By: Laks Sampath, Country Manager, U.S. & Latin America, Alectris
Next week solar operations and asset managers head to Intersolar North America to take part, among other things, in the 5th annual SunSpec Solar Asset Symposium.
This year’s SunSpec event puts one of the industry’s hottest topics, solar monitoring and data analytics, front and center with several panel discussions. I will be participating in a particularly interesting discussion, “Driving Return with Operations Data Technology and IT: Convergence or Collision?”
The most recent Solar O&M Insider podcast series did a special episode as a precursor to the SunSpec event and to widen the discussion related to solar PV operational data.
This Solar Operations Data: Convergence or Collision? podcast covers:
- Solar PV Management Data Trends
- Convergence or Collision?
- The Increasing Role of Solar Analytics
- Solar Monitoring vs. Solar ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
- The Role of Solar Operations Data in Driving Revenue Generation
- Opportunities at the SunSpec Solar Asset Symposium
Solar Monitoring vs. Analytics
According to the SunSpec Alliance, “The U.S.-installed base of solar assets has grown beyond 25 gigawatts. Much of the solar industry focus is now shifting from the gold rush stage of new assets to the development of strategies to optimize the installed base of solar assets and maximize return on those investments.”
The trend lines are moving away from pure monitoring to monitoring + analytics to realize cost effective maintenance and energy performance.
There is sufficient data in place right now. We’ve all been doing a lot of learning over the years on how to interpret the data. Now is the time to translate that learning into machine language, meaning analytics. These analytics will help us actually automate these plants on how they alert us and how we maintain them.
In its recent Global PV Monitoring report GTM Research and SoliChamba defined solar PV monitoring software as “software allowing stakeholders to track the output of a solar PV system, assess its performance, detect system issues and create reports on these same topics.”
Analytics is included in monitoring software functions with special emphasis concerning trending and fault predictions.
Monitoring companies have essentially been about data acquisition and little about data intelligence. The intelligence or the analytics has been dependent on people like me interpreting the data. These are the operations folks that look at the data and are able to interpret it and then do the necessary things to take care of the plant. In general, we are at a stage where, in order to maintain these plants and do the related functions and systems a back end solution is critical. That one little box called analytics represents what should be the focus of our attention.
Solar Operations Data: Convergence or Collison?
Millions of streams of data hit the desks of solar plant operators and asset managers every day around the world 24/7/365. If that data is not brought into a solar Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or other analytical “one login” platform, then hundreds of untold man hours are spent “converging” the data into actionable information and reports.
If data is being assembled into spreadsheets, as is the case for many in the industry, or needs human interaction to integrate into one platform, then the man hours are multiplied.
What happens with monitoring is when you have a portfolio of assets, if you have multiple different monitoring platforms, then you need to have convergence of all this data. Everybody characterize them differently. The nice thing about solar is that everything boils down to volts, amps, watts, watt hours, kilowatt hours, and irradiance, temperature and so forth. They’re all put in different “buckets,” and as long as you can read all of those buckets, you can bring them all into a secondary platform, like a CRM platform, for example Salesforce, SAP or Oracle.
The key here is putting the data all together. It’s big data analytics. First step is to get all the data into one manageable form. That’s where the challenges are. Whereas, this is where an ACTIS platform by Alectris is a really nice platform to have, simply because all that challenge is taken out of the picture. It’s completely built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which means you don’t have to worry about the scalability of the software, as we can manage any number of these different data gathering points and bring them into our system.
The convergence happens because everybody’s talking the same language, which is what SunSpec is trying to do. The collision happens when people talk different languages and we don’t know what they’re saying. And then the data becomes meaningless. There’s not much there we can discern from that in order to be able to do the necessary analytics to maintain these plants.
In terms of data driving revenue generation and return on investment, if you avoid another Capex just to do all the integration, that’s money saved. With a solar power plant, it’s now all about energy delivered. Every kilowatt hour makes a difference. One needs to ensure the system is performing optimally but at the lowest cost of plant maintenance. This can only be achieved through efficient data analytics, expedient effective intervention, both predictive or corrective in nature, and that’s the only way you’re going to get the most production out of these systems.
If you are going to spend more money on data integration it is going to add to the burden of the return you are expecting. This is the difference between doing your own integration and putting everything together in an ERP system that you probably have, versus what you can do with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the ACTIS platform.
This integration of multiple streams of monitoring data into the seamless Solar ERP, ACTIS, avoids collision and creates solar operational data convergence.
Laks Sampath heads U.S. and Latin America activities for Alectris. With over a decade of solar PV experience, he articulates a cultivated and seasoned industry perspective in his leadership for the company.
Sampath’s solar photovoltaic expertise covers a wide range of installation sizes, types and terrains. These include sites ranging from 2KW to 20MW; residential, commercial and utility scale construction and design through full commissioning responsibilities. Geographically his expertise encompasses the U.S., Mexico and Italy.