Technology’s Contribution to the Profitability of Solar Present and Future

Excerpt from a virtual panel in partnership with EQ Magazine

5 min read

New trends in technology utilized within the solar power industry are providing more accessible energy-efficient solutions to a greater range of businesses. “Digital Tools and Analytics for Efficiency in PV Operations” was the topic of discussion at a recent webinar hosted by EQ magazine, in association with SenseHawk. Various industry experts came together to share their views on the present and future market opportunity of digital solar. The panel was comprised of industry veterans 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.


Watch the excerpt

Mr. Madhusudhana, with intent to shed some light on financial modeling began, “Unfortunately, the days are gone when the O&M cost was considered on the basis of a thumb rule, and Capex was designed based on the availability of modules, land, and other stuff. Today, we are in an era where the O&M cost has been drastically reduced, and any change in Capex will have a direct impact on the Opex. Looking at the operational ability or the sustainability of businesses for 25 years, this mutual coordination between Capex and Opex modeling comes into play. Many thoughts such as the availability of water and labor, the salary components, the replacement strategies, which technology is good or bad, and more surround the design phase. As we are all aware, the O&M costs are drastically coming down. The reasons may be manifold — O&M does not start at the HOTO process and is rather a parcel of the project’s decision, the scalability of the projects, drastic increases in the peak, reduction in land and number of components or equipment, the inverter and transformer rating going up, and the robots coming in. In other words, primarily, the scalability is going up, technology is improving, automation is pitching in, and digitalization, especially in form of drones, is playing a key factor in reducing the O&M costs.”

Drones are the Future of Solar

“I will move next to the three buzzwords that I was given with — drone, artificial intelligence, and IoT in asset management,” begins Mr. Madhusudhana. “Many companies in the recent past, one of the most prominent ones being SenseHawk, have been doing a good job in terms of incorporating drones in the solar industry. As per Google Analytics, in India, the current drone market is estimated at around $885 million by 2021 and the global UAV market for drones is at $21 billion approximately. Furthermore, as per a study conducted by PwC, the drone market is supposed to grow at the rate of 18.18% from 2017 to 2023. In other news, the CAGR growth rate of the solar industry is estimated to be at 20.5% till 2026. Drones are likely to be the future of solar as they are helping [to] reduce or avoid hazardous man hours, by refraining people from physically going to the ground on hot summers. Manually inspecting a 600-megawatt project which is 4000 acres of land would be extremely torturous and inhumane, especially on a bright sunny day. 97% of man hours are being reduced with 99% accuracy. Besides, drones also reduce the O&M cost and improves the productivity. Keeping aside all that’s said and done, how are drones helping in asset management?”

Mr. Madhusudhana continues, “While the first primary role of drones in asset management is land surveying, they are also useful in project monitoring and in maintaining the project quality. We are all aware of how drone thermography helps identify the hotspots in the module and also detect the types of defects that are possibly coming up. Apart from these, drones also cover up the vegetation, land topography, movements of sand dunes in the Rajasthan, transmission line healthiness, bottom clearance or the tracker movement misalignment, and other such visual inspections. Just by hovering over the plant, a typical drone can capture large amounts of data and make way for even more use cases, like an automatic ticketing system which enables your workman to resolve the issues faster, as a manual typical O&M could’ve never been able to capture all the defects at this much ease.” 

AI and IoT are Both a Boon

Moving on to the second buzzword, Mr. Madhusudhana says, “Although the solar industry has seen 10 years of operating data, most of the platforms still do not have a proper artificial intelligence based on big data. The two ways of incorporating this intelligence is image analytics and hardcore time-based series data. At SB energy, we have our innovation center with an innovation team in place consisting of around 15 data scientists. Having started working with modeling, right now, we are getting some fruits in terms of successful anomaly detection and prediction. These two major parts of big data analysis also come in trained and untrained versions. When you dive deeper into it, there are many more use cases and using a team of right technical experts, you can start building the model, which will, however, take more than a year to be trained. Consequentially, sooner the better, we must engage platforms like SenseHawk’s to get into real data analytics, as well as image analytics, because they have a different perspective to modeling.”

He continues, “On the image analytics index, the image and videos constitute huge sizes of data that needs to be compared, modeled, and tracked over a period of time. When you model 100 crores in the first year and you achieve 95 crores, the 5% loss is too detrimental for the project. In SB Energy, once the plant is commissioned, we do the HOTO process, along with the drone thermography. With that, we try to identify how many things are not connected, or not working. Upon detection, we rectify them as soon and possible with the help of an EPC who has a large manpower. When you take over the project and do a thermography with 10-15 manpower, it will take one month to rectify those. Even though costly, thermography is a must at least once in a year, and if you are able to do it, that’s good enough. I think the cost of thermography will keep on coming down, with many other alternatives available. Based on the different technology and instrumentation that each and every plant has, using an AI model, you have to identify the use cases, start giving inputs using a third party or your own, and try to model it. This will move you from a cost center approach to a profit center approach. Our absolute focus is on this value creation, at present.”

Finally moving to the third buzzword, Mr. Madhusudhana adds, “From a traditional PLC-based SCADA standpoint which most of the companies have right now, the solar industry is trying to make a shift towards the IoT. Internet of Things is basically a small mini-computer attached to each of the equipment at ICR or inverter level, so every component is directly in contact with the digital platform. In non-technical terms, herein, every inverter or component is becoming intelligent. Converting a normal TV into a Smart TV by just attaching a fire stick is what IoT is now. Tomorrow, when the AI matures, the same AI algorithm will be implemented in that edge analytics called device in the IoT. With that, there will be numerous small brains engaged at an equipment level, making each and every component as intelligent as the entire smart TV. Once people have put their hands on a smart TV, they no more want to go back to a regular conventional TV.”

“It may take a couple of years down the line, but industry is preparing for the day when all these buzzwords and technologies — drones, AI, and IoT will be the reality in everybody’s assets and that is going to add value to the bottom line,” concludes Mr. Madhusudhana.

SenseHawk is already making these technologies a reality today by leveraging them in manifold applications and ultimately digitizing solar. Contact us for a free consultation.

SenseHawk

SenseHawk

SenseHawk, Inc. is a provider of cloud based drone data analytics and productivity tools for the solar industry. With customers in 15 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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