Article - Greenbyte

July 3, 2020 — Industry Trends

US giants must standardise wind and solar O&M

The US is on track for a record year in solar. Stats show that 3.6GW of solar capacity was completed in the US in the first three months of 2020. It’s a confidence boost we can all do with right now.

Guillaume Mazade
Sales Director, North America, Greenbyte

The US is on track for a record year in solar.

Last week, the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie released first-quarter stats showing that 3.6GW of solar capacity was completed in the US in the first three months of 2020. It’s a confidence boost we can all do with right now.

Let’s put that in context. It’s the busiest first quarter on record for solar in the US. It means that solar accounted for 40% of our new electricity generation added in the period. And it matches the 40% contribution of solar to new electricity generation in the US in 2019. In total, 13.3GW of new solar farms were completed in the US in 2019.

And it’s only going to grow further. The SEIA has forecast that 18GW of solar farms will be commissioned in the US in 2020, which is up 35% year-on-year. That figure takes into account the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on energy and the economy.

Finally, around 14.4GW of that 18GW – or 80% – will come in the form of utility-scale schemes. We are seeing huge interest in solar from companies with a longstanding interest in wind. Greentech Media cited Avangrid, EDF Renewables, Invenergy, NextEra and Ørsted in an article last month on five to watch in the 2020s. Solar’s here to stay.

But the growth of solar can also cause headaches for experienced wind players.

Companies with longstanding track records in wind are now looking to add big solar portfolios into their production mix. They need to ensure that they’re profitable from day one. But all too often, their O&M systems just aren’t set-up to cope. In this piece, we’ll explain the reason for this challenge – and how it could undermine profitability.

Sweating your solar

Let’s be real here. Wind turbines and solar panels are totally different beasts.

Yes, they are both renewable energy sources. But wind turbines are reliant on huge numbers of moving parts, while solar panels depend more heavily on their internal chemistry. That’s a huge over-simplification of course. But it does show that firms need different approaches to O&M if they are to monitor and manage them both.

That’s why adding large solar portfolios to traditionally wind-focused portfolios can cause major challenges. Operators know that they want their wind farms and solar farms to achieve similar KPIs in terms of profitability, but they can’t use the same system for both. That will impact on profitability of their solar farms – and, in the current market, it will surely lead to disgruntled investors.

Most of the major operators we speak to in the US accept that this is a challenge.

For example, one utility we’ve spoken to with large wind and solar portfolios in the North American market has had to develop two monitoring systems: one to manage wind assets and one for solar. It has different workflows, different processes, different teams, and an inability to directly compare the performance all of its assets.

That simply isn’t efficient. Operators need to run their solar farms profitably, and not spend their time mired in standardising their often-conflicting systems.

That’s where a system like Greenbyte’s can help. Our Platform enables you to use a standardised workflow for your wind and solar assets, and directly compare KPIs in different assets. This removes risk from your O&M strategy and takes away the need to develop your own bespoke monitoring systems. We’d love to discuss this further with you.

But this isn’t about us. It’s about profitability.

If companies can’t maximise the returns from their solar portfolios from day one then it can only harm their future investment plans. Entering the solar market is one thing. Showing investors that they have done so profitably, and should continue to invest in solar, is quite another.

We’ve loved to watch the growth of solar. It has, if you’ll excuse the pun, been a ray of sunshine in gloomy times. And standardising O&M across asset types is a step the industry has to take if solar is to continue its growth story through the 2020s.

Do you want to find out more about Greenbyte’s expertise in solar? Check out our recent ebook on mitigating solar PV losses.

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