Accelerating solar’s downward cost curve is an exciting but daunting challenge—the faster and more effective companies are, the more competitive solar becomes in more markets. So far, prices have been reduced by focusing on improving hardware designs, optimizing supply chains, and improving installation methodologies. While it can be tempting to believe that there are no more levers to pull, there is a world of innovation that we’ve only begun to tap.
The solar industry is entering an era of rapid change with the convergence of energy and technology (EnTech).
Solar project stakeholders will now be informed by big data analytics and business intelligence, rather than product limitations. We’ll now be empowered to determine system weaknesses, troubleshoot, and leverage lessons learned to bring to market the solutions of the future. And we’ll be able to improve LCOE outcomes significantly.
Think about the impact on O&M as one example. O&M – particularly long-term maintenance – remains expensive, and yet the industry has been at a loss as to how to improve those metrics. Looking forward, new O&M initiatives will be able to be informed and active rather than passive. To that end, SunLink’s solar projects now include sensors on every inverter, array, weather station, and grid connection point that push real-time data to project stakeholders to allow them to optimize performance and troubleshoot in a much more informed manner. String-level performance is even made cost effective by embracing low-cost cloud computing and adding sensors to combiner boxes. When maintenance activities can be targeted very specifically to the source of any problem or timed optimally in connection to the weather, and fixes can be implemented remotely to reduce truck rolls, the cost of O&M is driven down in ways not previously possible.
EnTech is vital to the future scalability of the solar industry. The technology that drives solar systems can no longer only be forward-thinking structural and mechanical engineering. We must also now create and integrate business intelligence technologies that continuously improve project performance. This focus on the challenges confronting the energy sector coupled with engaging the high-tech community in the dialogue, will help to unveil solutions that can be widely adopted across the solar value chain.