Why monitoring and control systems could transform renewables

Renewable energy sources continue to achieve grid parity as a result of decelerating technology costs and the introduction of innovative long-term price-based instruments.

However, the resilience of these solutions continues to be a focus as instances of outages and equipment fails in off-grid locations – along with random surges in power demand – can cost millions of dollars per day in lost revenue to asset owners.

Additionally, inverter failures, cable damage, installation errors, and dirty modules can lead to serious undetected generation losses. It is crucial to detect deviations in yield (even before they occur at time) to prevent both generation and financial losses.

As renewable energy investments grow rapidly across on-grid and off-grid locations, investments in the monitoring and control of these assets have gained momentum globally.

Monitoring and controls (M&C) systems use sophisticated data analysis across their sensors and software controls to detect any operational issues with solar PV modules and wind turbines. They can have a significant effect on optimising the overall levelised cost of energy over the operational life of these assets.

M&C of renewable energy refers to more than just the software technology that monitors and controls generation of energy from these assets. It ensures that the service providers have a holistic approach to strategically manage the performance optimisation of these assets.

Remote installation of renewable energy technologies has significant operation and maintenance challenges.

As a result, integrated M&C solutions can have an economic advantage where it is logistically difficult to control and access these assets. Due to the logistics involved in operating and maintaining remote
installations, integrated M&C solutions can provide an economic advantage on the total life cycle costs of the assets both across on-grid and off-grid sectors.

Non-performance of solar modules or wind turbines that rely on intermittent renewable sources of energy have costs and risks. Financial investors are keen to evaluate these assets based on a cost-benefit analysis of the risks involved. M&C solutions provide opportunities to optimise asset performance to meet a high efficiency rating by reducing downtime. The M&C market offers a strong value proposition to OEMs and industry stakeholders and is driven by various factors.

These market drivers that effect the adoption of M&C solutions are:

  • Renewable assets that are nearing the end of their warranty agreements create an attractive retrofit market opportunity for M&C systems;
  • Achieving cost reductions while improving efficiency is one of the key strategic priorities for all asset operators;
  • Supply chain bottlenecks and inventory mismanagement could pose a threat to the turnaround time of the renewables equipment and considerably increase downtime;
  • Downtime and outages in off-grid locations can be extremely expensive;
  • Long-term service agreements can secure recurring revenue opportunities for OEMs and independent solutions providers.

Navigant Research recently published its Renewable Energy Monitoring and Control Market report, which analyses the global market for the monitoring and control of solar PV and wind power assets. It analyses market issues, including drivers and challenges, related to distributed and utility scale solar PV and wind power.

The global revenue for renewables monitoring and control is expected to hit $12.8bn in 2028

Global market forecasts are broken out by region and segments and extend through 2028. According to Navigant Research, the global revenue for renewable energy M&C is expected to increase from $4.47 billion in 2019 to $12.8 billion in 2028. Solar PV M&C systems are expected to make up approximately $9.2 billion, or 72 per cent, of total revenue in 2028.

And the Asia Pacific will likely contribute to $7.9 billion, or 61 per cent of the total market revenue by 2028. The retrofit market is attractive for asset owners and independent service providers that provide a host of services and solutions. Software, protocols, communication system, support, surveillance, training, reports, and license fees could all benefit from the rising adoption of M&C solutions.

Digital innovation that integrates forward- thinking technologies – such as data analytics, robotics, and machine learning – have made M&C solutions intelligent. Unlocking the power that data analytics can bring to asset monitoring will transform the renewable energy sector’s ability to drive up efficiency, lower emissions, and bring more flexibility and resilience to power generation.

As M&C solutions evolve and begin integrating enhanced digital features across smart connected assets, generators and operators are in a better position to optimise asset performance, guarantee efficiency gains, and maximise benefits across the operating life of these assets.

The increasing adoption of intermittent and variable renewable resources has created an important role for M&C technology solutions to integrate and optimise performance across these generating sources. However, there are some practical barriers that restrain the uptake of M&C technologies across market players:

  • ROI is a significant barrier as some of the benefits of deploying M&C platforms are recuperated over a longer duration over the operational life of these assets. They are difficult to measure and justify at the time of new asset investment.
  • Newer M&C solutions tend to be more advanced and integrate intelligent data analytics capabilities. These solutions require high upfront costs. Since these are new innovative technologies there is a dearth of skilled resources for installing and maintaining these solutions.
  • Data sharing continues to be a significant challenge in this renewable energy sector. OEMs and asset operators have differing views on data ownership and usage.
  • The M&C systems market is still in its early stages of development and requires continuous improvement and upgrades to the solutions, increasing further investment in CAPEX costs.

According to Navigant Research, global cumulative installations of utility-scale solar and wind energy are expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 9.8 per cent per year until 2030. This will also affect the acceleration of technologies that maintain, manage, and control these assets over their lifetimes. Industry participants and asset owners are keen to streamline their value chains and reduce operational costs while optimising asset performance.

The M&C market can unlock attractive growth opportunities by offering increased value per installation to the asset operators. As solutions providers offer more integrated offerings across advanced software platforms, in the future, asset operators can drive decision-based reporting capabilities and insights across their assets.

Cross-platform capabilities across hybrid solutions that include multiple technologies such as solar, wind, and storage offer an attractive value proposition for M&C solutions providers. Integrating monitoring and operational insights across asset clusters can help large asset operators extend M&C solution benefits across their portfolios.

Pritil Gunjan shares further energy industry insights in an interview with Enlit Europe about the trends in distributed energy resources (DERs) in Europe. Watch the interview here:

Pritil Gunjan Guidehouse interview

This article was originally published in Power Engineering International 2020 – Issue 2. Read the latest issue here

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