We live in a world where technology continues to evolve at a mind-boggling pace.  As part of this evolution, the 3G network will be shut down in a process referred to as “network sunsetting.”  Any solar PV system with remote monitoring that currently uses 3G devices will be impacted by the network shutdown—this includes solar PV data acquisition and monitoring systems.  The reason that the 3G network is being shut down is to allow carriers to repurpose that spectrum on which communication devices operate in order to make way for newer network bandwidth.  New networks such as 4G LTE and 5G promise advanced technology and improved network capacity so users will benefit from faster speeds and will offer compatibility with smarter communication components.

Just as an individual would not dream of retiring from the workforce without a solid retirement plan in place, 3G-connected PV monitoring systems should also have a retirement plan in effect because when the network shuts down, your 3G connected devices will no longer be operational.  The initial step in planning for this 3G sunsetting event is to verify if your monitoring equipment is using the 3G network for communications. Your monitoring equipment may be “hard wire” connected to your on-site distribution frames (e.g., IDF/MDF rooms). Or if your installation is newer, you may already have 4G or 5G devices installed. In such cases, you have nothing to worry about. Once you have confirmed if you have 3G devices on-site, then you need to find out if your solar installer or O&M provider is contractually required to perform the upgrade. Finally, and in the event you are required to upgrade the devices, you should verify which carrier (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.) you are using, as each carrier has a different schedule for when they will take down their 3G networks.

Verizon’s 3G network retirement will take place on December 31, 2020, and Verizon customers should already have been made aware of this upcoming deadline.  AT&T’s 3G coverage will end in February 2022, and Sprint and T-Mobile have not yet made any public announcements regarding retirement of their 3G networks, though some estimates point toward 2022.  Users should confirm actual sunset dates with their carriers, as these deadlines were previously adjusted by Verizon and AT&T and are subject to change.  Best practice will be taking a proactive approach to ensure that your systems are upgraded now, since many carriers are not prioritizing the maintenance and upkeep of 3G networks, as they are focused on promoting their newer networks.

What does this all mean for solar monitoring?  A vast majority of deployed and aging commercial PV systems are connected to 3G wireless devices for asset monitoring purposes.  In order to continue monitoring these solar assets without interruption, the 3G devices will need to be replaced with 4G/5G devices prior to the cut-off date for the associated carrier.  Failure to upgrade these devices in a timely manner may interfere with visibility into system performance, retrieval of site data, reporting (including REC reporting), and could cause issues with billing in the case of PPA customers.

Don’t get left in the dark!  If you are unsure what type of device and which carrier you have on-site, your system installer or Operations & Maintenance (O&M) provider should be able to provide this information to you.  The longer you wait to make necessary changes, the more likely it is that you will face backlogs of equipment and possible fees for expedited service.  While the various cellular carriers are not physically or financially responsible for the 3G upgrades, your installer or O&M provider may be—or can help to facilitate this retrofit.  If you are looking for support, TerraVerde Energy can help. Contact us at assetmanagement@terraverde.energy or call 202-709-2565 to learn more about our asset management services, including system monitoring and O&M services.

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