Helping Fleet Managers Streamline Operations and Management Functions
Big Data for Solar
Contributed by | Locus Energy
Distributed solar PV is growing explosively in the United States. Driven by solar PV module price reductions, the rising cost of grid-tied electricity and the growth of innovative financing models, the nation’s solar PV capacity could rise five-fold to 50 gigawatts or more by 2017, with 20 to 30 of that consisting of distributed generation, one of the key solar growth drivers, according to a recent report from Deutsche Bank. The report states that solar PV is already at grid parity in 10 U.S. states without additional subsidies.
This extraordinary level of growth is creating problems among owners and operators of large fleets of solar PV assets consisting of different types of equipment, installers and geographies, as well as performance data acquisition systems. Aggregating information from such diverse sources to monitor performance for both O&M and financial administration functions can be costly, frustrating and time-consuming.
Adding to the complexity is the increased demand from investors for more accurate performance data, which will only become stronger as the solar industry moves toward securitization. (SolarCity recently announced what is believed to be the nation’s first solar securitization deal in the form of the private placement of a $54.4 million, 13-year bond backed by cash flows from solar rooftop leases.) The lack of financial, technical and operational performance data on solar PV systems has held back banks, insurers and credit rating agencies from getting more actively involved in financing solar PV projects.
Locus Energy, whose business is providing hardware and software monitoring solutions for more than 25,000 residential, commercial and utility-scale solar PV systems, has addressed these issues by developing a cloud-based enterprise asset management platform for owners and operators of solar PV fleets called SolarNOC™ (Network Operation Center). SolarNOC™ helps fleet managers streamline O&M and financial administration activities by aggregating, organizing and assessing performance data across a diverse set of solar PV assets.
The strengths of SolarNOC™ are twofold. First is its open architecture. SolarNOC™ can aggregate data from a variety of sources including third-party hardware, OEM data feeds, legacy monitoring providers, public weather data, irradiance sensor networks and more. By ingesting and synthesizing asset data from such disparate sources, the SolarNOC further streamlines workflow process by enabling users to integrate with key third-party enterprise applications including reporting, billing, operations and maintenance ticketing apps, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and data warehousing.
The second strength of SolarNOC™ is its filtering capability, which allows an unprecedented level of control over how performance data is aggregated and displayed. Users can organize asset data across multiple dimensions according to EPC, geographical region, system size, equipment type, installation date, finance partner and many other criteria. For instance, users can single out and track all systems in a specific state with inverters from a specific manufacturer that are exhibiting a given diagnostic status. The data is accessed through a customized, role-based dashboard that displays key performance indicators and system diagnostic data. The grouping and filtering tool allows users to create and manage dynamic groups of projects, installations and system components. Users can immediately see the most relevant system information and performance metrics for their role within an organization. SolarNOC™’s utility is obvious to anyone who now has to search through multiple files to access such data. But Locus Energy’s ability to help owners and operators manage their fleets doesn’t end there.
In addition to SolarNOC™, Locus Energy also offers a proprietary analytics platform called PVIQ Suite™ that provides fleet owners and operators with a much-needed means of evaluating how the actual performance of a solar PV asset ranks against expected performance, and then drills down into the specific causes for a system’s deviation from expectations. This powerful risk-mitigation tool has two main elements: the Virtual Irradiance (VI) tool and the Waterfall analysis.
While large solar PV systems rely on on-site sensors to accurately measure solar irradiance – thus allowing fleet managers to compare actual performance to predicted performance based on the amount of sunlight hitting the ground at a specific location – owners and operators of small- to mid-sized systems are generally unwilling to incur the expense. And even managers of larger systems with on-site sensors can’t always depend upon them to be accurate. Locus Energy’s VI tool addresses the how-much-sunlight-is-hitting-the-ground question. Using solar irradiance data derived from satellite imagery combined with public and private historical and real-time data from weather stations, federal agencies and other sources, Locus’ proprietary algorithms can provide highly accurate virtual irradiance data across the continental United States with 1 km-by-1 km resolution updated every 15 minutes. When combined with Locus Energy’s on-demand performance modeling capabilities, the VI tool offers a truly accurate assessment of how much energy a system should be producing based on the amount of sunlight hitting the ground. Such information eliminates the need for on-site sensors, or in cases where sensors have already been installed, can be used to determine if they are functioning properly. Locus Energy’s VI tool can be purchased as an add-on to SolarNOC™, providing yet another layer of system intelligence.
As discussed, data filtered through SolarNOC™, along with information from the VI tool, can inform fleet owners and operators when a system isn’t performing up to expectations. But it doesn’t let owners and operators know why a system is underperforming. This is where Locus Energy’s Waterfall analysis comes in. The Waterfall analysis is the only analytic tool serving the solar industry that is capable of remotely identifying the specific factors responsible for lost generation, including weather uncertainty, snow downtime, shading, equipment downtime, equipment degradation and inverter problems. Waterfall thus allows fleet owners and operators to pinpoint the source of a problem. Like the VI tool, the Waterfall analysis can be purchased as an add-on to SolarNOC™, providing another source of data that allows fleet owners and operators to manage fleets more efficiently and profitably and financial institutions to more accurately rank the value of solar PV assets.
As the rate of solar PV adoption continues to grow, fleet owners and operators will be looking for more sophisticated tools to manage and track the performance of portfolios of solar PV assets. Locus Energy’s goal is to drive the wide-scale adoption of distributed solar PV by providing fleet owners and operators with the real-time intelligence that allows them to optimize performance at the point of use. Locus Energy’s unique blend of products, including its SolarNOC™ software and its PVIQ Suite™ offer fleet owners and operators cost-effective and robust solutions to help mitigate risk, optimize performance and increase access to capital by delivering improved returns on investment.
For more information on Locus Energy, please go to www.locusenergy.com.
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