Onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) are now the cheapest sources of energy used by an increasing number of electricity-generating plants globally. Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity in history. Overall, renewables will account for 95% of the net increase in the capacity of global power by 2025.
Yet many players on the market are only taking first steps to drive value from these onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) tech-enabled initiatives and establish new ways of working. Simply put, power companies are not nearly as advanced as they could be, so operations and maintenance costs are higher than they should be.
These companies have been using the same traditional methods for more than 40 years. However, COVID-19 led to severe supply chain and transportation disruption which further impacted the accessibility of the workforce on a global scale. On top of this, COVID-19 has interrupted the growth of solar in some developing countries, where the development of solar projects has been hindered by protracted delays in importing solar PV modules and other supplies.
So, let’s see what common pitfalls are preventing companies from building a solar power plant of the future.
Common Pitfalls of Solar Power Plants
The Covid-19 related circumstances plus some common challenges companies face on their digitalization journey led to major pitfalls across the market. Here are some of the pitfalls companies face today:
Supply chain disruptions caused by Covid-19 pandemic — The global market has been shaken up by Covid-19. The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the solar energy value chain particularly in Asia and the Pacific. The issues like the lack of manual workforce that work on the construction of solar panels and the delays in importing PVs were mainly caused by transport restrictions imposed by some countries due to the pandemic. All of this led to higher operation and maintenance costs.
Turning vision into a digital agenda — While most power plants and companies investing and building the power plants have clear vision for their digital transformation, they are still left guessing how to turn this vision into a digital agenda. On top of this, one of the biggest challenges in most power plant transformations is that they need to start developing a greenfield solution from the ground-up — from zero.
Interoperability — Companies sometimes have the need to integrate with other software products and tools which additionally complicates the fast design and development of advanced use cases. This means that the vendor working on a digital solution should make sure the entire solution is integrated seamlessly and securely with other software.
Security & Reliability — As electricity systems digitalise, the power industry becomes increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. For example, a ransomware attack massacred the largest gasoline pipeline in the USA —the Colonial Pipeline that carried 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline and other refined fuels. This was the biggest cyber attack on physical operations at a critical infrastructure in US history. Based on some reports, the attack was carried out by a group called “DarkSide,” known for ransomware attacks. Once security is breached, companies suffer major losses which then builds their bad reputation and has adverse impact on their business in general.
Health and safety — Workers in the solar energy industry are potentially exposed to a variety of serious hazards, including electric shock, arc flashes, falls, and thermal burn hazards that can cause injury and death. While solar energy is a growing industry, the hazards are not unique. This is something that has been high on the agenda of the solar power plant companies a lot recently.
So, how can businesses shift from traditional to digital to remove all the pitfalls and build solar power plants of the future?
Building the Digital Plant of the Future
Still, the growth of renewable energy continues at a blistering pace — Despite COVID-19 pandemic, more than 260GW of renewable energy capacity was added in 2020 globally, exceeding the previous record by almost 50%, according to the data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Digital tools play a huge role here.
Digital transformation does not start with a radically disruptive activity. As someone who has spent the last couple of years leading digital transformation projects in greentech, the following are the things that organizations should focus on to successfully lead the transformation: efficiency, agile design and development, health and safety of workforce, security.
- Energy-efficiency — Heat-rate losses and other measures of efficiency should be not only regularly analyzed but also visualized in real time. By providing better task and risk planning, process tracking, digital power plant model simulations, businesses can reduce solar watt/hour cost, thus making solar power more accessible and cost effective, thus creating the necessary basis for a greener future.
- Economic efficiency — Building a solution that will enable solar power plants to find the right balance and make sure that it produces the most economic output and benefit to consumers
Agile design and development
Due to the fact that solar power plants are a vibrant and dynamic business sector, design and the development of the solution should be adaptable to changes and improved along the way. Facilitated rather than hampered by technology is the vital lynchpin; and likely the biggest challenge of all. With the best will in the world, customer-focused lean innovation will go nowhere if your organisation and systems aren’t set up to deliver on the new ideas.
Health and safety of workforce
Digital technologies can provide a real-time dashboard on plant emissions and limits as well as support automated monitoring of incidents, documentation, and root-cause-analysis and prevention measures. Organisations need this as a feature in their software because it will provide health and safety to workers in a very transparent way allowing them to find workforce much more easily.
One of the cornerstones of every digital solution should be security — the focus point is to make the software not only nice but also reliable and secure. Recent malware attacks like SolaWinds Cyber Attack are a wake-up call for companies to invest in a strong cybersecurity program on their journey to become digital. Having a right digitalisation partner with a high tech expertise and capabilities to build a solution that will ensure the company’s security and liability is imperative.
Innovation as the Main Drive of Disruption
We turn vision into reality. As mentioned above — transforming vision into a digital agenda is one of the biggest challenges on this journey. By designing complex software products, we help companies move forward, and turn their vision into reality. Our deep tech knowledge, adaptability and expertise empower us to build innovative greenfield solutions from the ground up and seamlessly integrate it with some other software.
Experience we have gained working on various projects over the past 10 years has allowed us to understand the industry and market we operate in and acquire domain expertise. When talking about digital disruption, we drive the biggest value by implementing the excellence and expertise we gained in other fields on a completely new business case.
Currently, we are building a robust applications ecosystem that will support a full lifecycle of a large scale solar power plant:
- project site evaluations
- capacity and yield estimations
- project planning
- system design
- technology procurement
- actual construction and maintenance of these multi-billion dollar structures
Innovation — If you use the same familiar methods this is not disruption. But by offering outstanding opportunities for building breakthrough solutions that businesses have not witnessed yet, we are sparkling innovation.
This may be an excellent opportunity for companies to make something disruptive and new. We don’t just design and deliver the solution. We use our prior experience matched with domain expertise to innovate and make revolutionary impacts across industries.
Agile approach — Agile development being HTEC’s superpower, we’re used to working with clients to identify and deliver the most valuable ‘thin slice’ of software. Learning from experience, client-focused, rapid delivery of deep tech solutions. All of this takes commitment, practice and experience. By joining our strengths, we build and iterate along the way, delivering the core needed for faster value-driven software delivery. By having a harmonious discovery and delivery teams and processes we enable product innovation in perpetuity, empowering your team to own the essence of the idea, while we translate it into a tangible product.
Tech excellence — Our experience helps companies both navigate and drive disruption – whether it is building medical devices, adding algorithms to microchips, or optimizing routes for all the ships in the pacific we have learned that there is no silver bullet aside from the need for technical excellence that is not possible without domain expertise and experience. But this is what drives us to see beyond the mere software solution that fixes an issue and make revolutionary impacts that will make a change. This road is hard but we are not setting ourselves for any less.
Go to our Greentech and Energy page and see how we help build a greener future for everyone.