In this piece, Michael Ziloudis looks at the challenges facing solar developers and operators, with specific focus on the management and optimisation of large-scale solar farms.
Michael’s route to Locogen
Michael’s Solar PV experience spans across over 20 years in the UK and EMEA regions. Starting as a design engineer and project manager, he managed to diversify his skillset by lending his technical expertise to multi-disciplinary consultancy teams in Owners/Lenders Engineer’s scopes as well as by working alongside IPPs, EPCs and AMs on the whole project life-cycle – early development and planning, EPC tender & award, pre-construction, construction, testing and hand-over, O&M and plant re-powering.
Current solar PV landscape
Despite the phenomenal growth of the past few years, Solar PV still advances with discoveries, inventions and breakthroughs almost on a daily basis. These require that we keep our finger on the pulse of developments and are ready to adapt the way we design, construct and operate our plants accordingly. Furthermore, inter-operability with newer complimentary technologies, such as utility-scale energy storage systems or on-site hydrogen generation, make the role of solar PV asset management more important than ever. From my experience I can also say that older solar PV sites often experience design, construction and hardware quality problems. This problem is exacerbated by once popular manufacturers who have now gone out of business, presenting asset owners with increased technical and financial risks.
Project delivery and procurement issues
At the same time supply chain bottlenecks have emerged as a major concern. The soaring demand for solar components has strained manufacturing capacities, leading to shortages and longer lead times. This has affected the overall project timelines, causing delays and increased costs. Other critical components and materials in power conversion, distribution and SCADA subsystems, such as microelectronics, silver and rare earth metals, have experienced wild fluctuations in supply and pricing, increasing procurement risk for manufacturers.
Logistics and transportation challenges have also impeded project delivery, while increased fuel and energy costs, long shipping times, congested ports and disruptions in global trade have hampered smooth flow of materials, equipment and finished products.
Last, but not least, skilled labour shortages and project permitting delays have hindered project execution. Finding qualified and experienced personnel for all phases of project development has added further strain to project timelines.
Addressing these challenges requires comprehensive approach that encompasses strategic stockpiling of key materials, investment in manufacturing capacities and streamlined project management practices.
Asset Management and optimisation of solar PV projects
Once a project has overcome these challenges and is moving into the operational phase, the developer or portfolio manager must leverage a whole host of emerging techniques and technologies to ensure complete optimisation.
In recent years, the management and optimization of solar photovoltaic plants have witnessed significant advancements, shaping the renewable energy landscape. Key trends and developments in this field include:
- AI-powered technologies like machine learning and predictive analytics have enabled solar plant operators to enhance forecasting accuracy, optimize energy output, and anticipate maintenance needs, leading to increased efficiency and reduced downtime.
- The integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices allows for real-time monitoring of solar assets, enabling data-driven decision-making and facilitating remote management, thereby improving plant performance and operational visibility.
- Advancements in energy storage technologies, such as grid-scale batteries, enable solar plants to store excess energy during peak production periods and release it during low-generation periods, optimizing energy dispatch and grid integration.
- Adoption of module-level power optimizers and microinverters allows for individual panel monitoring and optimization, minimizing performance losses caused by shading or soiling, thus maximizing overall plant output.
- Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and AI algorithms are being utilized for efficient inspection and maintenance of solar arrays, reducing costs and enhancing plant reliability.
- Virtual replicas of solar plants, created through digital twin technology, aid in performance prediction, scenario analysis, and real-time diagnostics, supporting operators in making informed decisions for optimal plant operation.
- Blockchain applications facilitate peer-to-peer energy trading between solar plant owners and consumers, enabling a decentralized energy marketplace and promoting renewable energy integration.
Locogen’s asset management service
Managing a diverse portfolio of solar assets has added enormously to our experience, particularly in terms of troubleshooting and optimisation. Challenges that we face daily go beyond the usual component and hardware failures. For example, poor ground reinstatement in the end of construction or inappropriate location of pyranometers are issues that we often need to address in order to ensure optimal delivery of the O&M regime as well as meaningful PR calculations for the purpose of assessing contractual performance KPIs.
All this experience means that we know how challenging it is to optimise the performance and maximise returns from utility-scale solar farms. But it’s addressing these challenges and delivering for our clients that makes it so satisfying.