Building Digital Solar Power Displays

How I built SOLA Digital Solar Power Displays

At the end of 2015, I won a contract with SOLA Future, a solar power company, to build the digital solar power displays for their plants. SOLA Future installs solar power panels on a large scale and amongst others, their installations include Cape Quarter, Constantia Village, Clicks, Black River Park, and many more.

My work with SOLA Future involved a strategic and technical display website project which was required to display the output of solar power plants. We worked together for 6 months to create an online display portal which pulls data from the solar panel and displays attractive and informative charts on the display portal.

The Digital Solar Power Display includes five (5) slides with the following features:

  1. Display the plant information,
  2. Shows chart of daily output,
  3. Display annual chart, daily output, monthly output and total output (historical output)
  4. Fuel use avoidance in terms of coal, oil and natural gas
  5. Contact information of SOLA Future

All of these slides update automatically every five minutes as the solar panel’s API sends more data.

I designed and developed the digital solar power display – from the look and feel of the site to the final database inputs and charts. Without any PHP development experience, I was sometimes stuck on the more technical parts of the site’s source code. To overcome this hurdle, I employed a sub-contractor, a PHP specialist, who assist in fixing the errors I could not.

On this project, I worked as a designer, a project manager, an account manager, client liaison and accountant. No easy feat, but I am just as proud of the end result as I am told SOLA Future is.

This project has grown so much in scope and potential that after the original site was signed off, SOLA Future was necessitated to employ a resource full-time to look after the sites.

Digital Solar Power Displays

Take a look at the first finished site for Cape Quarter:

digital solar power displays daily power output

digital solar power display fuel use avoidance

Here you can view the second site for Clicks:

digital solar power display daily output

 

Documentation for Digital Solar Power Displays

Documentation is paramount for any project to ensure that everyone is on the same page and nothing gets left unfinished. During any website development project, it is important to put together the documents I listed below:

  1. Project Proposal – In my proposals, I include a short introduction on myself, the goals and objectives of the project, the proposed solution, project details, deliverables, more information about us, fee summary, conclusion and most importantly, detailed terms and conditions.
  2. Detailed Quote – I like to break this down by site prep and planning, client liaison, technical development, design, extras, hosting, domain, and maintenance. Underneath these headings, list all the subtasks that are required for the project. Assign a reasonable number of hours to each task and calculate the total cost according to your hourly rate. If you are going to perform maintenance on a regular basis, put this together in a separate quote that will come into effect once the initial project has been signed off.
  3. Tax Invoice – Most companies will require a tax invoice in order to pay your deposit. I require a deposit of 50% to commence with a new project. Remember to include your tax or VAT number on the tax invoice. Your client will then provide you with a purchase order.
  4. Technical Scope of Work – I created a technical scope of work that outlines the project’s technical details. This included the API integration, frontend spec, backend spec, design outline.
  5. PHP Development Brief – For this project, I felt it was necessary to put together a PHP development brief which described the calculations of the data in detail. With this document, I sought to ensure that everyone was on the exact same page regarding the most intimate calculations on which the digital display was built.
  6. Design Approval/Sign-off – Most importantly, once the designs of the site were finished and the client approved the wireframes, a document was signed by both parties to show that this was the final version of the design. You cannot start with a website until the end goal is not clear to both parties, and the design approval/sign-off document allows both parties to know exactly where they stand.
  7. Site Sign-off/Approval – After many months of working on the site, we finally finished the project to the client’s satisfaction and they signed our site sign-off/approval document.
  8. Final Invoice and Balance Statement – Once the site sign-off/approval document has been signed, a final invoice and balance statement is generated to allow the client to settle the remainder of the account.

This might seem boring, tedious and like too much work, but trust me, you will be only too glad that you have these documents in place if the project starts to go pearshaped. Resist the urge to immediately jump into the work and take the time to put together the proper documentation. You will thank yourself later.

Technologies Employed for Digital Solar Power Displays

  • PHP – To pull data from the API, input into the database and send the output to charts, we used PHP, a server-scripting language. We also used PHP to calculate all the totals and various other outputs.
  • MySQL – Our data is stored in MySQL databases
  • Server – The site is hosted on a managed dedicated server from Hetzner
  • Photoshop – To create mockups and wireframes, and to create background images, redesign layouts, and much more
  • Asana – This project management tool helps to keep all project-related tasks together and it keeps communication in one place

I had great fun working on this project, especially because it is such an environmentally friendly project. It was also a completely new thing for me, and I enjoyed the challenge. I am also proud that the digital solar power display has created a job opportunity for a talented PHP developer and I am sure that the project will go from strength to strength.

For more information on how this website was built or if you would like to discuss the project, please do not hesitate to contact me at info@marilize.co.za.