With the UK government having made it abundantly clear it is not prepared to subsidise any more utility-scale solar – and nor residential or commercial solar for that matter – in the UK any more, ensuring existing assets are as finely tuned as possible looks set to be big business.
Foresight Solar, one of the country’s leading asset management firms, has obviously spotted this and launched Brighter Green Engineering, a subsidiary of the group established specifically to cater for the UK’s O&M needs. Neil Buck, managing director at Brighter Green Engineering, believes the UK is well prepared to adapt to the demands.
Can you outline how you Brighter Green Engineering is different from other asset management firms in the space?
BGE has a different model to EPCs and asset managers, although the knowledge and skills are often interchangeable, BGE works for the owner of the park and ensure sites run at high rates of availability and performance. We achieve this through a laser like focus on attendance and resolution times as well as dedicated staff for each site and an open data policy. Clear communication and operational responsibility ensure we resolve outages faster and with less fuss, often before the client is aware of an issue.
How do you help asset owners to meet the requirements of investors better?
Again communication is the key, we meet regularly with the asset managers to discuss any situations that may have been highlighted by our engineers or the monitoring platform. As we have dedicated staff for each location we can propose a solution and put it into effect the same day.
What’s the BGE process behind its work?
First we conduct a survey of the site with the BGE engineering team, this is fairly intensive but forms the basis for our services going forward. Should any issues be highlighted, they will be rectified by us before the contract begins. It is obviously important that both sides are fully aware of any outstanding issues and BGE has a good track record with solving the odd inverter issue or unusual monitoring issues that have arisen since the acceptance certificate was issued. Once the survey is completed a copy and a proposal is sent to the client for negotiation. We recognise that there may be existing sub contracts with local suppliers and try to incorporate them whenever possible. Once all parties are signed up we can begin the service within days.
You work in the UK and Italy – having gone through a subsidy digression in Italy, what lessons do you think the Italian market can bring to the UK?
Given the recent changes with the government’s ‘reset’, I would say that the UK is leading the way with lower O&M and asset management charges than Italy. Everyone who works in the sector has lived through at least one serious digression in the tariff or the term for ROCs. What has been useful however is access to historical data on mean rates of failure for inverters, combiners and connections together with the incident rate of major outages and their causes.
What part do you see the manufacturers playing in ongoing maintenance the next 5-10 years?
We work very closely with manufacturers to ensure we have secured spare parts for our sites, these parts are held as bonded stock in our warehouse and stock levels are regularly assessed and reported to the client as part of the monthly reports. Manufacturers update us with changes to hardware and software, and these are detailed in our site management software, so everyone from the engineer to the land owner and client can have access to the latest inventory and manufacturer updates.
How are you working with OEMs to ensure access to inventory?
As part of our initial survey, we compile information on the various parts of the plant and we generate an agreed protocol for replacements or upgrades with all suppliers and the client. This ensures our overriding dedication to fast response is maintained.
Your model relies on each project having a dedicated engineer. How will project owners benefit from this? How will you ensure your engineers are proactive?
Our engineers use Protean software to schedule and report on works. All works are logged against each product, to provide a traceable record together with any recommendations on every individual part our investment in monitoring, tracking and reporting all assist the local engineer in his work. However our experience has shown that the human factor is still the most important and having one engineer for each site ensures that any of the usual variables are well understood at each location.
How do you see the role of technology evolving and aiding plant operations in the next few years? What technologies are you most excited about?
Grid storage and stabilisation are the next big thing for the renewables industry, there is a huge amount of R&D going into storage, but the main technologies needed to take the UK from a fossil fuel based economy to a zero carbon future are already tried and tested. I have already put my name down for a Tesla Power wall.
What liabilities and risk are removed from the project owner when they engage you?
Essentially most of the risk operational risk is BGE’s, we guarantee an availability of 99% for all of our sites. We take full ownership on behalf of the client and ensure compliance with regulations and planning requirements are maintained
Can you explain how you can help asset owners mitigate health and safety risks?
BGE run each site in terms familiar with any EPC, so we would comply with F10 regulations and CDM regulations, our engineers are trained to a minimum of SSSTS, first aid and firefighting. BGE are independently assessed by the Building Safety Group and reports are filed under our transparency ethos. BGE will also manage health and safety for the whole site when under contract so would ensure sub-contractors and site visitors all comply with our health and safety policy.
You will speak at Solar Energy UK in October, what are you looking forward to discussing with attendees on site?
Obviously there have been some huge changes in the last few months, I will be very interested in how attendees are planning to work within the new constraints and of course to see if we can help them reduce their liability.
With the subsidies looking more likely to expire sooner rather than later, all eyes move to the bottom line…how can you improve people’s bottom lines?
So before we look at the bottom line we work proactively to improve the generation and performance of the whole site. A well maintained site will work for longer, have fewer outages and ultimately deliver a better return for the investor. BGE provides very detailed services our testing and inspection regime is second to none and the accumulation of data assists owners making long term investment decisions.
What guarantees are you making to clients in terms of response time and time to solve problems?
We guarantee a three hour response to an outage anywhere in the UK, our current average response (an engineer on-site) is 1 hour 20 minutes and we hope to get this below an hour as we expand our footprint. It is worth mentioning that our resolution times are at an average of 20 minutes, this is normally required for the engineer to perform his safety checks before re-energising a site, and you can also see why we think it’s so important that a local engineer is available for each site.
As projects begin to come out of warranty, what challenges do project owners face?
The challenges are many and varied, but will depend greatly on the experience of the client within the warranty period. This would be the time to have secured a bankable and technically able O&M company to reduce risk and provide detailed plans for any failure.
What will your relationship to Foresight be as a company?
BGE are a fully independent subsidiary of Foresight, we compete for all contracts on a commercial basis, including ones with Foresight and are based separately at our offices in High Wycombe. So we are in the happy position of considering Foresight as a client, but also enjoy the financial backing of one of the UK’s largest investors in solar.