Two new software developers are helping asset managers save time and money
As solar projects increase in size and number, owners need to manage them efficiently. The industry refers to this as asset management.
Asset management has become a hot topic in solar. In fact, there’s even a conference on it: Solarplaza’s Solar Asset Management North America, which took place in San Francisco last March.
Asset management can include financial, commercial, legal, technical and even operations and maintenance management of a project. Asset managers work to ensure their facilities are compliant with contracts and regulations, while also making decisions to ensure the project is performing as well as possible for maximum profits.
Traditionally, asset managers have performed these tasks using Microsoft Excel, Outlook, emails and phone calls. Though this method may work when only a few assets are in a portfolio (such as with smaller residential installers), those with more facilities (larger commercial, community and utility developers) may find it time-consuming and subject to human error.
This problem has created an opportunity for software to simplify and automate asset management processes. Ben Hall is a software developer who saw this need and started offering his software BPS Asset Management last year.
Hall got into the business of solar asset management after he was asked to design custom software for a client. The client used the software to manage projects they had bought before selling them off a few years later for a profit.
Once it was out of the business, Hall saw an opportunity for other companies to use the software. He used feedback from other clients to make the software work for multiple companies. Last fall, he was finally ready to sell.
“I hired a sales guy in August and got [my] first client in January,” Hall said. “Now we’re at three and starting to chug along pretty quickly.”
Hall’s software can pull data from services, such as monitoring, that customers are already using and bring it all onto one interface.
“People’s portfolios are getting to the point where they have to use software,” he said. “If they tried to do it in Excel spreadsheets, that’s all they’ll ever do.”
He said companies are impressed when they see what the software can do in demos.
“This is what computers are good at: taking data, organizing it, doing a bunch of calculations and spitting it out,” Hall said. “Companies could spend a couple weeks on reports we could do in 30 seconds, if that. And we know ours is right, while they’re hoping theirs is.”
Another asset management software company Arbox also emerged last year. The company is based in Canada, but does most of its business in the United States.
Founder Farid Najafi explained that Arbox is a spin-off of another tech company with a team versed in renewable energy, software development and consulting.
“We saw asset managers needing a systematic way to comply with regulatory or contractual obligations, and using automatic reporting and invoice generation to save time,” he said. “Our software helps them stay on top of their tasks and performance of the plants. Ultimately we help asset managers do more with less, boosting the bottom line.”
Another pain point that Arbox said its software helps solve is the aggregation of production data from multiple SCADA sources. As asset owners acquire new facilities, they end up with multiple SCADA technologies with multiple platforms. Arbox feeds all the data from multiple sources into one platform making it easier to analyze the data.
Understanding who exactly fills the role of asset management can be a “complicated patchwork,” as Arbox’s product manager David Drake put it. But developers are increasingly serving as asset managers as they expand into commercial, utility and community solar markets, and own more projects they’ve built.
He used the example of a big developer winning a PPA with a utility to build a solar project. The developer could outsource construction to an EPC, which would pass the project back after commissioning. The developer may choose to continue to own and operate the asset for awhile and then try to sell it; or, it may sell right away.
Hall said developers can benefit from asset management software in each business model. Companies who are trying to sell quickly usually have a warranty period in which they must generate a certain amount of power, so they need to monitor and track project performance. Other companies building and acquiring sites over time can use the software to collect data from different hardware on various project and display it all in the same format in one place.
“Developers are able to run the reports and see the projects all in the same way,” he said. “It saves them a bunch of time and makes things more efficient and accurate.”
Boston-based developer Nexamp said integrating asset management software with performance monitoring, maintenance, warranty tracking and customer reporting has made it easier to manage its nearly 100-MW fleet.
“Our analysts can now compare both equipment and performance data from one plant to another, and across various data acquisition system providers,” said Will Thompson, senior vice president of Nexamp.
Though the asset management software space isn’t too saturated yet, both companies see it evolving and plan to evolve with it.
Arbox is looking to integrate its platform with other software vendors to better accommodate its customers. And Hall continues to rely on his clients’ needs to incorporate more features into his offering. “Software never stops,” he said. “It’s a huge thing for the [solar] industry and saves a ton of time and money so companies can start doing things that are a lot more fun and worthwhile to them.”