July 20, 2021 — Customer Stories
First responders: How Longroad uses Greenbyte to empower its technicians
We talk to Jeremy Law from US developer, owner and operator Longroad Energy about how Greenbyte helps it get asset performance data from the cloud to its technicians.
Lisa Åsehäll Syversen
Marketing Director, Greenbyte
“The challenge for me is always how can we get actionable data into the hands of the people who can actually fix problems. The more steps we have between the data and those directly in control of the asset, the harder it is to actually create value.”
Creating financial value at renewable energy projects is essential for Jeremy Law, Vice President of Commercial Asset Management at US developer, owner and operator Longroad Energy.
Law started working in wind in 2009 managing wind farms for turbine maker Clipper Windpower. He moved to developer First Wind in 2012, and then became director in financial planning and analysis at SunEdison in 2014 after SunEdison acquired First Wind. This hands-on expertise in managing both the technical and financial sides of renewable energy assets showed him how they complement each other.
He has brought this experience to Longroad, as part of the team that founded the company in 2016. In this interview, he discusses the common pitfalls that operators face when using data to manage their renewable energy assets more profitably.
He also explains how Greenbyte supports Longroad with running its control centre; and how it gets vital performance data into the hands of asset managers, operations managers and technicians.
Longroad manages approximately 3.5 GW of wind and solar assets in the US, with 1.6 GW owned by Longroad and 1.9 GW owned by third parties. These include 2 GW of wind and almost 1.5 GW of solar.
Working for primarily pure financial owners means that Longroad needs to provide a full scope of asset management services, from the technicians on-site to the back office.
“Sometimes we are maintaining the assets ourselves with technicians on the ground or, in a lot of cases, we are partnered with the OEM or service provider to complete the on-site maintenance,” he explains.
Law says that wind and solar farms’ long-term value can only be maximized when the operator considers how the technical performance affects the financial side.
“It’s the blending of the two that I’ve found really interesting and exciting,” he says. It is this mixture of technical insights and focus on financial key performance indicators (KPIs) that the Greenbyte Platform provides.
This means asset managers and operations managers need a strong understanding of the investment case and expected economics of each of their assets, along with all of the underlying assumptions driving those economics: “If I don’t know that full picture intimately then I can’t deliver the value that was assumed in the business case,” he says.
However, Law argues that operators too often look at how much energy is produced by their assets, but not when it is produced. This means that they are unable to see the value of each electron created and, therefore, how project returns are affected.
“Sometimes folks only have one piece of the puzzle and say: ‘Wow, I’ve got great availability.’ Okay, you’ve got great availability, but that doesn’t matter if there are all these carve-outs that mean, ultimately, the project’s not hitting its production target… You’ve got to understand the whole picture to be able to deliver on the investment.”
Renewable energy investments are becoming more complex as operators are more exposed to power prices on the open market than they were a decade ago. This is a result of the move away from 25-year utility power purchase agreements (PPAs) and towards more diverse PPAs, complex hedging arrangements and higher levels of merchant risk.
Law says the Greenbyte Platform helps Longroad to aggregate data from a broad range of assets and keep the company focused on its financial KPIs. Indeed, it is by continuing to adapt to the evolving market that has helped Greenbyte to successfully support Longroad since 2017, which is shortly after Longroad was formed.
When Longroad first chose Greenbyte in 2017, Law says the company needed a data management system that would draw in performance data and help it to manage assets, ranging from a 300 MW wind farm in Texas to a 300 kW rooftop solar system in California. He said Greenbyte could aggregate the data from a wide range of wind and solar assets into a single platform.
“We needed the data. We needed to be able to come into one platform and visualize it, hand it to our team, and respond to it all through one system,” he says.
Longroad was also looking for a data system provider that was experienced in wind because wind farms tended to be more complex to manage than solar farms. He says this is because there are more moving parts and a less predictable production profile in a wind farm than a solar farm.
Law says that, at the time, Longroad felt that it would be easier to carry over lessons learned in wind and apply them to solar farms than going from solar to wind.
“We felt there was a lot of wind expertise that needed to be leveraged in the solar space,” he says. “That combined with Greenbyte’s willingness to be flexible with our diverse operating fleet was the ultimate differentiator of Greenbyte.”
One of the most interesting ways that Greenbyte supports Longroad is with its 24/7 remote operations center (ROC) in Portland, Maine.
The ROC is the nerve center of Longroad’s asset management and operations activities. It is where the company has set its alarms to alert it to problems at its assets, and where they can see what is going on across the portfolio. They can then drill down to a project, turbine, inverter or component level.
Data used at the center is stored in the cloud rather than local servers, which Law says makes its asset management software more resilient. This is crucial given the importance of this data to Longroad:
“We use Greenbyte as the first line of defence in monitoring our assets. Given the wide range of technologies and asset sizes, a cohesive monitoring platform is critical to our day-to-day activities,” he says.
Being able to access data in the Greenbyte Platform also means that Longroad can see whether its assets are underperforming, without having to rely on data from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Initially, this meant that operators in its control center could see what was going on at assets, but it was a challenge to get that information to the people who could fix them: the technicians.
This prompted Longroad to customize the dashboards and data representation so that technicians and operations managers on the ground have the views they need to see how assets are performing. This puts the power directly in the hands of those best positioned to correct asset underperformance.
Law argues that showing technicians exactly what they need in a timely way makes a huge difference. For example, in one case it meant transitioning to operations self-performance at a set of solar projects that turned an energy shortfall vs. budget to a 4% energy surplus in less than 12 months.
Using a cloud-based asset management system to get data into the hands of people who can fix them, and not just the asset manager, is a sign of things running well. This is true whether it is an in-house technician or at a third-party service provider.
He explains: “If the asset manager is finding these things first then we haven’t made it easy enough for the folks in the field, who have plenty to do without having to sift through data every day.”
Law says this approach to data helps Longroad to gain stronger returns at its assets, as well as enabling OEMs to respond to issues with their turbine platforms.
“We work hard to have strong, collaborative OEM relationships, and I’d say that high-quality data makes them better. They’re looking at thousands of megawatts of assets across the globe, whereas may team is looking at individual turbines or inverters trying to find any missing MWhs. We are going to find levels of issues that they’re maybe going to miss and it just makes them better,” he explains.
And he says the relationship with Greenbyte will keep changing – not least following the fact the company has joined forces with Power Factors and 3megawatt. He says this consolidation should help to continue improving the quality of industry data, and enable Longroad to remove ever smaller losses from its renewables assets.
“When you’ve got your foundation set and you know you’re reliably getting actionable data in the hands of the right people, you can keep evolving. Now we’re working with Greenbyte at a higher level and going after smaller percentages of losses,” he says. “That’s the game, right.”
It is indeed – and it’s a much easier game to play when you’re giving your team the tools they need to succeed.