March 5, 2019

4 trends that will make solar-pv services finally scalable

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The variety and amount of available data in the solar sector is steadily increasing. As a result, we see the rise of data-driven products that will replace traditional monitoring and trigger changes in the services landscape, e.g. through automated analysis tools.

Constantly declining investment costs divert the focus from CapEx on OpEx. Soon, the secured feed-in tariff is no longer available, the cost pressure will increase. As a result, operators will be under more intense scrutiny in the future. Only in this way can the profitability of the projects be secured.

Increased efficiency and scalability through PV monitoring

Today's conventional solutions offer little remedy to the problem. Pure monitoring software will not be efficient enough in the future. Manually performed analyzes will still be necessary but also serious cost drivers. It is therefore important to combat these challenges.

With targeted automation of monotonous tasks, we want to make technical services a lot more scalable in future and, thus, significantly shape the digitization of the solar industry.

 

Improved analytics and diagnosis

The initial high feed-in tariffs also made high costs for the professional support of PV systems possible. The rapidly declining investment costs for PV systems are leading to new expectations in the market. The service industry has to follow suit and draw a similar price trend. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, prices for O&M contracts fell by 30% to a level of around 10 € / kWp per year. Personnel costs play a significant role in the service business. This cost pressure has a direct impact on maintenance contracts, simply because they need to be adjusted or reduced to meet price targets.

With the advent of digital technologies in the solar industry, work steps can be parallelized and available resources can be used in a more targeted manner. In future, the monitoring systems will reliably and cost-effectively examine the PV systems, while the maintenance staff can pursue value-adding activities on customer site.

 

Automatization & reduction of human errors

Photovoltaics is a global growth market. The capacity will multiply in the coming years. The amount of data available will rise accordingly and lead to significant market challenges.

Today, highly qualified personnel carry out daily checks and analyzes manually the pv systems. This service will soon reach a feasibility limit. The required work can no longer be covered by available capacities. In order to keep pace with growth, O&M services must focus on a targeted (partial) automation of their work.

Soon, data will be monitored, evaluated and interpreted automatically by the monitoring system. Learning algorithms work continuously and with consistent "attention" to produce actionable recommendations. The system sends relevant information directly to the staff. Monotonous, manual rituals, however, will be completely eliminated.

 

License fees and terms

The prices for monitoring software are still often around 1 € / kWp per year. This will change very soon, because from the point of view of the customer, the price-performance ratio is no longer considered to be fair. The simple visualization of data is no longer perceived as value-generating or even value-adding.

Young companies with innovative solutions challenge existing contract structures. These companies are lean and agile, and are characterized by a tremendous adaptability. However, to provide customers access to technological progress at all times, an innovation-friendly environment must be created. Shorter contract terms create incentives for software providers to embrace innovation.

 

Open data & data standards

Only a market without protectionism is capable of achieving a market-oriented and customer-oriented price-performance ratio. The solutions of the future will consist of an integration of different, highly specialized products. By contrast, closed systems that do not have standardized data interfaces or even restrict the transmission of raw data will find it difficult to position their products in the market in future. Consequently, closed systems will have to adapt, otherwise they will be pushed out.

The standardization of data protocols and formats is a necessary prerequisite for future innovation. By standardizing data, digital products can be customized more efficiently and, thus, become more economical. The "Orange Button Initiative" and the trade alliance "Sunspec" promote such progress.

 

Conclusion

These trends show that the future photovoltaic monitoring system will function like a (computer) operating system: in the background, effectively and independently. Digital technologies, such as machine learning, will make tomorrow's solutions more reliable, accurate and cost-effective. By digitizing the service industry, service providers will be able to work thoroughly and economically in the future. With opening of today still closed systems and the entry of new, innovative products, the way is paved for a cost-efficient service landscape in solar operations and maintenance.

At SOLYTIC we understood the need for operational excellence of photovoltaic service providers. With the targeted automation of monotonous tasks, we want to make technical services a lot more scalable in future and, thus, significantly shape the digitization of the solar industry.

 

Please get in touch with us, if you'd like to know more about who we are and what we do. Also, please feel welcome to leave a comment below, for recommendations and suggestions.

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Johannes Burgard

Founder & CEO

Johannes Burgard is responsible for product development and strategic direction. Prior to this, Burgard managed projects in the context of Industry 4.0 in an international production environment, at CLAAS and Airbus. Burgard holds a degree in engineering from RWTH Aachen University and an MBA at the ESADE Business School.