Why digitalisation is key to solar scalability
image credit: Digitalization
- Jul 8, 2020 10:20 am GMT
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Driven by economies of scale and the opportunity for greater returns, the global solar industry is prioritizing the development of ever larger, utility-scale projects.
But despite this trend, many solar project owners have given little attention to the advanced technical and data management software needed to effectively manage such large projects.
Whilst it’s obvious that larger solar plants have the potential to produce more energy, without effective data management, these projects, commensurately, risk losing larger amounts of revenue. High quality data, therefore, is essential to both the identification of issues which could lead to asset underperformance or downtime, and to a business’s operational and financial decision-making. Solar owners who cannot fully understand their data will be less able to repair damaged assets and make optimal decisions.
There is then a clear need for the integration of sophisticated platforms, which enable solar project owners to manage their data as projects scale. For example, software that combines enterprise resource planning (ERP) and asset management platforms can help simplify and streamline this process by centralizing data from multiple business functionalities
As solar has scaled, projects have diversified across different solar technologies. But lack of data standardization has left project owners being unable to compare performance monitoring, asset management and financial data across these different technologies. As a result, asset underperformance and downtime have increased as project owners have struggled to identify where productivity is being lost - ultimately lowering revenue.
This complexity can be avoided through the integration of technology-agnostic ERP software, which can draw data from any OEM software and convert it into a comparable format. When a problem occurs, incident handling can enable a complete workflow from impact analysis to management and customer notification. In this way, project owners can rapidly and effectively tackle issues leading to lower revenue, no matter how large the portfolio.
Meeting changing project needs
The data management needs of solar projects change as they increase in size and number, with larger teams of employees and greater operations and maintenance assignments. ERP software can help simplify these processes by automating and customizing tasks across technical, contractual and commercial activity, reducing the need for large teams. By taking advantage of the technology’s full suite of tools asset management teams can experience time reductions of up to 77%.
The benefits of combined ERP and asset management software can also extend to spare part and warranty management, enabling more complex agreements such as PPAs to be worked through more efficiently. This is an area where legacy asset management platforms have often fallen short and even contemporary platforms still lack the functionalities which enable project owners to achieve this.
Project developers need to recognise the role data management can play in streamlining project activities as they scale. Sophisticated data management systems, which can overcome the obstacles in the sector, are already available on the market. Industry players looking to develop larger scale solar portfolios therefore need to be forward thinking and should invest in digital technologies such as combined ERP and asset management platforms early in order to avoid being constrained further down the line.