Digitalisation has enabled impressive technological developments in the renewable energy industry, including advanced performance monitoring, automation of daily asset management tasks and the development of specialised enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Despite this, little attention has been paid to digitalisation in the solar sector, with many businesses unaware of the ways in which sophisticated software - which can combine ERP and asset management functionalities - can tackle persisting market challenges such as data centralisation, data quality and increasing project complexity.
Unlike basic operations and maintenance (O&M) platforms which often only provide performance monitoring data, software solutions that combine ERP and asset management software can aggregate high end monitoring, financial and operational data into one place. On top of this, these software platforms allow businesses to automate company processes and reduce complexity as projects scale both technologically and geographically.
With the International Energy Agency forecasting that total renewable-based power capacity will grow by 50% by 2024 from 2019 levels - and the solar PV market set to account for 60% of this - it's therefore becoming increasingly more important for solar portfolio owners to recognise and leverage sophisticated software from day one - or face missing out on an enormous opportunity to increase revenue and decrease costs.
Contemporary solar portfolios are increasingly made up of a multitude of asset types and technologies, from industrial scale ground-mounted plants to residential rooftop solar arrays. But data collection methods have failed to keep pace with this trend, and many portfolio owners have been left unable to bring these varying data streams into a single, comparable format.
This can be easily solved by integrating software that remains agnostic to original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs) technology, allowing greater flexibility for companies looking to acquire or develop new assets - solar or otherwise. By drawing data from multiple technologies onto one platform, such software can simplify the data management process, allowing for leaner processes and smaller work teams.
Real-time performance monitoring
Generating high quality data is key to accurately measuring optimal solar PV performance. This in turn enables asset managers to establish whether an asset is underperforming, and if so why. Without specialised software platforms to provide this, portfolio owners risk decreasing asset productivity as a result of downtime caused by unidentified issues - forcing O&M to be done on a reactive basis.
Through real-time performance monitoring tools, combined ERP and asset management tools allow portfolio owners to provide greater transparency for stakeholders and take advantage of the benefits of preventative maintenance. Higher asset availability, extended asset lifetimes, improved electricity production and lower O&M costs are all outcomes which enhance the competitiveness of a company, and portfolio owners would be wise to invest in software capable of optimising these.
Cross-functional team collaboration
As portfolios have grown, teams have grown correspondingly in terms of size and number. Companies now need to manage a wide range of activities - including administrative, technical and financial - in order to stay cost effective and competitive. This brings an exponential increase in complexity in operations. Without investing in software tools to concentrate the silos of information into one place, management may lose the ability to efficiently manage operations.
Such inefficiency may not be evident in the project growth phase, as the focus is on the growth itself, but sooner or later management will have to face the challenge of managing increased complexity. One could argue that this is a future problem; and that may be true to some extent. However, managers must consider adopting software tools early and gradually integrating processes and information management at an early stage, or risk starting the project too late - creating a huge challenge and draining valuable company resources.
With the solar sector still in the process of expansion, it is now imperative that portfolio owners recognise the importance of integrating sophisticated software solutions which combine ERP and asset management functionalities at the start of their solar assets’ lifetime. In this way, companies will be able to benefit from optimised productivity, time savings and returns whilst also mitigating challenges caused by greater complexity, incompatible data formats and low-quality data.