Digitized Monitoring can Bring a Cost Revolution in O&M – Premchand, GM, Tata Solar Power Ltd

Excerpt from the Dubai Solar Show 2020

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The rapid progress of the solar industry owes thanks to the fact that the technological advancements for solar energy have also progressed quite significantly over the past few decades and continue to do so. Much of the application of digital methods for the solar industry is for cost-cutting purposes. Recently, EQ magazine, in an association with SenseHawk presented a webinar on the topic “Digital Tools and Analytics for Efficiency in PV Operations.”  The panel was filled up with some adepts of the solar industry, including:

  • Mr. Rahul Sankhe, President and Co-founder of SenseHawk
  • Dr. Negi from MNRE, 
  • Mr. Prashant Kumar Upadhyay, Manager BS from Solar Energy Corporation of India, 
  • Mr. C. Chaudhary, COO of Amp Solar, 
  • Mr. Kapil Kumar, Head O&M division from Azure Power, 
  • Mr. Dinesh, Head Asset Management from Sprng Energy, 
  • Mr. SK Madhusudhana, VP and Head O&M, SB Energy, 
  • Ma’am Shilpi Dangi, Senior Manager from Sembcorp Green Infra Limited, 
  • Mr. Brajesh Kumar Jha, DGM Distributed Solar Operation and Maintenance from ReNew power, 
  • Mr. Sudhir Pathak, Head Central Design and Engineering from Hero Future Energies, and
  • Mr. Premchand, General Manager at Tata Power Solar Limited.

While digitization was the most talked of subject in the panel discussion, Mr. Premchand on his cue says, “We have got around 3 to 3.5 gigawatts of installation including a third-party O&M, entirely taken care of by us. Initially, the solar industry associated itself with Hero Honda’s first punch line in the Indian market, Wheel it, Shut it, Forget it. As times have changed, solar is right now more relatable to the tagline, Fit it, Mount it, Run it. As monitoring plays a big role in this, we have set up a central control room to monitor the performance of the inverter at the plant level, which is giving us immense opportunity to improve. Looking at today’s costs, the entire solar industry is badly impacted with most players being made of the string monitoring box, or string combiner box. As string level monitoring is the key in this industry, we developed a platform, with machine learning, to find out which strings are out and further develops a text message to the site in-charge and the zonal head. We have done almost 200 megawatt with that. We have also done up to 2 gigawatt of drone monitoring, and have saved around 40 to 60 lakhs of Indian Rupees in various projects, which we would have lost due to open strings, diode failures, and multiple false mistakes. Furthermore, we are developing an asset-based monitoring of the entire installation, where robots can be used to identify the module, compare with the labeling and the serial number, correlate with the plant file, and do a binning (sorting). With this, the major advantage that I am going to drive is when I do the analysis after one or two years, I get the basic data and the two-year data to compare and do a rebinding strategy. This is going wonderfully in our organization. Also, with regards to innovation, it has become a part of our daily jobs, we allow our people to do innovation at the plant level, through Kaizens, which has materialized substantially on various modeling.”

The Needs of Today and Tomorrow

“Safety is a focus during every action we do. So we also digitalized the BM activities on the safety, through drone-based monitoring and camera-based monitoring of the safety activities, which has helped us with making immense corrections of various on-site activities. All because we are remotely monitoring the plant. Even though we have permits and approvals for a specific job, and there is a SOP available, most of the times, there is a variation in the SOP. This [remote monitoring] is something that we have seen substantially benefitting us. In another three to four years, India will rightly be able to adopt the new technology punch word heard of in the market these days — digital twin. In time, we will also embrace leading-edge advancements such as cloud computing and weather forecasting. Over the last couple of years, the weather patterns are getting changed. Consequentially, today, we don’t get realistic weather data and end up predicting what we are going to get the next day. The digital platforms need to deliver that kind of data for this industry, which allows us to forecast the right generation. We are doing somewhat the same forecasting with respect to site before validating all of the samples, but the weather bit of it is yet to get a solution,” adds Mr. Premchand. 

He continues, “In our system, the asset manager and the engineering manager works together from the day of inception of the project, enabling us with a seamless communication about the site, assets, as well as the correctional activities. Post execution, the projects are run for a review, helping us with the management of change, as we redesign our engineering and come out with a lot of corrective actions on that. Furthermore, all the sites are linked with QR codes, so none of my engineers have to go to the field looking for some equipment data. As the QR codes are scanned, they can pull out the data from our archive and carry forward the O&M or other specific activities.” 

“Another breakthrough for us has been e-security. In association with a startup, we have developed an algorithm implementing e-security, where we have got a virtual barrier, as well as a drone for the security surveillance. This has substantially brought down my O&M cost by around 60%, and a couple of my sites are already on a pilot scale, with the e-security running. This is a big way forward for solar, because it is nearly impossible to monitor a 500 or 1000 acres of land with the help of a man-based security agency. The drones as well as the cameras will do a wonderful job here. We also have a long way to go in the dimension of securities and assets, with SAP-based monitoring, Power BI, MIS, which are very common for all the developers. We have a long way to go and I believe digitization is there to help out the O&M guys substantially,” remarked Mr. Premchand

Reiterating that which Matters

The engineering head of projects for UK-based Shire Oak International at Vietnam, Mr. Vikas Pawar, was present as an attendee at the webinar and wanted to know in further details about dropping down the O&M costs as drastically as by 60%. Mr. Premchand takes up this concern and highlights, “One of the major drivers in this O&M is the security costs which is governed by the local bodies in some major sites. Earlier, for sites of 50 megawatts, I used to have around 40 securities. Managing them was the biggest challenge, and each costing me around 20,000 Rupees. Today, the sites are as big as 300-500 acres, and it is impossible to be managed manually. With e-security, I was straightaway cut out with 60% of the overall cost. At the plant-level and office level, we have put night-vision cameras and it perfectly works against intrusion; we must adopt this as an industry as one. Furthermore, we have brought down the cleaning costs with robo-cleanings which is also a preferable option, considering the prevalent water scarcity. Robots are easy to run, but there are certain issues with DGC and local police approval, local police. With enough outlooks on the module performance and at the existing problems, we can straight away bring down the cost. When I started, O&M cost was around 4 lakhs per megawatt, which has now come down to 1.5 or 1.7 lakhs per megawatt, with almost everything being the same but with these new innovations.”

Adding to this point of view, Mr. Kapil shares his, by saying, “These costs have reduced and are still getting reduced; however, robotic cleaning is adding to the costs, which you thought you were saving by using less water. So, instead of focusing more on the reduction in the cost, you should focus more on how to improve the generation as this value is more than the O&M cost reduction. By using the digitalization techniques, if we can improve even 1 or 2% generation, it would be a great way for us to move from the cost center to profit center.” Mr. Premchand takes it forward, “We have used Python on our monitoring platform to substantially find out the string outage on a day-to-day basis. If my throws the data in the midnight with a particular string out in the system before six o’clock, there is a lot of struggle to bring to that level due to the challenge associated with filtering from these billions of available data. These are the major challenges, which nobody today feels like working on, unless spoon-fed with the solution. A couple of young engineers and some veterans in the solar industry, who have worked from the Tata BP days onwards, are helping us do these innovations of e-security and drone EL imaging. However, all of these come with certain challenges like some drone specifications do not allow carrying an EL camera.”

SenseHawk uses IR image processing and drone-acquired thermal imagery to detect and classify problems beforehand, thereby ensuring the optimal health of the solar sites, bringing down the overall O&M cost. Contact 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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