As smart technology developments support the progress of the solar O&M market, automation is becoming increasingly popular across the industry. In such a dynamic moment, I took the opportunity to sit down with leading experts in the solar industry on behalf of CM Industrial to explore the O&M automation implementation process and the future ahead for solar tech pioneers.
Speaking with Shankaransh Srivastava, Marketing VP at SmartHelio, and Oscar Perez Alonso, Director of Growth at Green Eagle Solutions, we first touched upon the importance of conducting a full audit of your activities and portfolio to assess where automation is viable. Once this has been established - alongside contractual and regulatory consents - the logistics of automating O&M activities can be approached.
Alonso notes that “you also need to be aware of the market situation…[how] energy prices compare to last year”, for example, and the context of ever-changing industry variables in determining the exact scope and timing of automation onboarding.
With the foundations of automation onboarding ethos established, we were then able to delve further into the logistics for asset managers, plant management, and how the successful scale-up across portfolios may look over the years to come.
Appropriate and consistent human resources management is essential in reducing the strain on asset management while onboarding automation in the solar space. With 8 years as an asset manager and a wealth of expertise in the growth and establishment of new working patterns, Sirvastava offers sound advice in balancing technology with traditional expertise:
...the digital monitoring solutions that we have are at least able to identify the problem for you…However, it is still hectic for today’s asset managers because they need to find out what the problem is…this is still manual intervention which takes time."
When it comes to scaling autonomous activities, Srivastava notes the importance of overseeing data collection and keeping a sharp eye on collection and analysis. “We are using data to bring about intelligence and…automation. [It’s important to] centralise your data”.
Building upon this advice, Alonso mentioned that “It has to be painless…the solutions that you put in place should be flexible enough to interconnect different systems that are already in place or can bed-in at a later stage.”
Upon the discussion of data, Srivastava places high importance on quality systems and the use of machine learning to develop micro and macro-level data interpretation, understanding weather behaviour and plant health conditions, for example.
It’s clear that, in his experience, data accuracy is key, and understanding of variables in data collection is paramount;
the accuracy of [data] is highly dependent on several other factors. It depends on how much historic data my model has seen. It depends on how accurately I’m capturing the weather data on which I am making these predictions to fill the data. If the data gap is for 30 minutes, I don’t have the data, right?"
As automation implementation across O&M solar spaces becomes an increasing reality; what might the next five years look like for the solar industry?
“Hybrid is going to become the norm…to make the projects efficient from an economical point of view, you are going to need to increase production with some type of storage,” Alonso notes. Future solar storage systems will need to be smart enough to understand when to produce and when to store energy to ensure sustained future profit - a development only automation can offer in full.
Whilst still in its relative infancy, the progression towards general O&M automation in the solar space is moving forwards rapidly. Keeping a mindful eye on data gathering, team management, and the variables and stumbling blocks of individual portfolios can help you get off to a strong start. From our discussion, it’s clear to see that shared learning and company collaboration will continue to serve the solar industry in steps towards automation.
I'll certainly be keeping an eye on opportunities for emerging companies as this space continues to develop and technologies adapt. Want to discuss the challenges of automation of solar and O&M with me in some more detail? Let’s chat!
Drop me a message at email@example.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.
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