In order to maintain the efficiency of solar panels, EPFL spin-off SmartHelio has created an IoT sensor technology capable of analysing and localising existing faults to improve general performance.
Although solar panel installations have multiplied in the last decade to fight climate change, their maintenance is still done manually. The system from Lausanne-based start-up SmartHelio is changing this now by using a plug and play IoT solution that transmits recommendations based on a prediction model to improve installed solar panel systems.
"A sort of ‘panel doctor’, our system ensures that they work at their best and deliver the maximum kilowatt-hours per day", summarises Govinda Upadhyay, CEO of SmartHelio.
Founded in 2019 in Lausanne, the company already employs 14 specialists and works with over 40 partners and clients all over the world.
The SmartHelio solution – an intelligent sensor – consists of three modular parts: a communication module compatible with different protocols, an encrypted processor and a detection device. The latter captures voltage and is able to monitor other parameters, such as pollution, air temperature or soil moisture.
Ten years of research
A modern pattern recognition technology based on artificial intelligence (AI) allows the SmartHelio solution to identify faults in a solar installation. By measuring voltage and current variations, it anticipates breakdowns. Based on a model, the AI is able to spot a shadow cast on the panels, to detect faults such as the clogging of a panel or its degradation. It took ten years of research to develop this AI.
In addition to its affordable cost, it is the data processing that allows SmartHelio to distinguish itself from its competitors. "Other control systems exist, but they are expensive and just collect these elements without looking for the cause of the problems”, says Upadhyay.
Solar Impulse label
After some tests in Switzerland, the company decided to concentrate its activity first on emerging countries such as India, where solar power systems are growing yearly by 34%. SmartHelio is then planning to expand into the US. In its first year on the market, the SmartHelio solution already assessed 2 GW of assets globally. In addition to receiving research and acceleration grants of over CHF 1 million from different Swiss and international organisations such as Innosuisse and Cambridge Cleantech, the company has also been selected by the Solar Impulse foundation, as one of its 1000+ efficient and profitable solutions to protect the environment.
Successful social entrepreneur
SmartHelio is not the first innovation in the field of solar energy for its founder and former PhD student at the EPFL Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory: in 2015, Govinda Upadhyay established LEDsafari, a cheap solar lamp to make yourself, combined with an online training platform, which has impacted more than 100,000 people around the world and is used by more than 350 institutes. This invention earned him a place in the 2016 Forbes ‘30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs’ ranking in Europe.