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Remote Monitoring and Control of Heliodyne Solar Water Heating System

Background
Heliodyne is a leading manufacturer of quality solar water heating equipment for residential and commercial applications. Committed to making thermal solar energy the most environmentally sound and cost-effective source of energy, Heliodyne manufacturers a variety of solar water heating products, including the Gobi line of solar plate collectors and Helio-Pak heat transfer appliances.

An important component of a solar water heating system is the controller. In order to operate efficiently, a solar water heating system requires a controller to monitor the system, read the sensors and signal the pumps when to turn on and off. In early versions of Heliodyne’s systems, the products could only provide basic control functions such as an on/off switch, timers and resisters that react to temperature readings to turn on/off a relay.

Approximately 1 1⁄2 years ago, Heliodyne decided to engineer a more advanced control to provide greater functionality and enable more complex heating systems. As part of this new system, Heliodyne selected the RabbitCore® RCM5450W core module for network connectivity and intelligent control. The RCM5450W provides control of the printed circuit board (PCB) with relays, stubs, and sensor inputs and outputs, and also provides communication to the network via Wi-Fi. This allows Heliodyne’s customers to remotely monitor and manage their solar water heating systems by connecting to Heliodyne’s servers via the Internet.

“We are currently the only American manufacturer to offer remote energy monitoring and control,” said Mike Starkey, lead engineer, Heliodyne. “The Rabbit products are super easy to use and enabled us to offer an advanced program and controller that gives us something truly unique in the market.”

Remote Monitoring From Anywhere
The RCM5450W enables customers to communicate with the Heliodyne systems from anywhere an Internet connection is available. Customers connect the Heliodyne systems to their networks via Wi-Fi. The systems can then collect and send data back to Heliodyne’s server for easy remote access. People can simply access data from a webpage to monitor performance and make any necessary changes. This provides improved system reliability and efficiency, and makes system maintenance easy.

“The newer system is nice for homeowners in consumer applications,” Starkey said. “Customers can go online and easily see that the system is working and change system parameters from a familiar interface.”

The remote monitoring functionality is also a key benefit to installers and utilities. The level of reporting and detail provided by the system makes it easier for utilities to monitor energy savings and encourage sustainable energy consumption via rebate programs. It also allows installers to enhance their businesses by enabling performance based billing models and improves customer service.

“Installers can go online and see from a glance if the system is having any problems,” Starkey added. “They can then download an Excel file with the necessary details and generate proactive emails to their customers.”

RCM5450W Reduces Development Time by 50 Percent
In addition to creating a competitive advantage, Heliodyne found the RCM5450W to be extremely easy to use. Because the RCM5450W featured all of the necessary web libraries, an embedded web server and FCC certifications, Heliodyne could concentrate on other aspects of the product design leaving the wireless networking and control portion with Rabbit.

“If I had to write all these interfaces it would’ve been at least twice as much work,” Starkey said. “All that CGI stuff was taken out of our hands through the RabbitWeb libraries and embedded web server. It was pretty much design a Web site and put in a few variables, and we were up and running. It saved us a lot of time.”

Heliodyne deploys approximately 1,000 Rabbit products per year and is committed to a long-term relationship. In addition to being easy to use, Heliodyne also finds the Rabbit products extremely reliable and the sales and support staff knowledgeable and friendly.

“While we haven’t had to use them very much, tech support has always been very quick to respond,” Starkey concluded. “We definitely have invested in Rabbit’s microcontrollers and have been very pleased with the relationship.”

“The Rabbit products are super easy to use and enabled us to offer an advanced program and controller that gives us something truly unique in the market.”

 - Mike Starkey, Lead Engineer, Heliodyne

Application: Wireless communications technology for residential and commercial solar heating applications

Industry: Smart Energy

Company: Heliodyne www.heliodyne.com

Challenge: To provide remote monitoring and control for residential and commercial solar energy solutions.

Solution: RCM5450W a Wi-Fi 802.11b/g core module acts as the main controller and a secure Wi-Fi interface to enable wireless communication as well as reduce development time of thermal solar energy system by 50 percent.

More about RabbitCore® RCM5450W
The RCM5450W offers a unique I/O intensive and secure wireless solution which not only delivers faster data throughput, but also allows user to have improved control and monitoring capabilities with an embedded web server. The included software libraries such as RabbitWebTM and Remote Program Update greatly reduces development time and enables remote firmware update from anywhere in the world.

Key Features:
• Rabbit 5000 running at 74 MHz
• 39 digital I/O lines and up to 6 serial ports
• Integrated IEEE 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
• 802.11i security compliance supporting WPA and WPA2 enterprise authentication
• Wireless web server capability
• Low design risk

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