Data-led O&M for Solar Assets still has a long way to go

Excerpt from the Dubai Solar Show 2020

3 min read

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s prevalent stress on every sector for the importance of moving towards automation and digitization. In the solar, the division of O&M of the solar power plants especially is witnessing a significant part of this stress. While previously, O&M activities were limited to site management, involving module cleaning and grass cutting; off late, the scope of O&M has been extended to the optimal use of the balance of system and delivery of the promised generation. This has led the O&M players to start investing in the automation of predictive maintenance services of solar systems. As automation is likely to be more helpful than ever in decreasing manpower costs, with the low tariffs discovered in the recent solar auctions, the margins of O&M players have also been reduced. Thus, to maintain profitability on their uphill of growth, the O&M players need to deploy technology to predict the future of components and assess their plants’ performances in order to avoid penalties. Data-led O&M was the topic of discussion at the Dubai Solar Show 2020. This exhibition aimed at achieving integration between all sectors of the energy industry and bringing together trade and technical sectors whilst facilitating the creation of new trade opportunities, enhancing an exchange of ideas and experiences, and showcasing the latest innovations.

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Data systems can be used for anything from asset performance (monitoring the standard KPIs, typically from performance ratios), plant availability, and how it performs throughout the seasons to security systems. Standalone systems like wind turbines, which are agnostically contributing to the direction of Industry 4.0, leverage data systems in the wind sector to a profound extent. “We still have quite a long way to go in solar, compared to wind,” says Daniel Ramirez Watson, head of Business Development at Isotrol, and one of the speakers at the Dubai Solar Show 2020. He goes on to point some key bottlenecks that the solar industry faces, unlike the wind energy industry. “The lack of correct sensor design and plans, bad quality data not being corrected, no access to real-time data, performance deviations not being monitored, the lack of standardization in the sector for algorithms and KPI calculations, the difficulty of dealing with multiple OEMs, and still seeing black boxes out in the industry of proprietary protocols and designs and hardware,” said Daniel. He further believes that having data gathering devices like drones can be really helpful in confirming and validating the advanced algorithms that companies like Isotrol are implementing.

Taking it to Another Dimension

Echoing to Daniel’s words that data-led O&M still has a long way to go in solar, Rahul Sankhe, President and Co-Founder of SenseHawk, and one of the speakers at the Dubai Solar Show 2020, sheds light on the three different dimensions of data to be focused on while talking of solar. “While the main stream that Isotrol and many more are addressing, is SCADA data, I think the area of O&M that we are trying to address, is another dimension of asset data,” adds Rahul. “Beyond SCADA, the first of the three aspects is the asset data collected during the construction stage, and handed over from EPC to O&M. While it’s a salient aspect, this data is not given as much importance in terms of digitalizing, organizing, capturing all the information. This plays a role in defining the data quality during that phase, and sharing the right kind of as-built status with the O&M teams.” 

“The second dimension,” says Rahul, “is condition monitoring using sensors like drones, and incorporating that into your regular O&M. Drone data is an area that is very useful for tracking both cleanliness, or panel health, in terms of thermal effects. As there are additional newer sensors coming in, we need to have a way to incorporate the data, analytics, and insights that come from them. The third and the final dimension is the site O&M operation. With actions that get conducted on the field, whether for preventive maintenance or the routine string IV curve checks and measurements, a majority of the data that gets collected on the field often sits in Excel files and word reports. This data is not used in any meaningful way for getting overall insight about the asset and improving what can be done.” 

It’s important to focus on what’s happening now, rather than looking only to the future, which is likely at the end of a long way ahead. This third dimension of data must be the key focus for all solar players in digitalizing and capturing that data in a systematic and structured way, as far as site operations are concerned. SenseHawk’s platform was built on these multi-dimensional data structures. Reach out to us for a free consultation.



SenseHawk, Inc. is a provider of cloud based drone data analytics and productivity tools for the solar industry. With customers in 20 countries, SenseHawk solutions are used by solar & EPC companies for terrain analytics, construction monitoring, thermography and task management on solar sites

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