to protect it. There are several points to consider here:

  • First of all, compliance with the respective data protection regulations (in Germany, this is regulated in the so-called Data Protection Ordinance) is an absolute must. There is also an obligation to provide information. Upon request by the user of the monitoring platform, the user must receive a complete evaluation of the data stored by the platform operator.
  • Another aspect of data protection is the location of the servers on which the data is stored. It is advisable to take a close look here. In principle, information security is independent of location, but data protection is still very high in Germany, for example. This is one of the reasons why the servers for Solar-Log™, for example, are located in Germany.
  • On a monitoring platform, there are usually many customers or users, each of whom has their own personal area. Another security measure is that the platform itself keeps these areas completely separate. Consequently, customer A cannot view customer B's data. This is ensured in the Solar-Log™ system by appropriate programming.
  • A well-known topic is password security. Here, users have a duty to protect their personal space with a strong password and multi-factor authentication. For many, however, this is not necessarily part of their daily business, which is why Solar-Log™, upon request, is also happy to support users on the subject of security.

How secure is the data exchange of the on-site hardware and the downstream software?

The Solar-Log™ monitoring system consists of the data logger (hardware) and the online platform Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ (software) for the user. Data is exchanged between the data logger and the online platform for configuration and plant monitoring.

Communication between the monitoring platform and data loggers must be strongly encrypted (i.e. via the SSL protocol). Ideally, even via a dedicated VPN communication. A VPN here is an end-to-end corridor between the individual data logger and the monitoring platform. No other participant in the network can "see" into this tunnel or send or access data via it. The data logger itself must also be actively secured. For this purpose, everyone who installs, maintains or configures the respective logger is instructed, so that he himself or with the active support of the Solar-Log™ team carries out everything correctly. This includes, for example, setting up the correct password protection.

In the course of digitalization, developments in PV monitoring are rapid. Are there any other aspects here that fall into the area of security?

As digitalization progresses, a lot will change. Innovative business models and digital developments will help us to simplify processes and increase the availability and possibilities of PV energy. Despite this "brave new world," we must never forget data protection. This is because wherever data flows, is exchanged or stored, protection is necessary. This includes communication via the web interface, which is of course encrypted. Recognizable by the lock symbol in the browser and the identifier "https" in the address line. This currently ensures that the customer actually sends his personal data over the network in encrypted form.

The monitoring platform (software) runs on servers, which represent a neuralgic point. Their security must always be up to date to protect them from unauthorized access. This includes in particular the use of a secure and stable operating system platform. This is where special Unix servers come into play or, in the case of very large platforms, mainframe servers such as those that have been in use at banks for decades. Security and stability have top priority with such servers. Solar-Log™ relies on Linux servers with state-of-the-art cloud technology for its platforms. These servers are maintained and secured by specialists who deal with the latest security technologies and constantly keep their knowledge up to date. This includes, in particular, technologies to detect and fend off intrusion attempts. In addition, there is the use of so-called firewalls, which only release what is absolutely necessary to the outside world.

What else can users do to ensure the best possible protection of their data?

Every device is only as good as the user. That is why I would recommend to everyone the Solar-Log™ Trainings recommend. In addition to important content on the installation and operation of the Solar-Log™ monitoring platform, these cover the topic of security, among other things. In addition, of course, there are safeguards that should be standard, but often are not. Such as a secure password, an up-to-date firewall, and anti-virus program. This already provides a good basis for the security of the data, which supports the extensive measures and constant efforts of the manufacturers, so that the user's data is safe!

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