What’s Next in Solar: Acceleration via Open Platforms

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RESTful APIHistorically, the solar industry has been guided by the philosophy that proprietary communication protocols and data privacy will protect market share and limit the growth of new competitors. In contrast, the tech sector has proven that exposing data to the creativity of others via open platforms is a more effective path to propel both company and industry growth as greater numbers of developers drive advancement and new capabilities through collective input, suggestions and requirements. To capitalize on this potential for growth, the energy sector is beginning to make the shift to open application programming interfaces, or APIs.

Open APIs, while still novel to many in solar, are an invaluable part of the success story for many of the best-known tech industry giants. For example, by investing early in making their product an open, standards-based API platform, Salesforce.com provided flexibility for clients to adapt its software to best suit their needs and at the same time invited third-party app developers to build new solutions on its platform – both which resulted in wider adoption of Salesforce and faster innovation in the CRM arena overall. At the annual Salesforce Dreamforce event, attendance at keynotes and workshops in the DevZone developer area grows every year. An entire partner ecosystem of successful enterprise application developers has emerged – based on the recognition that with a lower capital expenditure, they can more rapidly build high-growth businesses and deliver high performing, global, reliable, scalable, secure and future-proof applications when they leverage the investments and improvements that Salesforce continuously makes in its SalesForce App Cloud (formerly Force.com).  Deployment and speed to market are also made simpler, as adoption rates for new software products are significantly higher thanks to their use of Salesforce’s familiar interface. As SalesForce’s AppExchange celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, the number of companies and developers who have built products on the SalesForce platform or have integrated with SalesForce App Cloud without building on the platform number in the thousands, including such companies as Apttus, Box, CipherCloud, Concur, DocuSign, FinancialForce, Gainsight, GreatVines, JobScience, Kenandy, Marketo, nCino, Resilinc, Xactly and Zuora.

Why has this approach worked so well? By democratizing access to its open APIs, Salesforce’s platform has become so ubiquitous and the apps built on its platform so intertwined in operations across industries and business functions that it is now virtually impossible for users to break away. The world of interconnected applications Salesforce has fostered has ultimately created an indomitable “stickiness” for the company’s core technology and brand.

The path to energy leadership is no different, with open APIs offering new paths to growth for the entire spectrum of energy businesses. One of most obvious places for API innovation is solar, where the penetration of software applications designed to streamline operations is minimal and the limited number of software applications available are unable to integrate with one another, leaving solar companies with pieces of solutions that they can’t combine in useful ways. Proprietary software for customer identification, customer relationship management, proposal generation, system design, financing, data monitoring, operations, energy management and project controls operate independently from one another. Further, each application keeps its platform closed and fiercely protected, slowing industry growth by refusing to leverage the potential of combined brain power focused on solving our multi-faceted business challenges.

SunLink is leading the way toward open platform adoption in energy with the introduction of its VERTEX project intelligence platform. Developed using a RESTful API, VERTEX allows the development of other applications on top of its platform, eliminating software redundancies and the inefficiencies associated with the industry’s legacy single-purpose, proprietary solutions. VERTEX’s core functionality is to provide secure, mobile-controlled SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and performance monitoring capabilities that connect grid operators and project stakeholders with real-time project performance intelligence. Beyond that, however, SunLink envisions a broad spectrum of apps that push the boundaries of energy analytics, make asset management and O&M teams more efficient through tie-in project management tools, incorporate project financial performance and accounting capabilities, and leverage an expanding base of energy assets to inform or directly participate in power markets. SunLink even intends to release its own Salesforce integration, tying project performance, alarms, and events to the CRM. While SunLink intends to build some of these capabilities, the potential for other industry innovators to seize the opportunity and build out their own applications is endless​.

Tip: Moving to open standard APIs invites more brain power to look at energy challenges as a means to more rapidly define new solutions that will accelerate the downward cost curve for solar and expand its global adoption.