Solar Operations and Maintenance in India
Anyone watching the solar news knows the industry is going through radical changes in India. There is a huge capacity being built and the build pipeline is over 10 gigawatts in the next 12 months. The size of the average project is expanding from what is considered small in India, 5 to 10 megawatt (MW’s), to much larger individual systems ranging from 250 MW’s to 500.
Within this fast moving market what are the trends and what are the implications for solar operations, maintenance (O&M) and asset management? To get an insider voice on the solar O&M asset management landscape happening in India, we talked with solar pioneer, Satya Kumar of the IFC Washington incubated firm, Shri Shakti Alternative Energy Ltd., an Alectris market partner based in Hyderabad, India.
Solar PV Trends in India
When asked about the prevailing trends in the India solar market including the operation and management of plants, Satya Kumar outlined the following:
- Solar plants are being built at very competitive rates
- Capacity is scheduled to be over 10 gigawatts of solar construction in next 12 months
- Plants are being built under extreme deadlines
- EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) firms from other energy sectors are now building solar
- New solar PV plant owners are realizing the difference between O&M of conventional power plants, where the fuel costs are high and the O&M costs are low, compared to solar PV, where the fuel cost is nil but O&M cost plays a major role in the profitability
- Banks and government agencies want firsthand and real-time reports on performance of solar plants and the ability to generate their own MIS reports
- Early stage solar plants are now revealing opportunities for solar O&M cost reduction
- Opportunities exist to reduce management costs by implementing design stage O&M planning, automating security and panel cleaning and moving to a Solar ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform
Operational and Production Issues in Early Stage Solar PV Plants
In early stage solar PV plants in India, “some of the measurements being taken are wrong, and with the wrong measurements naturally the key performance metrics which are being calculated end up being wrong.
We’ve noticed that there are errors regarding plane of array irradiance which, in one case, was something like seven or eight kilowatt hours per square meter per day. We don’t have that kind of irradiance in India, so this ends up with the wrong metrics. But overall, the market is yet to become mature for diagnostic studies and performance improvement,” explains Satya Kumar of Shri Shakti Energy Ltd.
- Lack of Performance Monitoring Systems – Plants don’t have a performance monitoring system and some of the owners don’t know what their performance ratio is. Some of them don’t compare actual generation versus base case. So in fact, they don’t have the information for them to take corrective action.”
- Labor Intensive Security – Automatic surveillance of plants is not very common and developers are spending a lot of money on around-the-clock security services with none of the data being fed into a management system.
- Use of Time Intensive SCADA and Manual Spreadsheet Reporting – Developers, big and small, take the data from the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems into separate programs, like Microsoft Excel, to generate the kind of reports with the KPIs that they’d like to see. This generally takes four to five days’ time each month.
- Manual Panel Cleaning – The manual cleaning and the semi-automatic cleaning processes now in practice will not be practical for high capacity plants being built now.
A Look at the Future of Solar PV Plant Management
In order to manage the magnitude of solar PV plants being built in India today, developers need to capitalize on the “best in class” trends emerging in other parts of the world.
Solar O&M and Asset Management Planning in the Design Stage
Strategies for maintenance, performance monitoring, panel cleaning, security and surveillance and reporting to all stakeholders in real time are all aspects of asset management that can be addressed in the design stage of the plant.
Calling for industry standards as early as the RFP stage can lead to dramatic efficiencies in the operation of the plant. “In solar PV performance monitoring, we have a standard called IEC61724. Not many people in India are aware of that and this standard in fact doesn’t mention the word SCADA anywhere. SCADA is something which is probably more critical for large conventional power plants and factory automation assembly lines. For solar PV, what you really need is a good data acquisition and performance monitoring,” said Kumar.
Use of a Solar ERP to Save Time and Money
Several features of solar ERP software like ACTIS are very relevant for the solar PV plant management in India.
Save Time and Get Real Time Reporting – Developers use SCADA articulated to time consuming spreadsheet report. Some of them are using SAP for their asset management. This generally takes four to five days’ time each month. In comparison, with the Alectris Solar ERP, ACTIS can do the same job in a few seconds, not only each month but every week and every day, and automate the whole process of monitoring and reporting the plant performance.
Store Documents in One Place – “Features which offer an integrated solar ERP software like ACTIS, for instance, storing the records of the panels from the RFID tags and the flash reports from factory testing will be very useful in case of any warranty claims,” says Kumar.
“With the asset management module you have excellent document control by storing land titles, the PPA copies, loan documents and then tracking the loan repayments, carrying out bank reconciliation, financial reporting besides invoicing, PPA administration. All these are features which make the job of the plant owner or developer a lot easier because they’re integrated rather than being in different systems like SAP or Oracle.”
Avoid Costly Software Customization – “Some of the developers use SAP for their energy portfolios and they’re trying to do it for solar now and some people have it for other business so naturally the finance folks like to use the same platform but integrating it with other modules like performance monitoring, service management and making it available especially for solar is the USP of ACTIS and most importantly, you don’t waste time in the software development and customization for solar with SAP or Oracle because Alectris has already done it with ACTIS.”
All Reporting with One Login – ACTIS also offers an integrated suite of operations, maintenance and asset management services via one login. All monitoring data feeds are populated via the one ACTIS login in portal.
One small example, in the ACTIS service management module “all the service activity can be logged besides keeping track of spare parts and then ordering spare parts. Each service activity like cleaning of the panels and any other repairs is logged. So you’re storing all this wealth of information in one platform which can be used for predictive data analytics,” explains Kumar.