A Command Room View Of Clean Energy In Arizona

In a room tucked away at APS headquarters downtown Phoenix, Arizona two employees spend their workdays watching large screens and computer monitors showing the status of renewable energy plants across Arizona.

On this morning, one of the plants represented on a state map is flashing red, prompting the utility to dispatch a technician to the unmanned Cotton Center, a Gila Bend facility with enough solar panels to power thousands of homes.

Welcome to the APS Solar Monitoring Room.

Officials say the real-time information available here is important because relying on solar energy means continually adjusting for weather. Even a few clouds can disrupt solar energy production, for example.

Monitors in what APS calls the Solar Room include a map of plants around Arizona and video feeds on individual plants. (image via Cronkite News)

Monitors in what APS calls the Solar Room include a map of plants around Arizona and video feeds on individual plants. (image via Cronkite News)

“The best way to promote solar in Arizona is to make sure the systems are working well,” said Barbara Lockwood, general manager of energy innovation for APS.

Along with the map showing each plant and a display allowing workers to monitor energy output for four plants at a time, the monitors display live video feeds for whichever plants the engineers want to see. The cameras can pan and zoom to provide easier answers when problems arise.

“We got a call asking why the Yuma plant was putting out less wattage than expected,” Senior Engineer James Hansen said. “We looked at the video and could see that it was cloudy.”

Having a centralized way to monitor every plant not only helps ensure smooth operation, it also allows APS to better understand the trends and issues that accompany this burgeoning industry.

“Some of our renewable plants are approaching output comparable to traditional power resources,” Hansen said.

As plants get bigger and provide energy to more customers, the up-to-the-minute information the Solar Monitoring Room offers becomes more crucial every day, said Damon Gross, an APS spokesman.

“It’s clear to us that solar is not going anywhere,” Gross said. “This monitoring room is going to make us even better at tracking and improving all of Arizona’s renewable resource facilities.”

cronkite-newsEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Cronkite News. Author credit goes to Amy Gleich.

Cronkite News provides dozens of original news, feature and investigative stories each week from the state and national capitals on issues critical to Arizonans. It combines professionally edited content produced by Cronkite News Service, Cronkite NewsWatch and other professional experiences offered to advanced students in Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Its journalists report and write daily news stories, features, enterprise and investigative stories for daily and weekly newspapers and news websites across Arizona and produce TV news packages for television newscasts statewide.