By Guillaume Mazade, North American Sales Director, Greenbyte
Solar is now widely regarded as the driving force in U.S. renewables. According to SEIA, 3.6 GW of solar capacity was completed in the first quarter of 2020 with 18 GW expected to be commissioned in total — 14.4GW of which will come in the form of utility-scale solar. Indeed, the sector is developing so rapidly that even traditional wind players such as Avangrid, EDF Renewables and Ørsted are now looking to enter the market.
Wind organizations looking to add solar portfolios to their production mix should do so with eyes wide open. Popular conversation may focus on the similarities between wind and solar, but, in reality, wind players need to realize that the technological differences present some major challenges, not least in O&M.
To oversimplify, wind turbines are comprised of multiple moving parts whereas solar panels rely more on their internal chemistry. Such fundamental differences have a huge impact on the way that these assets are operated and maintained.
It is not surprising then that different O&M regimes have been developed for each renewable energy technology — each tailored to the specific needs and functionalities of the asset in question. For the most part, these systems are completely incompatible, presenting a considerable headache for those wind players aspiring to become more technologically diverse.
Maximum profitability is of course the end goal for most renewables project owners and operators. Aiming for similar KPIs across wind and solar assets is key to achieving this. But with many wind and solar portfolio owners currently using different performance monitoring systems for each technology, optimized returns are unlikely to be attainable any time soon.
Multiple monitoring systems are a hotbed for business inefficiencies, leading to different workflows, processes, teams and the inability to compare asset data, to name but a few. Though it is feasible that these can be standardized manually, why compromise on optimal returns from day one?
This is a larger problem than it may first appear to longstanding wind players. Compared to wind, O&M in the solar space is far less standardized — in part due to multiple solar industry standards on data management — and many O&M systems within the solar sector are also incompatible as a result. This presents a minefield for any wind player looking to develop a solar portfolio without being constrained by opposing data systems.
Removing such uncertainty and risk from a portfolio’s O&M strategy is often the key to securing investor support.
A solution in sight – standardizing O&M through technology-agnostic ‘datahubs’
How then can traditional wind players overcome these hurdles?
Answer: through technology-agnostic datahubs. Sophisticated software platforms such as these are capable of drawing data from different solar and wind technologies and converting it into the same format using a global signal list. In this way, datahubs can provide complete datasets without the need to either invest in additional hardware or re-engineer existing hardware.
This data is not limited to internal components. By analyzing information at a portfolio level, broader external factors such as irradiance levels and wind-wake can also be assessed. Project owners and operators are subsequently able to identify a multitude of inefficiencies to take action on, enabling them to ultimately streamline processes and create leaner O&M teams.
U.S. wind players who integrate technology-agnostic software can invest in solar projects without worrying about technological or geographical limitations, and can directly compare profitability KPIs across their entire multi-technology portfolio.
To ensure high levels of productivity in mixed portfolios, U.S. wind players looking to gain a foothold in the solar sector must eliminate the inefficiencies caused by conflicting O&M workflows and proprietary, site-specific software. Technology-agnostic datahubs are already available to the market and are removing obstacles to a true understanding of asset performance for these multi-technology businesses. If solar in the United States is to continue its growth trajectory, it’s time to standardize on O&M.